Bookworm: Two books for quick fixes, fast answers, conversions, or recipes

Mystery fans, of course, will relish ‘A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"Home Ec for Everyone" and "Shop Class for Everyone," both by Sharon & David Bowers, illustrated by Sophia Nicolay.

“Home Ec for Everyone” and “Shop Class for Everyone”

  • Both by Sharon & David Bowers, illustrated by Sophia Nicolay
  • c. 2021, Workman Publishing
  • $14.95 each, 204-224 pages

Call mom or dad .... stat. That’s what you did when you first struck out on your own, and that’s what your newly-launched young adult will do. And that’s okay, that’s what parents are for – they help and they worry – but with “Home Ec for Everyone” and “Shop Class for Everyone,” both by Sharon & David Bowers, illustrated by Sophia Nicolay, you won’t have to so much.

For the last sixteen-plus years, you’ve been preparing for this. Your nest will empty a little bit, but you’re still needed. The child who met a washing machine once will want your advice. The one who thinks a missing button is an excuse to shop will call home with questions. The kid who needs you to hang a frame... that’s the young adult these books were created for, and the one who’ll be grateful for them the most.

“Home Ec for Everyone” focuses a lot on what is perhaps the most important survival skill: cooking. After all, your new adult can’t live on burgers forever, so this book includes the basics: chopping an onion without crying, making mashed potatoes, using a grill, and mixing an easy salad. Mastering these simple things will offer confidence and lead to more: preparing a bread dough, knowing what different knives are for, and canning. There’s even a section on cleaning the kitchen when they’re done.

This book also includes care and repair for clothing, easy stain removal, folding sheets, and other light domestic duties. Some homey crafts are featured inside this book, as well as in “Shop Class for Everyone.”

Take metalworking and woodworking. “Shop Class for Everyone” offers a guide to the various tools your crafter will need for all kinds of simple projects, and step-by-step plans to make assurance-builders like spoon rings and basic frames, as well as bigger projects and handy gifts. Readers will also learn practical skills, like tackling the easy repairs they can do around the house, garage, outside, and to keep things working. There’s an entire section on plumbing, another one on electrical projects, and one for keeping a vehicle running.

There’s a lot to love about “Shop Class for Everyone” and “Home Ec for Everyone,” beginning with the assumption that readers aren’t completely inept. Authors Sharon and David Bowers don’t talk down to anyone in this book and there are no half-answers; readers are addressed as if they’re already at least somewhat experienced (or can fake it well). More-difficult projects are not sectioned-off, either: once the step-by-step instructions are heeded, nothing seems to be too daunting. That’s a feature that may serve to increase confidence; Sophia Nicolay’s illustrations, when they’re needed, help even more.

Best of all, these books aren’t just for young adults. Keep “Shop Class for Everyone” and “Home Ec for Everyone” around for quick fixes, fast answers, conversions, or recipes. They’re great if you’re suddenly single or are looking for a good Parents-and-Kids project. Give them as a grad gift, wedding present, or to a child who’ll learn fast to call mom or dad ... wise.

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“A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome”

  • By Emma Southon
  • c. 2021, Abrams Press
  • $27, $34 Canada; 339 pages

There was little left of the corpse but bones. But that was fine; your favorite mystery detective would know what to do, and the case would be solved ten pages from The End, no problems. You got to love a good murder, even if, as in the new book “A Fatal Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” by Emma Southon, it happened several centuries ago.

"A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome" by Emma Southon.

Chances are that when you think of ancient Rome, your imagination is limited. Most people don’t know a whole lot about Roman society but, says Emma Southon, there was one truly noteworthy thing: “Rome was an unusually murder-y place.” That’s because, for the most part, murder was not a crime in ancient Roman society.

From the beginning, blood often portended change: tradition says that Rome was founded after Romulus killed his twin brother, Remus. Centuries later, Julius Caesar was famously murdered – an event of which several accounts exist, none that were contemporary – but decades before that, Tiberius Gracchus tried to redistribute land, taking it from the upper classes and giving it to the poor, which wasn’t a popular move. Tiberius’ end was also the end of the Roman Republic, and from then on, “violence was always a possibility in Roman politics.”

“Murder had been introduced as a solution ... ” says Southon, “and it could never be taken back.”

Don’t think that ancient Rome was untamed, though. The Romans had laws governing some murders, including a quite harsh one that dealt with slaves who slayed their owners. Killing a parent or close relative led to specific punishment but dispensing of one’s infant was a different matter: infanticide was not a public act, so it wasn’t a crime. Neither was abandoning an infant. Magic could be murder, and so could marriage: Roman men could kill a spouse with impunity. Not so, for Roman women, but it happened – and “almost all” the time with just a little quiet poison...

While there’s no doubt that “A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is darkly funny, it’s going to take a certain mindset to enjoy it completely. This book on murder in ancient Rome sticks closely to its subject; to say it’s steeped there is an understatement, though author Emma Southon writes with a modern voice and that helps. She keeps this bloody, often gruesome, generally interesting history from becoming date-and-battle stuffy, letting it sometimes feel like an ancient Roman supermarket tabloid.

Still, remember that there may be a bit of work to find the best parts of this book: you’ll want something more than a basic knowledge of Roman history to fully understand who’s who and what’s where. You could try to slide through without it, but foreknowledge really is key.

Mystery fans, of course, will relish this unique book. It’s great for lovers of the underbelly of the past, so brush off your high school history and take a stab at something unusual. “A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” will tickle your funny bones.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.