Book Reviews: Past Scents, A Butler’s Guide To Entertaining At Home, & On Being Fat

Hello everyone,

curious to know what books I’m going to share with you today? Well, the first is an essay on the history of scents, the second a guide on entertaining, and the third a memoir. Enjoy!

Past Scents: Historical Perspectives On Smell by Jonathan Reinarz
Smell is often regarded as the least important of the five senses. As a budding perfumista, I strongly disagree with this. A world without smells would be like a world without colours. Scents do a lot more than making you, or your house, smell good. They make your food taste delicious. They can help certain workers, particularly those who work in the food industry, better do their job and realise, for instance, when a food is cooked, or how to distinguish a good from a bad crop. They can also save your life by warning you that there could be a gas leak or that your food has gone bad.
Scents have always had a  huge, although often understated, impact on our daily life. In his book, Past Scents, Jonathan Reinarz, explains how people, through the centuries, have used scents to relate to the environment they lived in and to differentiate cultures, classes, and the sexes. Scents were often used, for instance, to justify racism. Ethnic and religious minorities, such as African Americas or Jews, were often accused of having a bad scent, even though that has, obviously, never been true. The same accusation was also often levied by the rich towards the poorer members of society, in an attempt to keep up the barriers between the different social classes. Different scents, throughout time, have also been labelled as either masculine or feminine, thus influencing the relationships between the sexes.
The book also deals with the importance scents have always had in religious rituals, and explains how they, when foul, were thought to be a carrier for disease. This led to the development of treatments such as fumigation. But emitting a bad scent could also have more sinister consequences. If someone, whether because of a disease or poor hygiene habits, constantly smelled bad, it could be interpreted by the community as a sign of immorality and dishonesty. In the 19th century, the discovery of germs and bacteria changed this perspective, while the new technologies brought out by the industrial revolution made it possible to manufacture perfumes in larger amounts and cheaper prices. Thus, the modern perfume industry was born.
Well-researched and detailed, Past Scent offers a fascinating insight into the world of past scents. Unfortunately, the writing style is quite academic and, at times, dry, which could easily put casual readers off. A more approachable style would, maybe, have worked better. But for all lovers of scents, this book is still a must-read.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

A Butler’s Guide To Entertaining At Home by Nicholas Clayton
“Who better to steer hosts through the minefield of entertaining etiquette than a quintessentially English butler?,” recites the blurb of this book. Now, that’s a statement I couldn’t agree more with. In this guide, professional butler Nicholas Clayton, provides lots of useful and practical tips on how to organize all sorts of formal and informal parties and events, from a relaxed dinner with a few friends to a full-blown party with lots of guests. His tips will also help you to choose caterers for more important occasions, such as wedding receptions, and how to behave when you are invited to a formal dinner or a party.
Clayton gives us tips on how to prepare the invitations, how to greet people when they arrive, how to set the table (this section includes illustrations so you’ll know exactly where every glass and fork should be placed), how to prepare and serve recipes that everyone are sure to love, how to taste wine, how to politely suggest to the last lingering guests that it’s time for them to go home, and much more.
Everything is explained simply and clearly, and, between instructions, Clayton also sprinkles some fascinating history anecdotes. My only problem with the book is the length. It’s quite short. I think the author could have given us more information on certain topics. Instead, it just provides a general guide on how you can entertain at home or be a perfect guest at someone’s else party. If that’s all you’re looking for, then I think you would really enjoy this book.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3/5

On Being Fat: A Journey With Adipose Tissue by Pamela J Mulraney
When we talk about obesity, we tend to focus on the many diseases it can bring about and the impact these can have on a person’s body and life. Rarely mentioned, probably because the topic isn’t pleasant at all, is how difficult it is for the “very fat” (a term the author often uses in the book) to do even the simplest things. When you put on too much weight, for instance, even wiping your bottom or inserting a tampon (well, I told you it wasn’t pleasant!) becomes impossible. It was eventually “small” things like this, rather than the scary scientific reports about how obesity can harm your health, that made Pamela Mulraney realise how serious her condition was and prompted her to do something drastic about it.
To be fair, Mulraney had tried to lose weight for years, embarking on the latest diets or buying new gym equipment, but without success. So, when she had the opportunity to retire early, she decided to move to Crete to start part 2 of her life and getting well. She discusses how challenging the move was, particularly for a person who was considerably overweight, and the steps she took to shed the pounds. Of course, moving to a new country wasn’t enough. She fell off the bandwagon several times, but her determination to succeed is slowly paying off.
Mulraney discusses her journey with adipose fat in a very honest way. She shares the difficult relationship she had with food and how it started, the way weight has impacted her life, and how challenging it is for obese people to live in a world that is designed for the slim. She shares even the most private and intimate details, which can be very offputting for the squeamish. But it helps the reader realise what it truly means to be fat, and how no one really enjoys it.
The book reads like a journal written in one sitting. The very colloquial and informal style makes the reader fell like he or she was having a chat with Pamela at her place, discussing obesity over tea. And that’s just what the author wanted. I just wish, though, that someone had edited out the many repetitions sprinkled all over the book.
Pamela has a wonderful sense of humour, and manages to make fun even of the embarrassing and humiliating incidents that happened to her. However, being English, her humour is often self-deprecating, which not everyone will appreciate. I, on the other hand, did appreciate how she managed to tell such a painful story with compassion and humour.
This is not a book for everyone, and certainly not for those who believe the most intimate and ugly details should never be mentioned. But if you’re ready to know what it truly and fully means to be very fat, then you should pick up a copy.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

What do you think of these books?

Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

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