December 26, 2013
What to Do When You Can’t Get Pregnant: The Complete Guide to All the Options for Couples Facing Fertility Issues, Second Edition. By Daniel Potter, M.D., and Jennifer Hanin, M.A. Da Capo. $18.99.
The 30 Minute Vegan: Soup’s On! By Mark Reinfeld. Da Capo. $17.99.
The concept of broadcasting is well known: transmitting information, usually via TV or radio but also via the Internet, to the largest possible audience. Less well known is the notion of narrowcasting, in which material is sent out – nowadays often via cable television or AM radio – to a specific slice of the potential audience. There is no intent to reach as many people as possible – only to reach people with a strong interest in a particular topic. Some print media have become narrowcasters because of changes in audience habits: newspapers, because more people get their news electronically now than in the past, and books, because – to be blunt about it – fewer people read for pleasure. But people still read for information, and there is something about a physical book, its heft and air of seriousness, that continues to attract people looking for solid, well-researched material relating to a particular subject. The audience for a book may be narrow even within the narrowcast world of books in general, but if it is a meaningful and highly engaged audience, the book can be a success.
And so we have a book such as the updated version of What to Do When You Can’t Get Pregnant, which is quite obviously intended only for couples who want children and have had difficulty conceiving. Reproductive endocrinologist Daniel Potter, with an assist from freelance journalist Jennifer Hanin, offers an exceptionally wide-ranging and mostly approachably written guide to fertility issues and what to do about them, starting with a definition of infertility and ending, 16 chapters later, with some fascinating looks at where reproductive medicine may go in the future: sections called “Probable,” “Possible” and “Plausible” are genuinely intriguing. Potter does not shrink from using medical terminology – a fact that sometimes makes the book rather heavy going – and also does not avoid difficult and controversial issues. In general, though, the book’s style is open and forthright enough to make the tougher elements reasonably easy to handle. For example, “The Art of ART” is the title of a chapter on assisted reproductive technology, while “Sometimes It Takes Four” is the title of one on third-party reproduction. And each chapter ends, perhaps overly cutely, with a summation called “In an Eggshell” rather than “in a nutshell.” Potter not only talks about the various methods of becoming pregnant when the traditional approach fails, but also deals with the ramifications of those methods and of the whole wanting-a-baby feeling – things such as blaming one’s partner for the failure to conceive, grieving after one or many miscarriages, and having ongoing sexual difficulties after being required, for a time, to have sex on a medically mandated schedule. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to infertility, and Potter wisely makes no generalized recommendations – preferring simply to lay out the many options so couples can think them through and decide which will fit their personal circumstances. There are occasional writing or editing errors in the book that undermine its careful, generally sober approach: at one point, for example, there is a comment that critics of stem cell use “believe stem cell therapy is immoral, unethical, and an irreprehensible [sic] waste of human life.” But most of the time, Potter does a good job of accurately presenting both the pluses and the minuses of approaches to the whole infertility issue. This book is only for a limited audience, but for that audience, it will be enormously helpful.
Issues of vegan eating are less consequential and less fraught with angst than ones involving bearing children, but vegans too are a small group for whom narrowcast books can be nicely targeted and very useful. Mark Reinfeld, who has written several of them, now offers one focused entirely on vegan soup preparation. The recipes are the main thing here, of course, but Reinfeld sets them up well, starting with a chapter called “The Art of Soup Creation” that explains specific stocks (mushroom, roasted vegetable, etc.) and also offering a clear list of specialty ingredients required in various recipes – including his specific choices within some of those ingredients. For example, Reinfeld suggests using Earth Balance vegan butter, Tofurky or Field Roast vegan sausages, and Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking mix. Ingredients not recommended by brand name often get usage information or other advice: for Chipotle chile powder, “a little goes a long way”; for liquid smoke, “only a small amount is necessary”; when it comes to miso paste, “purchase unpasteurized, for maximum nutritional benefits”; and so on. This is not a book that attempts to convert the unconverted to vegan eating – it is strictly for people already dedicated to this lifestyle and eating style. The soups themselves come in a wide variety of forms, and Reinfeld helpfully divides the book into sections on vegetable-based, creamy blended, raw and dessert soups, plus other souplike dishes, such as stews. Specific recipes will be, of course, a matter of taste. Readers will find vegan variants on familiar foods here, such as “Un-Chicken Noodle Soup,” “New England Chowder,” and “Cream of Mushroom Soup.” They will also find “Savory Brazil Nut Soup with Jicama,” “Raw Thai Coconut Soup,” “Holy Mole Soup with Veggies,” “Bavarian Asparagus Soup with Hazelnuts,” “Lavender-Infused Watermelon Soup,” and many other less-familiar concoctions. Vegan soup lovers would do well to read the recipes thoroughly before deciding which to undertake, since the complexity and time requirements of these dishes vary widely – take the title’s reference to “30 minutes” with a grain of Celtic or Himalayan salt. Part of the before-trying-it reading should be the “Variations” section at the end of most recipes, which can discuss anything from making a soup gluten-free to changing its taste dramatically by replacing specific ingredients (tortilla chips instead of polenta in “Black Bean Tomato Soup,” for example, will produce a very different flavor and texture). Committed vegans who enjoy soups and like spending time in the kitchen will find plenty to keep them busy and satisfied here. They may be a niche market, but they are an enthusiastic one and will respond with enthusiasm to the narrowcasting of The 30 Minute Vegan: Soup’s On!