Karin Tanabe’s ‘The List’ and Dana Bate’s ‘The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs’


”The List” by Karin Tanabe. (Washington Square)
March 4, 2013

THE LIST

By Karin Tanabe

Washington Square. 370 pp. Paperback, $15

THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS

By Dana Bate

Hyperion. 394 pp. Paperback, $14.99

From the White House correspondents’ dinner to the Hay-Adams Hotel to the Museum of American History, two former journalists celebrate and skewer capital living in their first novels. Both feature young women trying to launch careers in a city thirsty for scandal, but no cherry blossoms were injured in the making of these frothy books.

The fast-talking “His Girl Friday” reporter would have suffered a nervous breakdown had she worked at the fictional newspaper at the center of Karin Tanabe’s “The List.” Her heroine is Adrienne Brown, who gives up a cushy job and free couture at Town & Country magazine to live in her parents’ barn in Virginia, start work at 5 a.m. and grind out 10 online posts a day as a Style reporter at the Capitolist — known as the “List.”

“It was a little like the decathlon without the bonus calorie burn. . . . Small nervous breakdowns requiring prescription drugs and Skype counseling (to save time) were commonplace. Sick days were never taken. If you had a mix of bubonic plague and shingles you might be allowed to work from home,” Adrienne says. “But the ones who made it past the breaking point loved it beyond all reason. The only other jobs they would ever consider were United States senator or dictator of planet earth and outlying galaxies. Or, if they had to, host of Meet the Press.”

Tanabe, a former Politico reporter whose work has also appeared in The Washington Post, gleefully skewers digital media sweatshops — everything from the constant stream of cakes for departing reporters to BlackBerrys whose “off” switches have been disabled by IT. Mainlining five-hour energy shots and subsisting on five hours of sleep a night, Adrienne produces endless quantities of mediocre copy about celebrities. At one point, she interviews actress January Jones about her work saving the snails (rather than the whales). It doesn’t matter.

But then she stumbles on an actual scoop involving an affair between a back-stabbing co-worker and a married senator. To land the story, Adrienne has to involve the meanest person she knows: her older sister.

Despite its breezy, chick-lit tone, “The List” has more in common with newsroom satires. When Adrienne asks why everyone at the Capitolist is so young, her colleague replies: “Because old people are not stupid enough to do these jobs. Nor do they have enough energy. Think of us like sled dogs. They use the young ones who can go the distance and take the crack of a whip and when we’re tired they trade us out.” Fortunately, Adrienne finds that she revels in the race.

Hannah Sugarman, the heroine of Dana Bate’s “The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs,” will be immediately familiar to anyone who has read Jennifer Weiner or Helen Fielding. Hannah toils by day at the Institute for Research and Discourse (IRD), amusingly nicknamed NIRD, but what she really loves to do is cook. Her professor mother didn’t blaze a feminist trail for her daughter to don an apron, so Hannah spends her days surreptitiously looking up recipes online when she should be researching economic theory. (Who wouldn’t?)

Hannah also suffers from an acute case of foot-in-mouth disease, which causes her politically minded boyfriend to dump her after two disastrous dinner parties.

Relegated to an air mattress in a basement apartment and in danger of losing her despised job, Hannah finds new purpose when a friend urges her to create an underground supper club. But since no one is going to pay money to eat in Hannah’s apartment, she “borrows” her landlord’s gorgeous home while he’s out of town — as well as his dining room table, stove, china and $150-a-bottle Macallan. Even when it becomes apparent that Hannah’s scheme could lead her from kitchen to jail if her strait-laced landlord finds out, she’s having too much fun to quit.

“The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs” is less ambitious than Melissa Bank’s “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” from whence it apparently gets its title. The ending, for one thing, is completely improbable. And Hannah might not be quite the “loveable mishmash of Christina Hendricks and Maureen Dowd and Kathy Griffin” that she fancies herself at the beginning.

But the food — oh my goodness — the food! From the Dupont Circle farmers market to the Maine Avenue Fish Market, Hannah leads readers on a culinary tour of D.C.’s locavore scene. And the supper club menus are saliva-inducing catalogs of deconstructed Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, honeycomb ice cream and much, much more.

Do not read this book hungry. If Bate, a former broadcast journalist for PBS’s “Nightly Business Report,” served every book buyer a slice of Hannah’s carrot cake with caramelized pecan filling, toasted coconut and cream cheese frosting, she’d have the bestseller of the year.

Zipp regularly reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post.

THE LIST

By Karin Tanabe

Washington Square. 370 pp. Paperback, $15

THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS

By Dana Bate

Hyperion. 394 pp. Paperback, $14.99

 

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