Reviews > Published on August 15th, 2014

Bookshots: 'The Trouble with Brunch' by Shawn Micallef

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Trouble With Brunch

Who wrote it?

Changes in how we brunch say much about how life has changed for white collar workers over the last three decades.

Shawn Micallef, columnist with the Toronto Star and author of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto. I sense he may be Canadian.

Plot in a Box:

A blend of personal history and social commentary about the transformation of the middle class from white collar workers with a semi in the suburbs to creatives writing for websites from their ‘office’ in the local Starbucks.

Invent a new title for this book:

Creatives of the World Unite!

Read this if you liked:

Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety or Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the 21st Century

Meet the book’s lead:

Brunch: arty, image conscious, happy to be tipsy at eleven on a Sunday.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Someone Canadian obvs. Did you know Seth Rogan is Canadian? Or Rachel McAdams?? Or Ryan Gosling??? Me neither. Anyway, none of them are as suitable to portray the upwardly mobile, faintly hipsterish charms of brunch as Michael (also Canadian) Cera.

Setting: would you want to live there?

Anywhere that serves cocktails before midday is home to me.

What was your favorite sentence?

If Nero were around today, he would have brunched as Rome burned.

The Verdict:

The Trouble with Brunch forms part of Coach House Books' Exploded Views series — essays on the prominent cultural issues and figures of the day — and although the title suggests something foodie, this bite-sized polemic concerns itself less with Eggs Hollandaise and more with class, culture and social change.

Brunch and the business of brunching acts as a social marker, argues Micallef. Middle class people brunch — Micallef doesn’t go into why this might be, although the habit probably stems, like many middle class habits, from a perception of how the landed gentry live (all horses, chafing dishes and outré sexual practices) — and, Micallef explains, changes in how we brunch say much about how life has changed for white collar workers over the last three decades.

Brunching has taken off. Brunching is big. Brunching has moved from dark-panelled hotels to trendy coffee shops to serve a new clientele. The middle class ate brunch to celebrate Uncle Harold’s fiftieth. Their replacement — the creative class — eats brunch to be cool, and beneath Micallef’s impish descriptions of shivering hipsters waiting in line for admission to the latest bruncherie, lies a serious point. For the creative class, social capital (finding the coolest place to eat) has replaced real capital ($). We used to earn money. Now we earn upvotes on Reddit.

Thought-provoking stuff indeed, and Micallef allows himself a muted rallying cry at the end of his thesis. The middle classes used to unionise. The creative classes lack a cohesive identity. Unless we form one, and pretty darn quick, we’re going to end up earning our living in call centers, or behind reception desks, and creating on the side.

The Trouble with Brunch is a well-informed, entertaining, easily-digested read. Anyone who wants to make a living doing what they love instead of what they have to should take a bite.

About the author

Cath Murphy is Review Editor at and cohost of the Unprintable podcast. Together with the fabulous Eve Harvey she also talks about slightly naughty stuff at the Domestic Hell blog and podcast.

Three words to describe Cath: mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four.

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