Friday, June 26, 2009

foodie lit roundup

I've read quite a few foodie books since stumbling into the section adjacent to the cookbooks in B0rders. It's not specifically labeled "foodie lit," but doing a quick title scan made me discover a completely new genre that melded my two loves - food and literature. I keep a separate shelf in my GoodReads profile of books for foodies (as well as a baking shelf), so check here if you need recommendations.

Recently I have powered through a few, and I will share some thoughts. I do not believe in long book reviews. When I read a book review, I want to see some distilled thoughts and impressions, not a long and rambling plot summary. Thus, I will not be giving away the heart of these books. Just enough to whet your appetite (or cause you to activate your gag reflex, in some cases). Please keep in mind that I am an ignoramus when it comes to photos in blogger.

#1. "Gastronomical Me" by M.F.K. Fisher

M.F. K. Fisher was one of the earliest American food memoirists. Though people had surely written about food before she wrote "Gastronomical Me" in 1943, she was one of the first to write about her life through a culinary lens, framing her stories around her food discoveries and experiments with cooking. While the prose is a bit dense for the casual reader, it is beautifully written and even provocative in some places. In particular, this phrase captured my thoughts and seemed to sum up why it is that I too share Fisher's love of serving the perfect bite:

"I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."

#2. "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly" by Anthony Bourdain

I had heard about Anthony Bourdain before I found this book, but because he was not a Food Network chef, he was not on my radar. Sarah recommended that I read it, and I was immediately sucked into Bourdain's world of culinary debauchery. He truly writes like the bad boy of the culinary world and "adventures in the culinary underbelly" is an understatement at best. Being a published author of mysteries prior to his writing Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain's writing style impressed me. (I was praying it didn't go down the same awful road as Chef Jeff's Cooked. If you read 42 metaphors for drugs in the first chapter, it's probably not a good indication that literature is to follow.) Luckily, Bourdain did not, and his style was classic yet edgy, like most of his food, come to think of it.

#3. "I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti" by Giulia Melucci

This book is quality chick lit meets foodie lit. Giulia Melucci travels through her romantic past via meals, and each chapter is cleverly named for a dish and a man. Though most of the men have not remained in her life, the meals have, and the recipes appear to complement the text - everything from pasta to cake. Chick lit sometimes has a tendency to dwell in juvenile prose or conjured situations that ring false and do not sufficiently develop the primary female character. Melucci seamlessly blends the genres and makes herself as a character vulnerable and loveable at once. We've all been Giulia at one point or another, but most of us would be happy if we could do it with such grace. I would hesitate to say that this book would appeal to men, but if you're a male foodie and want to get into a woman's head, this is an enjoyable and safe way to do so.

#4. "Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School" by Katherine Darling

Lest you start to think I glow about every book I read, we come to Darling's attempt at a compelling culinary school memoir. I do know that it is possible to write a good one (see The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn). I read only about 30 pages (which is my standard for trying a book out). I rolled my eyes approximately 70% of the time and had to make three attempts to keep reading. Darling tells of her desire to quit her job in publishing (in NYC!) and go to culinary school, how she shows up in a dress and heels to her first day, and how she proceeds to make friends with her class partner. Everything she wrote has already been said by Flinn and others, and it seemed she almost borrowed the structure from other culinary school memoirs, figuring that since she quit her job to go to culinary school, she must be unique. Maybe, but her writing certainly isn't, and it is light years away from "saucy," as the subtitle promises. Considering that Flinn went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and did her training in French, going to the Culinary Institute of America in NYC doesn't seem too impressive. When a book devotes an entire chapter to the author's boyfriend's reaction to her in the new checked pants for school, it's time to put it down. There are too many good books out there to spend more than 30 seconds on this one. You've been warned.

I am currently reading "Let Me Eat Cake." It's...interesting. Look for a review in the near future.

Go forth and read, foodies.

No comments: