We’re adding another feature
You already know that Kim and I like to read. We also like to eat. So it stands to reason that we like to read about food. When I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago that described my new year’s resolution to become a vegetarian–a resolution inspired by two books about cooking and food–faithful reader and occasional contributor Meagan suggested we make food writing a regular part of the blog. We love that idea.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that books about food can be broken down into four categories: 1. Cookbooks, 2. Essays about food and meals, 3. Anecdotes and memoirs about life in the food industry, and 4. Diet or prescriptive books about food (i.e. books about what we should or shouldn’t eat).
I’m sure I’ve left something out, but let’s just say for now that most books about food fit into at least one of these categories.
Oh, wait–thought of one more. 5. Fiction that includes recipes, like Nora Ephron’s Heartburn.
I think I’ve mentioned before on this blog that cookbooks are like pornography to me: I love to acquire them and leaf through their pages, giving free rein to my imagination as I gaze at photos and pretend that I could do such things, knowing full well I’ll probably never have the energy. The truth is that most of the recipes I cook from are either old and scrawled on index cards or culled that day from the internet–it’s a lot faster to search for “miso salmon recipe” than it is to scan index after index of the cookbooks on my shelf. But I still find myself drifting over to the cookbook shelves in bookstores and I still want to take home the most appealing ones I find. Like I said: it’s about dreaming, not necessarily doing.
Diet books (and by that I mean any book that talks about food choices, so that would include things like Fast Food Nation or Food Matters) are inherently less interesting to me. Ever since hearing Michael Pollan’s famous advice (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.”), I’ve felt like any other advice is overkill. What more do we need to know than that? But I’ve bought my share of books about managing Celiac Disease and I’m grateful for the writers who keep reminding us that our health and the earth’s future is in our control and we should be mindful of both.
I may be a little sluggish when it comes to reading something that, like your vegetables, is more good for you than enjoyable, but I’ll read anything about working in a restaurant (does that make it metaphorical junk food?). Nothing makes you appreciate how (relatively) easy your own life is more than reading about an amateur trying to survive in a real restaurant kitchen. It’s truly dangerous, what with the burns and the tempers and the sharp knives, and the pressure of keeping up is unbelievable. Bill Buford’s Heat is a fun read, and Anthony Bourdain’s books make you realize that even for a successful professional, the pitfalls of opening and running a restaurant are innumerable. You’ll never go out to eat again without wondering what’s going on in the kitchen.
Fiction is as fiction does, which means a good novel will work with or without recipes, so I don’t have a lot to say about that trend (which seems to come and go) except that the story better be good and the recipes better be tested or I’ll end up annoyed.
I’ve left my favorite kind of food writing for last: essays about food and life. The greatest food writer ever (as far as I’m concerned) is MFK Fisher who seamlessly and apparently effortlessly captures the role that food plays in memory, love, and our lives in all of her essay collections. I read every book of hers I could get my hands on many years ago because–more than any other writer–she made me taste the food she wrote about. Her recipes are practical and doable, but the charm of her essays is in the way she captures the role of food in her emotional life. I frequently think about one essay of hers, when the man she’s seeing tastes the very subtle curry she’s been working on for hours and tells her it’s not seasoned enough and starts dumping in some heavy spices. She watches him, not interfering, just aware that his inability to appreciate the subtlety of her cooking means he’ll never understand her and that their relationship is doomed. Any fiction writer could learn from her. Amazing writer. Amazing woman.
This is all just an overview, mind you–an introduction to a new regular feature on bookstorepeople. Our goal is to showcase regularly books about eating and cooking that we’ve found particularly delightful or meaningful. If you have any favorite food authors or books you’d like to share, let us know. Meanwhile, as our friend Julia Child would have said, “Bon appetit.” I’ll see you in the cookbook section . . .