There’s some strange quirk in my personality that leads me to enjoy reading about food and foodies, especially approaching the holiday season. So, around November, my Pageturners groups tend to read food-related memoirs, histories, and novels. (This is the benefit of being the one who makes the schedule.) But really, is there a better way to ramp up to the big feast at Thanksgiving than by reading a good book about good food?
This year, the food memoir is Julia Child’s My Life in France, about the beginning of her culinary career in post WWII Paris. From her first experiences with French cuisine, through her studies at Le Cordon Bleu, and on to publishing the iconic tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the journey is wonderful. Though written in collaboration with her grand nephew Alex Prud’homme, the voice is all Julia. One can almost hear that high-pitched voice warbling her signature phrase: bon appétit!
A few years ago we read Garlic and Sapphires: the Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl. Before she became editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, Reichl was the influential food critic for The New York Times. Instead of accepting the premiere service that restaurants would dish out to the critic who could make or break them, Reichl preferred to create elaborate disguises so that she got the “everyman” experience. She takes us through creating the disguises, dining at the restaurants, and closes each chapter with her newspaper review.
I have less experience with food novels, but The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones, is a good one. This is about real Chinese cooking – not the Americanized version. From within the framework of a widowed writer visiting China to investigate a paternity claim on her late husband (and, by the way, write an article about a rising star in the Chinese culinary world), we learn more about the nuances of Chinese cuisine than from any textbook. I got the chance to hear about this novel from the author herself, who came to visit my Pageturners group several years ago.
Finally, an interesting food history, called A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. This is a light and interesting survey of how six drinks influenced the development of mankind: beginning with ancient people and their relationship with beer, and moving through the Greco Roman love of wine, the importance of distilled spirits in the age of exploration, the Brits and their tea, Europeans and their coffee houses, and the modern love of soda pop.
Join a Book Discussion Group
These suggestions should put you in the mood for those big holiday dinners. If you’d like to join in on a book discussion, please search out the Pageturners group at your neighborhood library, or join me at the Midland, Fairview-Columbia or Troutdale branches. Find out who’s reading what: 2010-2011 Pageturners calendar.