2012 at 5am Posted by Rebecca Joines Schinsky
One of the great pleasures of working in the book industry has been discovering how many book people are also food people. I’ve eaten some of the best meals of my life with fellow bibliophiles who love food almost (or even equally) as much as they love books. So it came as a total surprise to me when I realized, while perusing the shelves of the Blue Bicycle Books on a trip to Charleston, SC last week, that–cookbooks aside–I had never read a book about a food. This troubled me so much that I made charts for you! (Pie charts, natch.)
Before the trip, my reading-and-eating life looked like this:
Charleston is an incredible town for eating, and I didn’t plan to do much reading on the trip, but when I spied a copy of Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone, I just couldn’t say no. I mean, I must have been high when I packed two longish novels for a trip whose itinerary was basically eat, walk, shop, walk, eat, nap, eat, walk, eat. (Or maybe I was too busy fantasizing about Husk’s pork fat-infused butter, so good it made my pal Emily declare that Jesus himself must have been out back churning it.) But essays? About food? Perfection. And now my graph looks like this!
Hooray for the tiny purple sliver!
In Tender at the Bone, Reichl recounts her childhood in New York, with a mother who would eat literally anything (spoiled or not!) and a father who was too absorbed in his work (as a book designer! *swoon*) to notice. Her mother’s dinner parties were known far and wide for the, uh, creative (and frequently dangerous) fare, and early on, Reichl took it as her duty to warn her favorite guests away from the worst dishes. Not a very promising beginning for a cook, but luckily, her encounters with food didn’t end with her mother, and there were family friends and cooks who willingly shared their culinary tricks with her even when she was quite young. Reichl’s chronologically organized essays create a charming narrative that takes her from New York to boarding school in Canada, to graduate school in the midwest, and eventually to California, where lived in what was essentially a commune while working at a local cooperatively run restaurant.
There’s a lot to enjoy and appreciate about Tender at the Bone simply as a memoir–Reichl’s life is fascinating, and her confession that some of the details are fudged makes her all the more likeable–but as a meditation on what food can mean in our lives, it is terrific. As in, not to be missed. And there are recipes!
This book was something of a revelation for me. For as long as I’ve understood that reading is how I make sense of the world, I’ve understood that other people use other art forms to do the same. I’ve known people who made sense of the world through music, painting, dance, poetry. For some reason, though I’ve always considered good food to be a kind of art, I never thought of food as the same kind of conduit. (This despite the fact that I spent every evening of my own childhood perched on a stool in my parents’ kitchen and have grown to love cooking as an adult.) When Reichl stated clearly that cooking and eating were her ways of making sense of the world, something clicked, and I was officially in love with her and with the idea of a food memoir in general.
And that’s where you come in! I have Anthony Bourdain’s multiple memoirs already on the TBR list, and I’m planning to read Reichl’s later books, but I want more. Please, tell me about your favorite food memoirs and help me end 2012 with a graph that looks more like this:
And if you’re headed to Charleston, I’d be happy to talk your ear off about the adventures in food I had there.