Monday, December 31, 2007

Books from 2007

I read a lot of books in 2007. Riding public transportation to and from work for 6 months had its perks, including 40 minutes of built in, semi-undisturbed quiet time each day. Now that I drive, I actually miss that bit of peace.

Several of the books I finished were related to food in some way or another. Here's a few of my favorites.

Consider the Oyster, MFK Fisher
Fisher has long be heralded as the forerunner of modern food writing. She was the first to successfully weave history, folklore, personal anecdotes, and recipes into cohesive, interesting essays that all are familiar with but few ponder. The title, but today's standards, seems boring to the point that readers might search for a hidden joke, a double entendre, something a little deeper under the surface. It is, however, exactly what it says. Fisher presents the biology of an oyster, reflects back on the comfort and simplicity of hearty oyster stew, and even speaks a word about the formation of pearls.

Her writing is relaxed, and I found it to be very indicative of the time period when it was published. The language used in Consider the Oyster seems old fashioned in the best possible way. Reading it, if you didn't live through the period of the early 1940s, you would think it was a simple and splendid time, when only good things happened and strangers smiled at each other in the streets.

A passage:
"Oysters are healthful and nourishing, full of all the chemical elements such as oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and on and on, which occur regularly in your own body are are necessary to it. They keep you fit, do oysters, with vitamins and such, for energy and what is lightly called 'fuel value.' They prevent goiter. They build up your teeth. The keep your children's legs straight, and when Junior reaches puberty they make his skin clear and beautiful as a soap-opera announcer's dream. They add years to your life..."

It's a beautiful thing, when a writer can make it seem like all of the world's problems can be solved by eating bivalves.

Consider the Oyster was my first foray into Fisher's catalog. It is one of five books that are grouped together in her compilation, The Art of Eating. I look forward to the remaining four books.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
I was enthralled with Hemingway's semi autobiographical account of a writer's life in 1920s Paris. He and his wife lived on about $5 per day, eating and drinking eagerly and satisfyingly with the likes of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. My favorite parts of the book involved F. Scott Fitzgerald and his intense drinking habits.

Hemingway's account of lavish living during a different time period was truely interesting. I read it just prior to my trip to Paris. And then, while I was there...

The Sex Life of Food: When Body and Soul Meet to Eat, Bunny Crumpacker
Something light and fluffy for vacation, easy reading for a long flight. This book was as hilarious and entertaining as the author's name, which I truly hope is a pseudonym.

Crumpacker assigns foods a gender based on their appearance, taste, and a variety of other factors. Asparagus and zucchini are obviously male, whereas eggs and sugar are female. Red meat must be masculine since it comes from steer, but cheese and milk are feminine in nature. She goes on to examine how infancy and childhood predetermine our future likes and dislikes, how things come to be regarded as comfort foods, and how eating in a restaurant is a metaphor for making love.

Each chapter begins with a quote. One of my favorites:
"People predestined to gourmandism...have...bright eyes, small foreheads, short noeses, full lips and rounded chins...The ones who are most fond of tidbits and delicacies are finer featured, with a daintier air; they are more attractive...People to whom Nature has denied the capacity for such enjoyment, on the other hand, have long faces, noses, and eyes...They have flat dark hair, and above all lack healthy weight; it is undoubtedly they who invented trousers, to hide their thin shanks." The Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

My Life in France,Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
What an interesting woman! Julia Child co wrote this book with her grandson, and beautifully recounts how living in France shaped her career and life. I knew very little about Child prior to reading this book. I have seen a few reruns of her show and peeked through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Reading her memoirs about beginning cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, with only a decent understanding of the language, was inspiring, funny, and entertaining. This woman made things happen. She worked hard, and was rewarded. It was great fun to read about her travels and experiences. She would have been a fantastic person to have dinner with.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What the f*ck? I gave you a book to read in 2007 called The Omnivore's Dilemma. It was a book about food and hunting and gathering and corn and mushrooms. That's all food related and I just want to know why you've shunned my book? I want answers and I want them now!