Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What's on your ideal food reading list?

While writing today's column about the new food-book reading club at Park Road Books, I was pondering the differences in food book styles.

There are cookbooks, and there are food books. Now, it is true that sometimes cookbooks can be food books. And sometimes food books have recipes. But there's an essential difference between the two. It seems to me that cookbooks are focused on how to make things. And food books are focused on . . . everything else.

Food memoirs. Food politics. Food novels. To me, Julia Child wrote cookbooks, and M.F.K. Fisher wrote food books.

I've offered plenty of cookbook lists through the years. Now I'm wondering: What five food books would be essential reading to you?

I'll start it off with two lists, mine and one sent to me by loyal and active food reader Ken Allen. My list:
A.J. Liebling, "Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris." One of the great -- and most humorous -- journalists writes about moving to Paris and learning to appreciate food in the 1920s. It's as much about learning how to eat as learning what to eat.
M.F.K. Fisher. Pretty much anything she wrote, although "The Art of Eating" is a good start.
John Thorne, "Simple Cooking." Erudite, curmudgeonly, comforting. Before any food blogger sets fingers on the keys, they ought to read the man who came before.
Laurie Colwin, "Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen" (and I'll cheat and add "More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen.") I wake up every morning knowing that the best food writing essays ever written have already been written. And yet I get up anyway.
Anthony Bourdain, "Kitchen Confidential." Before the show, before the wars on everyone from newspaper food editors to Esquire writer John Mariani and the James Beard Foundation, before the attitude became a schtick, Tony Bourdain was a writer. A good writer.

And from Ken Allen: I'm thinking of Cross Creek Cookery, Pat Conroy's cookbook, Dan Huntley's barbecue book, among others. If I'm making a recipe from one of those, I have to double the amount of time it takes to actually fix the food due to getting distracted by the stories.

Anyone else have picks they'd share?


lucy@acookandherbooks said...

Love Laurie Colwin's books. They should be required reading for everyone who wants to write a food blog. Pat Conroy's cookbook is really a food book and is brilliant in the same way as Colwin. Edna Lewis is another author I'd put on the list. And of course Ruth Reichl's first two memoirs.

Bob Caldwell said...

I'd suggest "The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand," by Jim Harrison.

Kathleen Purvis said...

Oooh, good one, Bob! I love that book. I haven't thought about that one in years.

Lisa said...

How about Michael Lee West's Consuming Passions (out book club had a great time trying the recipes and talking about learning to cook) or Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton?

Also love Erica Bauermeisters "The School of Essential Ingredients" - it's a novel that makes me want to cook!

Ann said...

Absolutely love food books! In addition to Laurie Colwin and MFK Fisher ("With Bold Knife and Fork"), I'd add Elizabeth Romer's "The Tuscan Year" (1984) and an oldie with a spiritual twist, Robert Farrar Capon's "The Supper of the Lamb" (1969).

Bob Caldwell said...

I've used Bordain's "Kitchen Confidential" in my freshman comp classes. He writes a well-developed paragraph with plenty of supporting details, and the "sauciness" of his writing can get a college student's attention.