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Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday Discussion: Food Books

We recently bought a new dining room set and are celebrating with a big dinner party on Friday.  Also, last week, everyone was talking about these food related new releases.  So as a result, I have food books on the brain.  I figured I would keep the idea going by asking about your favorite food related books.

When I thought about my own reading I was surprised.  I enjoy both cooking and eating food and I love watching cooking and food related TV shows, but when I looked at what types of food related books I read, it was only nonfiction.

Here are some of my favorite writers who incorporate food and cooking into their work:  Mark Kurlansky, Anthony Bourdain, and Ruth Reichl.  With Kurlansky, if he writes about food, I will read it and probably love it.  I like Bourdain's sense of humor, even if I do not always agree with his conclusions or life choices.  Reichl gives a great female perspective.  Click here to see when we read and discussed Tender at the Bone at the BPL.

This got me thinking about helping patrons who like me enjoy nonfiction books about food and cooking.  So, can we automatically move these readers to fiction with a cooking or food focus.  I am leaning toward a "no" on this question.  For example, although I enjoy mysteries, even cozy ones, I am not a huge fan of culinary mysteries.  However, when I think about it, the problem might be in the tone of these mysteries.  They tend to be a bit on the sillier side.  Also, the food and recipes are, for lack of a better term, more common.  I appreciate more fancy and elaborate food and recipes.  Finally, there is a big dessert focus in these books, and I am not a big baker; I am much more into meals.

The RA verdict here is that just the food connection alone will probably not work for readalikes.  You must consider other issues like the tone of the work, for example.

I did try to think of other food related fiction I have read, and I could not.  Maybe you can help me gather some ideas.

For today's Monday Discussion, talk about food related books you have enjoyed and/or about helping patrons who like food related books.

Click here to access the Monday Discussion archive.


Betty said...

The first book that comes to mind is The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake about a young girl who begins to taste the emotions of the people who prepare the food she eats. It starts with her feeling her mother's sadness in the special lemon cake she always makes for birthdays and escalates from there. As time goes on, she can only tolerate food that is mass produced, like the stuff in vending machines because the emotions become too much for her.

There is also a bit of a fantasy thrown in during the latter part of the book....a bit disconcerting, but overall the book was a good read.

Jackie, BPL Youth Services said...

I've recently read a children's book that involved food, mystery, and murder...and I thought it was really fun! I especially liked how it snuck in some geography and famous world travelers to the gourmet clues!

Here's my review I posted on Goodreads:

Marco Polo, gourmet food, a kid-genius, and murder...intrigued? Neil Flambe and the Marco Polo Murders is a fast-paced, rip-roaring, tantalizing delectable mystery that is sure to have every food-loving kid and adult sampling the pages with gusto!

When a string of murders involving world-class chefs stun Vancouver, Neil, affectionately known as The Nose aids detective Sean Nakamura in the investigation...after all, he can quickly sniff out any unusual and complicated mixtures of ingredients, or deadly mixtures, as the case may be. All these chefs were found dead, with a smile on their blue faces, with a hint of Chai tea on their lips.

Where does all this lead? Well, to Marco Polo's last journey from China to Venice, of course! A little bit murder mystery, sprinkled with geographical facts and mixed in with humor creates a deliciously appealing story about a culinary wonder-kid that is likable and fun.

Kathy, BPL RA said...

I totally agree that loving non-fiction food writing (which I do) does not translate to loving fiction food writing (which I don't, generally). But I did love "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake." I also really enjoyed "Tomato Rhapsody" by Adam Schell which tells the story of the tomato's arrival in Italy. It has wonderfully visceral descriptions of food but it is also a love story and reminiscent of a bawdy Shakespeare comedy.

Laurie C said...

Most of my food-related reading is cookbooks or on blogs, except for the occasional memoir, or a book like Julie and Julia. Apart from my old favorite Laurie Colwin, I like Ruth Reichl best. Anthony Bourdain was entertaining, but one was enough for me.
For fiction that's not a cozy mystery, books featuring Italian cooking came to my mind first. Adriana Trigiani has descriptions of Italian food in most of her books, and has even written a couple of cookbook/memoirs. Christina Baker Kline's novel The Way Life Should Be is about a young woman with a talent for Italian cooking starting a new life in Maine.
If a reader doesn't mind magical realism, there's Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.

Kimberly said...

I completely agree with Laurie C about Like Water for Chocolate. For the pure sensory pleasure of imagining how affecting the scent of the food is while wafting through the characters’ dreams………aahh.

Becky said that she didn’t care much for the culinary mysteries, which most seemed “silly” in their mood and it does seem to be true that if not included in that type of light-hearted cozy mystery, food seems to be a topic in Women’s Fiction or those romances that seem to border on women’s fiction. And we know that those are titles least likely to attract the attention as prizewinners, but are often the titles most sought by our day to day patrons looking for an entertaining read. Some of the better ones seem to include Bread Alone or The Baker’s Apprentice both by Judith Ryan Hendricks, Blessed Are the Cheesemakers or By Bread Alone both by Sarah-Kate Lynch, Love Goddess Cookery School by Melissa Senate, The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel, The Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Homan or the soon to be released The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry in which the scent of food attracts family ghosts for conversation.

Those readers, who would prefer an ethnic flavor to their fiction with food, may want to look at Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin, Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones and Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. Although these are also edging into the Women’s Fiction category, the authors bring a more literary quality to the writing as well as the larger world to our tables.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg which wasn’t really about the food, but which inspired a cookbook of it’s own, and how could I sum up these books without including Chocolat by Joanne Harris? For me, this is the closest in theme and literary sensibilities with Like Water for Chocolate and the temptations of the world as embodied by the confections could not be more apt.