From Too Many Chefs -

January 18, 2006
Call for Book Suggestions

I'm trying to read a book a week this year. So far, I'm a little ahead, having read since January 1st: Empire Falls by Richard Russo, Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Man With the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren, and How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland.

Notice a problem? None of those books are very food-related.

I've got Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky in the offing, and last year I read Salt: A World History also by Mark Kurlansky, and The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson, but I need more food-related material for the upcoming year.

What are your favorite food books that aren't cookbooks? What should I be reading this year? What would you like to see reviewed here on Too Many Chefs?

Allright, allright, I know this is something of a throwaway post, though I really do want suggestions on foodie books.

Here's a bonus - have you seen the new stuff at Tasting Menu's store?

Pretty slick stuff, I must say. I may need a tomato shirt.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at January 18, 2006 10:53 PM | TrackBack

Anything by M.F.K. Fisher! I recently read The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon which was lovely, a kind of philosophical musing on food, life and the meaning of it all.

Have you read all the Larkin family stories by H.E. Bates? Though technically not foodie stories the descriptions of Ma Larkin's feasts are enough to get anyone's mouth watering.

Posted by Meg in Paris on January 19, 2006 at 1:15 AM

Toast by Nigel Slater - Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser - umm... Women Who Eat, edited by Leslie Miller (okay, so that one might not be right up your alley, but they're nice stories!) - that's what I have for now, I'll return with more if I think of them... Haven't read any of the MFK Fisher myself, but REALLY want to - can't wait to see what other people have to recommend, I too want to read some more food-related books this year!

Posted by Zarah Maria on January 19, 2006 at 2:47 AM

Love the orange shirt!

Posted by Jay on January 19, 2006 at 5:34 AM

Barrett: You MUST read Auberge of the Flowering Hearth. It's the most lovely gastronomic book ever written. He really captured a certain place, during a certain time...he was such a magnificent writer (and he was blind!) This book is worth seeking out and I've read it twice, and would read it again...

Posted by David on January 19, 2006 at 5:54 AM

Meg, I read the Larkin stories in that omnibus you sent me. Sounds like traditional Southern cooking, in many ways. I have not read much Fisher or the Capon book, and I will add them to the list.

Zarah Maria - excellent suggestions. I'll check out Women Who Eat. I've already read and enjoyed Toast and Fast Food Nation. If you like FFN, may I suggest Fat Land? Good book on why Americans are 'ginormous.

David, with a recommendation so forceful, I will certainly seek out Auberge of the Flowering Hearth. I'm looking forward to it.

Any other suggestions? I'm whipping through "Cod", and while I have two books lined up after it, I will certainly need more suggestions!

Posted by barrett on January 19, 2006 at 9:40 AM

MFK Fisher's The Art of Eating will keep you busy for a while. It is a compendium several of her most famous books. Excellent reading. Another interesting book semi-food related is The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollen. He gives the history and story of 4 plants - the apple, potato, tulip and marijauna. Very well researched and very interesting reading.

Posted by Mike on January 19, 2006 at 10:00 AM

Barrett our mutual friend Sam recommended a book about the history of nutmeg to me a while back. I think it was Nathaniel's Nutmeg : Or True Incredible Adventures Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History. Personally, I'm going through a real nutmeg period (do cooks have spice periods as painters do colors?) I think I'm going to have to borrow it from him if he ever gets back from Australia.


He's probably eating barramundi right now. In the sunshine.


Posted by Meg in Paris on January 19, 2006 at 10:05 AM

My favorite food books: "Tender at the Bone" and "Comfort Me With Apples", both memoirs by Ruth Reichl. Her life story told through food, with recipes scattered throughout. Of course, "Chocolat" by Joanne Harris will have you craving chocolate the whole time you read the book.

Posted by Jen on January 19, 2006 at 10:19 AM

Mike, I've red the Botany of Desire. Great book. I loved the section on apples and how they were an important sugar and alcohol staple in the early American diet.

Jen, I've read the Reichl books and loved them (I think I even reviewed them here). I haven't read her latest, because I'm waiting for it to come out in paper (cheapskate that I am). I saw the movie "Chocolat", but haevn't read the book.

Posted by barrett on January 19, 2006 at 11:08 AM

Read Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking books (1 and 2). They are lyrical and simple and you will want to cook EVERYTHING she writes about.

Posted by Luisa on January 19, 2006 at 11:53 AM

Three books I find engrossing each time I read them: Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs, and the Chesapeake Bay (which won a Pulitzer prize in 1976), Distant Water: The Fate of the North Atlantic Fisherman, both by William Warner; and Oranges by John McPhee, a horticultoro-socio-economic history. 152 pages, all about oranges? Yes, and as in all of McPhee's books, each one a treat.

Posted by Mike H on January 19, 2006 at 12:09 PM

Oranges! I LOVED Oranges, even though I'm from apple-country. McPhee is a delight to read. The book that hooked me on him was decidedly non-food - "The Curve of Binding Energy", aka "Where the hell did you get that atomic bomb" (for Barney Miller fans).

Mike, I'll be sure to check out the others.

Luisa. I feel like I've read something by Laurie Colwin, but not her cooking books. I'll look for those as well.

Keep 'em coming, gang! These are great suggestions.

Posted by barrett on January 19, 2006 at 12:20 PM

Good luck with the book-a-week! Of food-orientated fiction, I would suggest Laura Esquivel's Like Water For Chocolate. It's great, and not quite like the movie (have you seen the movie?). Every chapter begins with a recipe! :) yum! It's definitely one of the most colorful books I have read. I would reccommend it even if you weren't looking for books regarding food!

ps the orange shirt is very cool!

Posted by Jackie on January 19, 2006 at 12:36 PM

If, after you finish Distant Water, you are still in a seafaring mood (and I'll bet you will be), I suggest following up with The Serpent's Coil and Grey Seas Under, both nonfiction by Farley Mowat and republished in 2001 after being out of print for years. Though they're not food-related, each -- and especially the former -- may well leave you scoffing at such books as The Perfect Storm as oafish hackery by landlubbers.

Posted by Mike H on January 19, 2006 at 12:39 PM

The two that immediately come to mind are both based in the Caribbean. Each gave me an escape from Chicago's harsh winter and can be read quickly. The first book is An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Amy Vanderhoof. It's about a couple that leaves their life in Canada? for a year to explore the Caribbean via sailboat. It delas with the trials and tribulations of a year on the water. The other book is A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean by Melinda and Robert Blanchard. They leave New England and move to Anguilla where they ultimately open a restaurant. The Blanchards even have a cookbook called At Blanchard's Table.

Posted by Tracy on January 19, 2006 at 12:56 PM

I really like Perfection Salad and Something from the Oven by Laura Shapiro--they are culinary histories of the US, with lots of women's history thrown in. The former also chronicles the rise of home economics as an academic discipline--and talks about the mania for "white" food in the US at the turn of the 20th century. It takes on history from the latter part of the 19th century to the early twentieth. The second book takes on where the first left off, and has lots of interesting stuff about the Depression, the war years and the 1950's.

Posted by Barbara on January 19, 2006 at 1:02 PM

Another thought: if you'd like to read a cookbook that reads like a "real" book, try dipping into Nigel Slater's Appetite when you visit here next month. I read it on the plane to Chicago the year it came out and could hardly put it down!

Posted by Meg in Paris on January 19, 2006 at 1:30 PM

The debt to pleasure by John Lanchester is beautifully written, with fantastically black humour and a twist in the tail. You'll love it. Also, try The Apologist by Jay Rayner, also very funny.

Posted by kookiegoddess on January 19, 2006 at 1:55 PM

My BF pushes his copies of Salt and Cod on anyone who'll take them! I shouldn't laugh, they always come back with good reviews. I have yet to read them myself, as I generally prefer novels to non-fiction. I recently intended to put all food-theme books on the kitchen bookshelf above the cookbooks - a project not yet tackled. I'll review my list, though many have already been mentioned above. I hope there's a good library and/or used bookstore near you!

Posted by Monica on January 19, 2006 at 3:16 PM

Hi, I'd like to reccomand 2 of the best books I read last year. They're both very well written, creative and carry their reader in their very special, complex universe. 1-"The House of Leave" by Mark Z. Danielewski: A man moves into a new house with his finally and soon finds out that this house is bigger inside than outside. It sounds a bit metaphysical but that's not all: the story has 3 different narrators and the book is a combination of 3 different perspectives, very brilliant! 2-Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, a sublime novel. 2 stories alternate in this book to finally meet in the last chapter. In hard boiled wonderland a top-level "mathematician" and also a Lou Reed fan, gets carried in surreal adventures after processing a series of data. The hero of the "End of the World" settles in a new city surrounded by a terrifying forrest where unicorns leave. His shadow was parted from him prior to settling in this very special town... A wonderful, mesmerising book.

Posted by Céline the giant Squid on January 19, 2006 at 5:15 PM

I see someone's already listed "Something from the Oven," so I will only add Gina Mallet's "Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World." It's a taste memoir cum food industry indictment. She tackles eggs, apples, raw milk cheeses, and all manner of paranoia.

Enjoy! I wish I had time for a book a week. One day, perhaps.

Posted by Raspberry Sour on January 19, 2006 at 5:25 PM

oopsie, food related books, you said... oops and oops where was I? ok, so what about a book called: "Like Water for Chocolate : "A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies" This novel has also been adapted into a movie
In 1900's Mexico, Tita has the power to tranfer her emotions, frustration, love, sadness into the food she cooks. All the family is impregnated with her meals. It's quite a bizarre storyline, with historical background and disturbed love stories.... very interesting

Posted by Céline the giant Squid on January 19, 2006 at 5:27 PM

Raspberry Sour - I read really fast. It ticks my wife off.

For example, I started Cod last night and am on p.135 after about half an hour last night and 35 minutes or so this AM on the train.

Great suggestions, everyone. I will give these all a look and I'm sure most of them a read.

Posted by barrett on January 19, 2006 at 5:37 PM

Here I am, late as usual... many thanks for this thread, Barrett! We are always on the lookout for this sort of book! and we too are always pushing those two Kurlansky books on people as well. (Monica, you've got to read them.) We LOVED them - especially 'Salt'.

Here are some favourites of ours that have not yet been mentioned:

'When French Women Cook: A Gastronomic Memoir' by Madeleine Kamman

'A Meal Observed' by Andrew Todhunter

any of Peter Mayle's books - especially 'A Year in Provence'.

'Man Who Ate Everything' by Jeffery Steingarten (if you haven't lost all respect for him because of seeing him on TV - luckily we read this before we ever saw him.)

'Kitchen Confidential' by Anthony Bourdain (same thing about the TV thing goes for Bourdain - can't stand him on TV but really like his writing)

'Under the Tuscan Sun' by Frances Mayes (not really at all like the movie, from what I can gather, having not seen the movie)

'At Home in Provence' by Patricia Wells (the prose sections before each recipe)

We have just started "Mangoes & Curry Leaves" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid and really liking it so far.


Posted by ejm on January 22, 2006 at 2:34 PM

It's old, and only partly food-related, but Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Ann Tyler, is great. I picked it up at a news kiosk in Athens, back when I was backpacking through Europe and had never heard of Ann Tyler. In fact, I bought it because it was the only thing in English. But I was so captivated by it that I ended up spending far more time in my hotel room reading than I did out visiting the Parthenon, etc.

Posted by Almendro on January 22, 2006 at 3:44 PM

I second the recommendations for Ruth Reichl, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and Nigel Slater's Toast, in fact anything by Nigel Slater is worth reading and is endlessly entertaining! A couple of other food books which i have read over the last year and enjoyed are Stuffed by Patricia Volk and The Pedant in the Kitchen by Julian Barnes, this last one is a fantastic, funny read.

Posted by Nicki on January 24, 2006 at 1:58 PM

Two that I've enjoyed are (1) Tom Stone, The Summer of My Greek Taverna (about Stone's adventures of buying into a Greek restaurant and learning the hard way that it isn't the romantic experience he was hoping for) and (2) Sallie Tisdale, The Best Thing I Ever Tasted: The Secret of Food (essays about food and how food trends have developed in recent American history). It's great to read everyone else's recommendations!

Posted by Paige on January 24, 2006 at 9:09 PM

I don't know if you're still looking for books but I am presently reading the novel 'Cooking with Fernet Branca' by James Hamilton-Paterson - it is hilarious!


Posted by ejm on February 10, 2006 at 3:53 PM

Encyclopedia of French Cooking (published 1983) is available cheaply from the second-hand dealers, and is a pleasant surprise. The introductory section on History goes through a gastronomic portrait of each of the provinces in France, placing them according to what is grown and eaten in each of them that distinguishes them from each of the others. Then the same tour of wines and cheeses. Then the recipes are beautifully illustrated. Doesn't have the personal warmth of Auberge or some of the others, but it's definitely a feast of the senses.

Posted by Binnie Williams on April 15, 2006 at 3:43 PM