While August’s readalike on death and dying offered an array of choices for those wishing to face mortality, September’s readalike, What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro, provides more palatable fare.
In fact, it pairs nicely with a list we’re developing, “Books on the bright side,” based on a list created by a librarian at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, just next door, called “Books that aren’t a bummer.” That list is coming soon, but in the meantime, let’s read about What She Ate!
Culinary historian Shapiro’s new book covers six women, some of whom have more name recognition than others, but all of whom have “a powerful relationship with food”: Dorothy Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Barbara Pym, and Helen Gurley Brown. Shapiro “presents six crisply written, ardently researched, and entertainingly revelatory portraits of very different women with complicated relationships with eating and cooking….A bounteous and elegant feast for hungry minds” (Booklist).
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl (2014): Reichl is the former editor of Gourmet magazine and author of a few food-related memoirs, including Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires. Delicious! is her first novel, about an intern at a magazine that is shut down; she is the only person not laid off, for it is her responsibility to ensure the “Delicious guarantee” for each recipe. Meanwhile, she uncovers a trove of letters between a 12-year-old and James Beard.
Relish by Lucy Knisley (2013): If you’ve never read a graphic novel before but you love food and memoir, you must dig in with Relish! Booklist writes, “In this collection of memories studded with recipes, [Knisley] explores how food shaped her family life, friendships, travel experiences, and early career as a cartoonist.”
Fever by Mary Beth Keane (2013) *and* Typhoid Mary: an urban historical by Anthony Bourdain (2001): The novel Fever takes Mary Mallon, a.k.a. Typhoid Mary, as its protagonist: she’s an Irish immigrant who loves cooking and makes her living cooking for others. When authorities tell her she is a carrier of typhus, and responsible for several deaths, she doesn’t believe them – and indeed, the theory of carriers was quite new. Mary is a sympathetic character and Keane brings historical New York to life. For a slim, very readable nonfiction volume on Mary Mallon, try Anthony Bourdain’s Typhoid Mary.
The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman (2010): Two sisters are living distinctly different lives: one is the CEO of a tech start-up about to go public in 1999; the other works in a used and rare bookstore, where she becomes intrigued by a woman’s mysterious collection of cookbooks. Library Journal writes, “[Goodman] is remarkably successful in creating rich, engaging characters and a complex story of love and identity that reads like life itself.”
Julie and Julia by Julie Powell (2005) and My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme (2006): Julie Powell is in a rut, and she assigns herself a project: she will make all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. And of course, you’ll want to read My Life in France, if you haven’t already, to hear Julia’s marvelously unique, bold, funny voice directly.
Something from the Oven: reinventing dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro (2004): In an earlier work, Shapiro examines how American home kitchens changed after World War II, from packaged foods originally designed and produced to feed soldiers to the iconic Julia Child. Library Journal writes, “[Something From the Oven is] a well-researched history of the relationship between the American woman’s domestic role as family cook and the American food industry.”
Salt: a world history by Mark Kurlansky (2002): “History is not always told by a chronology of dates or even a cavalcade of famous persons. In this case, the history of the world is told piquantly in this well-seasoned account of events that shaped the world’s history and that often revolved around salt” (Choice).
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (2000): Bourdain’s writing is as entertaining as the descriptions of his food are tantalizing. Kitchen Confidential is all about what really happens in restaurant kitchens, from a fish shack in P-town to Les Halles in New York. There are a few tips for practical diners, as well. A fun and eye-opening read!
See also our extensive list of nonfiction recommendations: “Nonfiction: Where to Begin?”