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Reading is Fundamental

BookmobileIt’s easy to be critical, not so much when it comes to defining what’s “good.” At least for me. I thought I liked food writing until I tried thinking of who my favorite food writer might be and came up empty. As it turns out, I like to read and I like reading about food but not necessarily for the writing. I’m not literary minded. Maybe I’ve been ruined by the lawless potential of blogs.

With nonfiction I would want something funny, occasionally mean-spirited, highly personal, yet also informative. Sounds simple but I’m drawing a blank. Nothing overly intellectual or earnest. And I definitely don’t like reading about upper middle class+ and/or Ivy League educated men and their families. I think I’m probably supposed to read Julie and Julia (which I see has been retitled and packaged to look more chick lit) but I’ve always avoided it for no good reason. Book suggestions anyone?

Fiction-wise, well, I rarely read anymore, but I prefer mundane and/or melancholy, preferably about fuckups or outcasts. Raymond Carver and Sherwood Anderson are nothing alike but I enjoy short stories from both authors. I have Richard Lange’s Dead Boys and Junot Diaz’s (who plays food writer in this month’s Gourmet) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on hold at the library (who knows when I’ll actually get them).

In the early ‘90s, The Sterns drew me in with kitsch and a tangible passion for their subjects, frequently food-related. I still read their longstanding Gourmet column and even wrote them fan letter when I was younger and less guarded.

The only book I could think of in recent history that was ostensibly about food while maintaining an entertainingly personal bent was Candy Freak. Not by a food writer. And apparently, a nut. Such strange timing that I would think of Steve Almond the same day Gawker mentions him (unflatteringly, of course). And then I remembered that he's now also a daddy blogger and I got grossed out again. 

Last night I cracked open The River Cottage Meat Book, my birthday present that showed up a month and half late because it was so massive that it had to be shipped surface from England (as a money-saver not because it HAD to be). It’s kind of cruel that I make my non-meat-eating sister send me such fleshy books as gifts. A few years back it was Nose to Tail Eating. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall definitely doesn’t fit my M.O., he’s very back to the land and posits that meat should cost twice as much for half the amount. I get his point, especially juxtaposed with slaughter photos of the livestock he’s raised (that seems so British right now, being all straightforward and graphic about animal husbandry). But it’s certainly not light reading.

Then this morning I received an email from Amazon suggesting that I preorder the Best Food Writing 2007. WTF? I haven't even looked at the list of authors yet. Am I being led to water and I just don’t want to drink? I will give it a read (via the public library again) and I’ll do so with a mind as open as I can possibly muster.

Photo from the South Carolina Library History Project

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  1. Yes, food writing is a tricky thing, with all the gushing and over-romanticizing (which I am not innocent of, in the least). And don’t get me started on the chick-lit brand of food blogs that use their current boyfriend as a metaphor for their love of hummous.

    My favorite food writer has always been Jonathan Gold’s LA Weekly reviews, even though I don’t always agree with him. He’s just so dang funny. I do love Junot too.

    Some book suggestions in the outcast or neurotic category: Laurie Moore “Birds of America”, John Fante “Ask the Dust”, Eisenberg’s “Transactions in a Foreign Currency”.

    September 19, 2007
  2. Michelle: Ah…I wasn’t including restaurant critics in my food writing asessment. Not sure why, though. I like Lorrie Moore, will have to check out the others.

    Sherwood Fan: Good to see there is another Sherwood fan in the world.

    September 25, 2007

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