spectating participant


July 29, 2005

food and reading

Filed under: books, food — suzanne henderson @ 6:47 pm

Fork It Over : The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater The Man Who Ate Everything (Vintage) Garlic and Sapphires : The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise The Artful Eater: A Gourmet Investigates the Ingredients of Great Food

I’m still on a [food] [book] kick. I’m in the middle of three of these books and had some observations that I felt like sharing. I was able to find everything at my local library except for [The Artful Eater]. The first one, [Fork It Over], by [Alan Richman], is rather popular right now and I had to get in line on the hold list to get a copy. [The man Who Ate Everything], by [Jeffery Steingarten] has been sitting around on the shelves mostly untouched. The last returnstamp date says ‘Nov 29 2004′. Obviously there is no mad rush to read this one, not surprising since it is 8 years old. Steingarten does have a newer book (2002) that was sitting on the shelf waiting for me to return for seconds.

I eagerly started in on [Fork It Over], having just set down the entertaining and tasty [Garlic and Sapphires]. It is a collection of essays that was published in [GQ] magazine on the topic of food. This small point should have stood out a little more upon initial interest in the book. It didn’t take long for the book to get off to a bad start with me. The writer is arrogant, plain and simple, and talks so little about food that I wonder why he even bother’s considering himself a food critic. Now, here is where I should have realized that his audience for these pieces are GQ readers and maybe this style of writing is personally suited to their tastes and expectations of both men as writers and food. The essays are tedious to get through and I’ve left the book lost on tables and couches several times, not interested in finding where I left off. I will give it my customary attempt to complete the full book before totally ruling it off the chart of worthwhile reading, however, the due date quickly approaches and there is a whole line of people waiting to sink their teeth in. Maybe they will find it more worthwhile that I have, maybe they read GQ on a religious basis and feel that adding a pompous character to the typical dining experience will make this a treat to devour. Or, maybe they’ll pick it up, happy it has finally arrived, and also sit and gawk at the brutish nature of the author and the seemingly disregard for the expectation that the articles be about food.

I was reluctant to pick up [The Man Who Ate Everything]. It wasn’t because of the sour taste left by Richman’s book, but because the book didn’t look exciting. It’s paperback cover looked like it’d be shoved to the back of the shelf and forgotten. The ‘National Bestseller’ heading made me delay even longer, having found that claims like that, printed on the actual book, typically mean that the book needs help and it cannot stand alone of reputation but simply get by at the mere suggestion that if many people bought it, it must be good. Luckily, I found this book listed on another food website or food book review, so I knew that someone took the time to read and suggest it. And, when facing the opportunity to read more from [Fork It Over] or to head on the new and hopefully better things, I finally started reading.

Now, Steingarten is a great food writer. The articles are not always about the tastes of food but they do relate to food in every way. And, he seems completely interested in all things about eating and he conveys this with little trouble. The writing is so down to earth and easy to linger through. I feel that I could easily invite him over for a tall glass of ice tea and to discuss what new creative projects he has set out for. For example, he doesn’t just write about food in the simple tasting way, but really delves into his topics and offers up his own minorly-political commentary to boot. There is an entire article on catsup, not something I typically have an interest in, but in the methodological approach and witty syntax, it was an enjoyable adventure to embark on. He writes with the simplicity of the average person, there is no need to cater to some imagined stereotyped reader, but to write for the masses about the masses of food. I’m loving this book and hope to add it to my collection some day.

I have not forgotten about [The Artful Eater]. I am still working my way through it bit by bit, far more enchanted by it now than I was in the beginning. It must have been my bad mood talking before. This is a charming book, suited for quiet moments of life reflection and when you want to take your time. I find it to be the perfect before-bed-ritual-reading book because, along with the serene cover, the words float carefully through your mind and stir up subtle responses. I’m working on it one page of one article at a time and plan to finish it at a very leisurely rate.