The March selection for The Kitchen Reader book club was Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table, a Collection of Essays from the New York Times edited by Amanda Hesser.
This book is a compilation of 26 essays which originally appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Editor Amanda Hesser published a series of stories by accomplished writers about an important moment in their lives involving food. Divided into sections titled Illusions, Discoveries, Struggles, Loss, and Coming Home, the essays cover a wide variety of styles and topics which all relate (somehow) to food.
While I didn’t love every single essay, I enjoyed the book overall. The short sections made for a quick read that was easy to put down and pick back up, and any of the stories I enjoyed less were over quickly. While not every chapter ended with a recipe, many did, several of which were tempting. Sadly, I had to return the book to the library before I had to chance to copy any of the recipes down let alone make them.
Why food essays? In the introduction the editor, Amanda Hesser, explains that “we spend most of our time at home in and around the kitchen — because food is the most familiar and universal medium in our lives.” The stories in this book are not the trite odes to Grandma’s cooking, but they all approach food in a way that reveals something about their lives.
Chef Dan Barber’s account of living up to the hype of a new ingredient at his restaurant is at once a confession, an action-adventure, and a study on the placebo effect. Yiyun Li extols the marketing prowess of Tang, the powdered orange drink that became like a Holy Grail of status in Beijing. Novelist Ann Patchett recounts the argument with her now-husband which overrode a gourmet meal in Paris. Billy Collins was another contributor to the book. The former U.S. Poet Laureate is my favorite poet and I very much enjoyed his inclusion in the collection.
(This is when my notes ended and I had to return my book. Apologies to the authors of chapters I enjoyed but cannot name.)
One essay that struck me talked about going home to cook for the author’s mother who was dying of cancer. Going through the motions of cooking while being there was the important part, even though the food wasn’t being eaten. Food is about nourishing on many levels, for both the person who cooks and the person who eats. The story resonated with me.
Though a few chapters were lost on me, the majority worked. When I finished the book I was a little disappointed that it was over and wanted more. My copy was from the library, but I could imagine pulling this book off the shelf and reading a few select chapters over and over again. That the essays are memories from the authors makes the book more classic, I think, and though I am not much for re-reading books, I would consider taking this one for another spin.