Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Reading List

I hope at some point this summer you find yourself with nothing to do but read. And not because you need to or have to, but because you have nothing better to do. So be it a hot, Sunday afternoon when all you can do is lay down on the couch and suck in cold air, or a Tuesday at the beach, here are some books you may want to read. Note, not all the books I loved, but maybe you will. If you disagree with my assessments, that is the whole point.

Far Flung and Well Fed is an archive of R.W. Apple's (nickname Johnny) best writing on his favorite topic: eating. In short, informative articles he relates to you the methodology behind Uglesich's or where to find the best dumplings in Shanghai. Of course, once you read Apple's writings on say truffles, reading the rest of the books on this list may seem unnecessary.

Do you like cheese, punk rock, and the politics of anti-Reaganism? If you do, then you will love the Cheesemonger: A Life on the Edge by Gordon Edgar. The book chronicles Edgar's rise from a nihilist, protesting San Francisco punk aficionado to the head cheesemonger of the Rainbow Cooperative in San Francisco. To be honest, reading more than half of the book proved challenging. The over reliance on a literary device known as "too cool for school" drove me away. But there are some redeeming qualities, such as his near encyclopedic knowledge of the world's best cheeses.

If you are new to wine or old to wine, you have to read Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch. The author has thrived as a retailer, importer, merchant, negociant, and winemaker by focusing on the winemakers who actually give a shit about making good, honest wine at affordable prices. Besides, if you (like me) have ever wanted to know the difference between Burgundy, Bourdeaux, Premier Cru, and Rose, this is your book to gain knowledge of French wine without signing up for a snooty, pretentious class.

The food intelligentsia always points towards M.F.K. Fisher for the truest expression of writing about the joys of food. In As They Were, flowery essays detail an idyllic time in the writer's life. From growing up in California to eating trout bleu in years between wars, Fisher recounts how her kitchen in Provence behaved. Is this short review boring you? Good, because the book bored me.

I am halfway through Jeffrey Steingarten's two books, The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate, which means I have finished precisely none. You may know Steingarten as the really snooty, condescending judge on Iron Chef, particularly the one who gives Bobby Flay shit. But in both books he comes off as only slightly less abrasive. However, he is funny and all his stories are well-researched and well-written. His stories trod a similar path to those written by Apple - short, informative chapters telling you everything you need to know about salt or where to eat in Paris. Plus, Steingarten takes every opportunity to lambaste the diet freaks, salt control boards, anti-fat crusaders, and no fun eating task forces which have plagued, and continue to plague, this country.

Jay Rayner is a judge on Top Chef Masters, which incidentally is proving itself the better, more athletic, charming, smarter, pretty younger sister to Top Chef. Rayner is also the food critic for the London Observer, which I am told is a newspaper and not a voyeur club. The Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Dinner chronicles traveling around the world to Moscow, Dubai, Las Vegas, Tokyo, New York, and Paris in search of the perfect meal at the world's best restaurants. This book rocks. Very few of us will ever have the chance to eat in even one of these restaurants, yet throughout the book Rayner manages to come off as humble and ever thankful for the opportunities he has. He relies a little too much on the hooker and cocaine jokes, but in general he does a very noble job of chronicling the malaise of eating out all the time.

What are you reading this summer?


Celeste said...

I'm stuck in a bread rut: Carol Field's peerless "The Italian Baker" and Jeffrey Hamelman's massive "Bread". I would like to be reading David Thompson's "Thai Street Food" but the US version doesn't come out until September.

RBPoBoy said...

I recommend:


Becky said...

Have you read Jacques Pepin's memoir, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen? It's fantastic.

Also very entertaining if you like that sort of thing is Ludwig Bemelmans' (illustrator of the "Madeline" books) collection of stories about his long and fascinating life in the service industry, Hotel Bemelmans.

But you don't have to take my word for it (*cue "Reading Rainbow" music*).

Rene said...


Read Ludwig last summer, loved it. In fact was thinking of his story about the maitre d' who always had a backup plan and the cake shaped like an island ferried in by midgets. Reminds me of some of these Cake Challenges on the Food Network.


Liebling, as Hall and Oates crooned, is on my list.

NOJuju said...

Funny. I also have Between Meals but A.J. Leibling on my bedside table awaitin' to be read but first I have to get through this behemoth Winter's Tale I started.