Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War tells the story of Annia Ciezadlo, a journalist who, shortly after marrying her husband, moved to Baghdad as the country descended into civil war. For the next six years, she and her husband lived in Baghdad and Beirut, where she watched war, revolution, and civil unrest. While this memoir is deeply concerned with politics and world events and war, it tells that story in a way so different from your usual war coverage or history book. To tell her story, Annia Ciezadlo focuses on food. She focuses on the people she meets in both cities – people trying to help and make a difference, yes, but also people just trying to live their lives, people who want to go to school and have birthday parties and eat the food that comforts and nourishes them. Ciezadlo’s book is poetic in its imagery and discussion of food, and she has a good eye not only for the critical place information we need, but also for the blood and bones and heart of the matter – the real people part of the story – the hunger that sits in each of us. This is a welcomed variation on your run-of-the-mill food memoir.
Delicious!, Ruth Reichl’s 2014 novel, will sound awfully familiar to anyone who reads food magazines, and especially any of us who read (sigh) Gourmet. Reichl has written a novel about a young woman, Billie Breslin, a closeted cooking prodigy, who goes to work at a food magazine only to have the rug pulled out from under her: the magazine has gone broke and will close down. They’ll retain our young heroine to man the phones, but left to herself in the abandoned offices, Billie makes an exciting discovery in the locked library upstairs: a cache of letters from World War II between a young girl and famed chef James Beard. The letters have been filed in a cryptic way, sending Billie on a goose chase through the card catalog (old school!), a race against time to find all the letters and solve the mystery of the writer’s identity before the building is sold and she’s told to take a hike. And as if that weren’t enough, there’s a colorful foodie cast of characters, from her friend the cheesemonger to the food photographer to the historian, Billie’s love interest. Reichl has used the riches of her career and experience to write a feel-good book that is super fun to read. While it’s enjoyable, and I definitely recommend it, it’s not one I would buy.
Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal is Ava Chin’s story of finding food in New York City. Not a difficult task, right? Except that Chin is finding food along roadsides, in remote patches of Central Park and Brooklyn, in friends’ backyards and on the trees outside her bedroom window. Ava Chin used to write the Urban Forager column for The New York Times, and she taught New Yorkers about the riches growing right in front of their eyes. But this memoir is, as most are, about so much more than the food. As Chin searches for dandelion blossoms, mushrooms, and nettles, she also searches for love. She navigates the murky waters of her relationship with her mother, and she learns all she can from her beloved grandparents. Particularly poignant are her chapters on bees and oyster mushrooms, chapters that come closer to the end, after Chin has gained her footing and her confidence in foraging and in life. This is a great story, fun and interesting (and informative!). That said, I wished for a bit more grounding in time, and for a bit more wildness and depth, which a book about foraging would perfectly set up.
Verdict: Borrow (unless you’re big into foraging – then I think you should Buy).
Blue Plate Special by Kate Christensen is a writer’s food memoir. Christensen shares her story of growing up and becoming a writer, all with food as its backdrop. There are some rough chapters, some hard moments to walk with her through, but there is the ultimate pay-off of being in the hands of a skilled writer, someone with insight and wisdom who can mine those moments and also give us joy and growth and art. In her introduction to the book, Christensen writes, “To taste is to live fully. And to live fully is to be awake and responsive to the complexities and truths–good and terrible, overwhelming and miniscule. To eat passionately is to allow the world in; there can be no hiding or sublimation when you’re chewing a mouthful of food so good it makes you swoon.” This is a great taste of what’s to come in her memoir: the good and terrible, the overwhelming and miniscule. And with that broad range of experience, there is food, presented humbly and with the confidence of a skilled home cook. My copy of this book is littered with underlined passages – the writing is lovely, the story is compelling, and the food is familiar and approachable and feels a bit like home.
Verdict: Buy, buy, buy.
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