Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fiction for Foodies

 There's no coincidence that the expression "Whatcha got cookin'?" is often metaphorical. In literature, as in life, the kitchen is where the action is. Two of my recent reading adventures have centered around the bigger world of cooking. First, I read Delicious! by Ruth Reichl, famous for her food writing. In this story, her main character Billie Breslin gets a job as executive assistant at a food magazine (Think Gourmet or Bon Appetit) whose offices are located in a gorgeous historic home.  For reasons not quite clear at first, readers learn she has culinary talents but she's reluctant to use them. As she works to survive, taking a second job at a local family-owned delicatessen, she sees the owners pull the plug on the magazine production. In order to keep the magazine's long term promise to subscribers, Billie is left to answer the phone for a duration, responding to readers' questions--particularly those of one particularly disagreeable cook who fails to follow recipes then complains about failed results.

Reichl builds a second story line when Billie discovers in a secret compartment in the house a hidden stash of letters between a young girl Lulu and chef James Beard written throughout World War II. An unlikely romance develops between Billie and one of the deli customers (also cantankerous). She submits to a makeover (a plot device that's a little too  soap opera for me). She also discovers underlying truths about her sister's tragic death and goes on a journey to solve the Lulu-Beard mystery as well.

Billie's recipe for her mother's gingerbread, included in the volume, may be worth the price of the book.

In another twist on the culinary world, Laura Dave's protagonist in Hello, Sunshine--whose parents really named her Sunshine--and her sister Rain--is an online sensation celebrity chef with fans, best-selling cookbooks,  and a television show in the works until her online account is hacked and someone starts leaking the truth to her public: she isn't really the cook at all but a front for her producer's wife. The hacker isn't content to stop there, though, and spills the story of Sunshine's one-time indiscretion, costing her marriage as well as her career and sending her back to her childhood home where she must make peace with her sister and land a wait staff job with a demanding chef as she tries to regain her authentic identity.

Both books weave food and family into a plot full of twists. While both are lightweight reads, they're not only entertaining, but they may send readers in to the kitchen to see what they might whip up.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Johnny's Cash & Charley's Pride: Peter Cooper's stories of Music City Legends

One of my biggest challenges in keeping up posts on what I'm reading is that sometimes the book I have just finished insists on jumping to the front of the line. I had a busy reading month in April, and I have several books I still plan to introduce here. This week, though, I went to Parnassus Books to hear Peter Cooper read from his new book Johnny's Cash & Charley's Pride.

Cooper was the music writer for the Tennessean for a long time, which gave him the opportunity to meet and interview so  many legends of country music.  He's also a singer-songwriter and, as I learned this week, he's quite a storyteller.

Of course, the book covers the best known figures of country music--Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard--but he also shares great stories about "Cowboy" Jack Clement, Don Light, Jimmy Martin, and even Ann Soyars, who took up money at the door of the Station Inn for years.  Best of all, he gives a glimpse into the way the lives of the famous and not-yet-famous intertwined with those who were not famous at all. 

This is one of those rare books that sets the synapses jumping in my brain, reminding me of my own stories and of the music that's been playing since I was sixteen, maybe younger. After the book event, I started building a playlist, and as I read, it grew and grew--favorite songs, great music I hadn't discovered yet, some music I have in vinyl but not in any more updated format. I'm listening to Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings, Lee Ann Womack, and Irene Kelly, Chris Stapleton, and of course Kris Kristofferson.

Now that I've sped through the book, I can't decide whether to share it with a friend first or to start back over and read through one more time. It's that much fun.