Tasty Summer Reads

Wherever you live and no matter your wallet size, the mere mention of the word ‘summer’ beckons, reminding us to take off our shoes, walk in the grass and yeah, maybe even get lost in a book. I’ve been an avid reader my entire life (at the age of three, I requested my own copy of the newspaper), but it is during summer when my literary appetite turns voracious.

More than any other time of year, summer is when I devour biographies and memoirs for my mental escape, and I’ve been known to mix up new releases (just finished “Losing Mum and Pup” by Christopher Buckley) with old favorites that I love to crack open and revisit, particularly if they’re travel and food related.

To that end, I’ve dished up a batch of five edible memoirs that not only earn a space on my over-crowded shelves but that get re-read, recommended to fellow memoir-loving folk and nibbled on, over and again, even for a chapter. Note: None of these books is new and may require some Nancy Drew-like skills to sink your teeth into a copy. All worth the trouble, though!

"American Pie" by Pascale LeDraoulec
I loved this book so much when it first came out 2002 that I went to great lengths to meet Pascale, then a restaurant critic for the New York Post. The girl is as spunky as her writing, which takes you along for an amazing ride, back and forth across the coast, in her pursuit of pie. There are recipes, there are characters that will make you howl and there are countless reminders of how pie can be a metaphor for life.

"The Language of Baklava" by Diana Abu-Jaber

I first got to know Diana Abu-Jaber’s work through “Crescent,” her 2003 novel about an Iraqi-American woman chef living in Los Angeles. “Baklava” is Abu-Jaber’s hilarious and touching account of her food-centric childhood orchestrated by her father, a Jordanian immigrant.

"Toast" by Nigel Slater
Slater may be best known for his weekly column in The Observer Magazine in Britain, an online must-do for those of us across the pond. I’ve got well-worn copies of his “Appetite” and “Kitchen Diaries,” but I didn’t snort with laughter until I wrapped my hands around “Toast,” his coming-of-age tale set in suburban U.K. in the 1960s, and the hilarious – and tear-spouting moments therein.

"Plenty" by Alisa Smith & J.B. Mackinnon
while working on a story in 2006 about a 100-Mile Thanksgiving, I learned about this Vancouver, B.C. couple who had started a Web site and campaign called The 100 Mile Diet. The book is an account of their year-long adventure of eating locally in Vancouver, which made me laugh out loud. As I wrote in this space last year, “They are both terrific, funny writers, chronicling a painfully honest and ultimately life-changing experience that urban junglers may relate to.” This book is still tasty two-plus years later.

“Outlook Cook” by John Thorne with Matt Lewis Thorne
If you know Thorne's work, you’re showing your age like me. His cooking newsletter, Outlaw Cook, sent by snail mail, just celebrated its 26th anniversary. Last year, he and his wife, Matt, wrote “Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite,” which I’ve yet to read, but I am certain it is in keeping with his long-running and passionate ode to the appetite. And he’s forthright; check out this zinger, which I've underlined in pen years ago: “Why do I write about food at all if I’m not a expert in the art of good cooking, nor do I want my readers to be? Because I think you don’t have to be a good cook, or even aspire to be one, to be an interested cook." Yes!

Got a tasty read to add to the list? Please share in the comments area.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 16, 2009; 7:42 AM ET Cook's Library
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I love your selections! Great job.


Posted by: mbhide | June 16, 2009 10:40 AM

Thanks for the recommendations; I'll be reading some this summer. I'd like to mention one of my favorites, An Omelet and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David. The book compiles many of her columns written in the 1950s and 60s for various magazines. She writes about living in Greece and Egypt during WWII and then returning to rationing in post-war Britain, about the inconvenience of convenience foods, about the Everlasting Syllabub (which sounds like a Willy Wonka candy but is instead a very old cream based alcoholic drink), restaurants in France, and just about anything and everything else to do with food.

Posted by: esleigh | June 16, 2009 10:44 AM

I recently read "Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford." This is a wonderful book about her love of life and food. This book portrays her character and the characters of those she interviewed quite well. Many of the recipes she published are reproduced in this work; they have been updated to account for current technology while retaining their original standard.

It would be a great summer read! Easy reading and provides recipes from times gone by!

Posted by: pyrmom | June 16, 2009 11:55 AM

Well this is unrelated to today's post.
For Chasmosaur1: I have added a comment to yesterday's post comments for what to do with extra cilantro.

Posted by: easttowestgal | June 16, 2009 1:16 PM

Thanks for the great suggestions. The only one I have read is American Pie, which I loved. Now I'll have to dive into the others.

Posted by: margaret6 | June 16, 2009 2:39 PM

I'll put your selections on my summer reading list. Here are a few of my favorites, recent and oldies but goodies.

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme about her start in food when her husband was posted to Paris.

The first three collections of Calvin Trillin's New Yorker essays (circa 1970s), American Fried, Alice Let's Eat and Third Helpings; all three reissued together under the title The Tummy Trilogy. Trillin is a wonderful, funny, and prolific writer; these books are mostly about searching out the best of a certain dish, or trying new ones, around NYC or while traveling with his wife and two daughters. Sadly, his wife Alice passed away in 2001 from heart failure.

Any book by Laurie Colwin.

Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray

All quarterly issues of The Art of Eating, publisher Edward Behr

Posted by: fltolson | June 16, 2009 11:57 PM

One of my favorites is "1000 days in Venice", by Marlena di Blasi, a St. Louis cook and restaurant critic who falls in love with a Venician and proceeds to take the reader through a culinary escapade in Venice.

Posted by: urmilacnc | June 17, 2009 6:23 PM

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