The PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author Kate Christensen, whose latest novel The Astral is out in paperback, picks her favorite books about food. Plus, more of our Book Bags from Jennifer Egan and Carlin Romano.
The Kitchen Book and the Cook Book
by Nicolas Freeling
Freeling, a British crime writer, worked as a cook in restaurants and hotels in France and England for many years. This volume contains two short, lovely, memorable books: In The Kitchen Book, Freeling writes about his life in professional kitchens with understated, wry fluidity, conjuring a memorable group of characters with economy and wit. The Cook Book reproduces some of his signature recipes along with his modestly offhand but fascinating and often moving life story. His recipes are solid and imaginative, authoritative and just plain fun to read, whether or not you ever get around to making them. His treatise on bouillabaisse has a definitive feel; reading his recipe for cinnamon lamb stew warms the cockles in a chilly, raw evening.
My Life in France
by Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme
Not surprisingly, Child's autobiography makes for absolutely great reading. The story of her marriage is wonderful, a long, well-matched, and truly romantic union. She herself is a dynamic, plucky, worthy heroine—her narrative voice is irresistible—and the story of how she researched, wrote, and at long last published Mastering the Art of French Cooking is not only an important part of culinary history but also a thrilling, riveting narrative. This book, to resurrect that old chestnut, made me laugh and cry. It also made me drool. Her descriptions of food are always wildly vivid and delectable.
The Gastronomical Me
by M.F.K. Fisher
Fisher is the queen of food writing, and this book, as the title suggests, is her most straightforwardly autobiographical. In it, she traces the development of her palate from her early rebellion against her puritanical grandmother's plain, dull cooking, to her first oyster at a boarding-school dance, to the lavish and decadent meals of her adult years—all the while filling the reader in about her marriages, love affairs, and family dynamics, as well as her own triumphs, struggles, and tragedies. She writes brilliantly and masterfully, with simultaneous dashing fervor and sly restraint.
Cooking with Fernet Branca
by James Hamilton-Paterson
This cheeky, hilarious satire of all those breathless, sun-splashed, I-lived-in-glorious-Tuscany memoirs features two mismatched, irritable protagonists, and enough preposterous, gag-worthy, fantastical recipes to send anyone running for a snort of Fernet Branca. When Gerald, a British ghostwriter, and Marta, a composer from an Eastern European mountain country called Voynovia, find themselves reluctant next-door neighbors on a Tuscan hillside, the narrative sets off running, alternating between their voices and points of view as they annoy each other, spar, get each other drunk on the titular booze, cook memorably horrible, passive-aggressive meals for each other, and, finally, achieve the inevitable.