Genre: Food Memoirs

Meeting was at the Tewksbury Public Library on May 28, 2013 from 9:45am to 12N.

Food Memoir assignment for May 28, 2013:

 Benchmark: Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone

Read 2nd title in the Food Memoir genre. 

Please post your RA review of your 2nd Literary Satire & Food Memoir choices on this RA RT Blog:  Submit 2nd Title Info from the top menu & fill in the form. It is that easy!

Appeal to be read for May meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors, but really think about point of view, the building of character, and tone.

Handouts: (If you need copies of the handouts–contact Leane at

Cords, Sarah. Statz. The Real Story: A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests. P. 269-271

Wyatt, Neal. “Getting Up to Speed in…Food Writing” NoveList Genre Outline 2/26/13

—. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction. P.46-59

Food Memoirs: Notes by Stefanie Aucoin May 28, 2013

Announcements: Matthew Pearl author of The Technologists (Winner of MA Book Award for Fiction 2013)  book discussion with the author at Whately, June 18—a program on making successful author talks—hopefully the first in a series.

Email Jan if interested in attending:

Nanci: Julia Glass was a terrible guest speaker—prima donna behavior and pricey

Leane:  New adult category: examples: Tammara Webber’s Easy & Coleen Hover’s Slammed. Seems to be mostly Romances with strong social themes, Easy: sexual assault and how to defend yourself; Slammed: family tragedy and how to cope. Article in Romantic Times, “Required Reading” February 2013, p.20

Benchmark: Ruth Reichl’s Tender  at the Bone

Kept us reading: humor, taking a tragic family figure and making it funny; Ruth is remarkably wise about her parents, manic depressive mother, unaware distant father; food as a mechanism for coping

What keeps the book moving?

Humor interspersed through difficult situations

How she talked about food = intimacy, vivid, savors

Truth is what she said, even if not entirely factual; resonates

Reads like Fiction

Memoir is a version of what happened to a person/biography usually covers birth to death, historical message

Interesting characters and vivid settings

Short chapters: moves things along with clever anecdotes

Important to have a connection to the subject; writing varies depending on who she talks about; affectionate

Using food to create her own family; She didn’t feel pretty—other girls got the attention, but people came to her to be fed.

You feel comfortable with her and her descriptions of great food figures

Continuity of the food as a character; something that binds us

Mystery of her father’s first wife, another mental disorder

Showing not telling

Maid and racial issues handled well in the narrative

Not just a memoir about food: metaphors for life

Foodies like because she gives good recipes and good explanations for what she’s doing. We learned from the book.

Would recommend to teens; on some HS reading lists; people who liked Augustin Burroughs’ Running with Scissors

Second Titles

Sarah: Gabrielle Hamilton’s  Blood, Bones & Butter.

Is not foodie w/ recipes , bur writing about her experiences, dramatic, fast paced, people that like memoirs about character, story itself, how she talks about food and experiences.

Michelle & Tatijana: Lucy Knisley’s  Relish. A Graphic Novel. Vignettes of her life revolving around food, pictorial recipe illustrations, expressive art, gourmet vs instant food; nice gateway to Graphic novels

Tricia:  Tom Parker Bowles’ The Year of Eating Dangerously. English food vs American fast food, brought up locovore before popular; book covers socially unacceptable foods & what makes them unacceptable.  Appeal to travel readers as well. Devil in the Kitchen.

Rachel: Marlena Di Blasi’s Thousand Days in Tuscany. Author writes series. What’s in season and when. Travel aspect. Diversion reading, author unbiased about her feelings.

Diane: Susan Marks’ Finding Betty Crocker. Food is something you do for your loved ones as well as what I can do to make you feel better. Food culture in the US, historical 1921 to present, was Masters’ thesis project shows in writing, ending. But a good history of the inception and sustaining icon Betty Crocker. Pictures. Recipes.

Jessica: Bill Buford’s Heat. How to become a chef. Really curious person, some details sidetrack the story.  Bryson & Bourdain readers may enjoy.

Tatijana: Russ Parson’s How to Pick A Peach

Jan & Leane: Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Not exclusively chronological; references to alcohol and drugs, celebrity biography as well as working chef; humorous and caustic, lots of French terms, vulgarity. Kitchen as a battlefield.

Eileen: A.J. Liebling’s Between Good Meals. Well-known Literary Food writer not an easy read—had to keep referring back to figure out who people were. Dense.

Christine: Jane Zieglemann’s 97 Orchard. New York City tenement  history, family, immigrants & food, How people use food to assimilate or not. Cultural.

Stefanie: Marcus Samuelsson’s Yes, Chef.

Cindy: Judith Moore’s Fat Girl. Dysfunctional memoir. About having food, belonging, weight is a problem, would steal people’s food.  Absurd and cruel childhood; dark, disturbing deprecating humor. Not a happy ending.

 Second Titles

Diane Giarrusso

Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food – Susan Marks
Appeal Factors: Pace: fast & easy to follow, while based on a MA thesis it’s written in an egaging style; Characterizations: a fair minded, but fond, look at the phenomemon of Betty Crocker; Language/Style: Accessible, many samples of recipes, letters and photos from the General Mills Archive; Tone/Mood: cultural history told with fondness and in an easy-going style; Frame: Examines Betty’s “lifespan” from 1921-2001, broken down into time periods. Storyline: Linear and folksy, while a “biography” of Betty, it spends more time looking at her as cultural icon and less time as a successful marketing tool.

3 Terms to best describe the book: engaging, history, nostalgic
Who doesn’t know Betty Crocker??? Who remembers being saddened to find out she wasn’t real??? With fondness, Marks writes a memoir of this cultural icon from her “birth” in 1921 to now. Betty’s effect on women’s lives (and some men, too!) and buying habits was profound and her continued acknowledgement of and to the changing domestic world has made her the most recognizable brand in the U.S. (at least!). My only wishes about this book were that 1) more time was spent on the thinking behind the marketing and 2) that it hadn’t ended abruptly. (It felt like the author couldn’t have been bothered to sum things up.)

Leane Ellis

Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
Appeal Factors: Tone/Character/Setting-really detailed

Bourdain is well known but this was his first memoir about being a chef. He is insufferable; however, by the end of the book I rather liked him for knowing he is insufferable and admitting his human foibles without dodging responsibility for them. Great detail about working in the restaurant industry, thorough specifics about working in a kitchen and the people you work with. He is brutally honest about everything–there is more than adequate use of bad language and sometimes the cooking terminology especially the French stops the flow of the narrative. A must read for anyone who wants to be a chef of any kind. Appeals to those who like brash protagonists in their nonfiction and also to armchair travelers because the flavor of some of his city and Japanese visits are some of the best writing.

Sandra Woodbury

Life, on the Line – David Achatz & Nick Kokonas
Appeal Factors: (auto)biography, cooking, fine dining, successful/driven people, tongue cancer, men, chefs, candid, detailed

This is the story of David Achatz – a chef who rose to amazing success at an impossibly young age and was then diagnosed with tongue cancer. The cancer robbed him of his sense of taste and threatened to take his tongue, maybe even his life. Rather than this being the end to his story, however, he persevered through the treatments and continued to push for the best. This is the tale of an incredibly driven man.

What struck me most about this book was that it was not a tale of a cancer survivor, but of a chef who happened to also be a cancer survivor. Only about the last 70 pages of this almost 400-page book were devoted to the cancer battle. It was almost as though he saw it as a footnote in his life. In fact, that is how he treats all of the personal aspects of his life – from his parents’ tumultuous relationship, to his own romantic involvement and subsequent children, to his friendships – all take a back burner to the food and his ambition to do something new and better.

The descriptions of high-end, ultra-modern cuisine as seen from the chef’s side were intriguing. I know what I, as a diner, see on the plate, but to learn what the steps and thoughts were that brought that creation into being was a great change of perspective. It made me want to eat in this man’s restaurant, knowing that the creator of the dishes was so passionate about all aspects of his food (though not sure I am quite ready to pay the $200 for a meal).

Also, you get not one but two stories and points of view in this book, because about halfway through, the reader is introduced to Nick Kokonas, David Achatz’s business partner. From then on the book is almost half written by him, telling Achatz’s story from another perspective. I was at first annoyed by this, I felt it slowed the pace and distracted me from where this man’s life was going, but in short time I came to appreciate the other view and felt it really added to the book and helped me understand the surroundings of the story. Achatz has a tendency to be single-minded and incredibly focused it seems.

I might recommend this to a variety of memoir readers – but especially those who enjoy the stories of driven people (e.g. Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Andrew Carnegie, etc.) and/or those who enjoy food descriptions.

As a side note, this book mentioned Ruth Reichl a few times – and how important and influential her reviews are. There was also a scene in the Italian countryside of visiting vineyards and small places with amazing food – fresh olives, bruschetta, etc. that was very similar to a part of Reichl’s Tender at the Bone. I was pleasantly surprised by this connection between the two books!

Jan Resnick

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly – Anthony Bourdain
Appeal Factors: Fast-paced; story – memoir, mostly chronological; language/style – engaging/witty, conversational; tone – acerbic, humorous; frame – mostly NYC restaurant kitchens, 1980’s – ‘90’s.

‘Kitchen’ is Anthony Bourdain’s frank, unromantic memoir of his life in the hectic, stressful, unrelenting world of NYC restaurants before he hit it big as a celebrity chef. It’s readable and instructive as well as entertaining. He describes a rough, unrelenting profession that still manages to have a noble side. His extreme lifestyle included drug and alcohol abuse; he is lucky to have a career and still be alive.

  • Red flags: Course language and situations; lots of French food terms which may irritate some readers
  • Similar authors: Bourdain – Medium Raw, The Nasty Bits; Buford – Heat; Reichl, Samuelsson – Yes, Chef; Achatz – Life on the Line

Heat: an amateur’s adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany – Bill Buford
Appeal Factors: Fast-paced; story – memoir, mostly chronological; language/style – engaging/witty/humorous; tone – strong sense of place; frame –NYC /Italy, 1980’s – ‘90’s.

Bill Buford explores three major themes in Heat: can an enthusiastic home cook (and writer in real life) survive and thrive in a restaurant kitchen, the evolution and history of Italian cooking, and life working in Mario Battali’s kitchen. All three are compelling, and Buford is very readable. Heat should appeal to Bourdain and Reichl readers as well as fans of the Food Network and cookbooks in general.

  • Similar authors: Bourdain – Kitchen Confidential, Medium Raw, The Nasty Bits; Reichl, Samuelsson – Yes, Chef; Achatz – Life on the Line

Michelle Deschene

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen – Lucy Knisley
Appeal Factors: Tone – Character – Presentation

Relatives deep in chefs, caterers and food lovers, Knisley spent her formative years in the kitchen, trying the myriad meals and foodstuffs her mother prepared and set in front her. After her parents divorced and her mother moved them to the country, her appreciation for food grew, and she was often seen working alongside her mother at farmers’ markets, snacking on fresh fruit, vegetables and cheese during lulls in sales. Along with those stories, vignettes covering her travels in Europe with her father and pursuing her education in Chicago, a burgeoning foodie city at the time, are varied recipes the cover cocktails through desserts. This graphic novel food memoir is fun, engaging and illustrated in full color.

Eileen Barrett

Between Meal: An Appetite for Paris – A.J. Liebling
Appeal Factors: Paris setting; French food; witty writing; lovable, funny, clever author

A.J. Liebling was a writer and journalist who wrote for the New Yorker until he passed away in 1963. At the age of twenty-six his father sent him to Paris to study French medieval literature at the Sorbonne, but what he really studied was the art of eating. Described as a “formidable eater”, “a feeder”, and a “gourmand”, Liebling loved a good meal or several. In his book, Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, the witty talk is between meals, but food and drink is ever present on his lips. His writing is described by Pulitizer Prize winning author, David Remnick, as “travers[ing] the boundaries between reporting and storytelling, between news and art.”