What we've read, loved, and cooked from this year
I absolutely love Via Carota so I really want to get that cookbook. Did you find that their recipes had extremely long ingredient lists? Everything there is so delicious that I always assume that they're complicated but maybe not?!
Diet for a Small Planet was one of my very first cookbooks! I bought it in 1972 at the age of 17, and it was a game changer for me. The content is even more important than the recipes and is still relevant today. As for new cookbooks, I'm having a lot of fun with "Bittman Bread". On the light side of fiction, I've been reading Louise Penny's "Chief Inspector Gamache" series. Her food descriptions throughout the books are tantalizing and delightful. For more thought provoking historical fiction, I recommend "The Island of Sea Women" by Lisa See. It focuses on a group of Korean women divers on Jeju Island over the course of several generations, and how their matriarchal "haenyeo" system clashes with a changing culture forced upon them through war. The story and the history were both fascinating. And, yes, there was food!
All sound good! Just ordered Diet for a Small Planet, which I’ve heard of, but never read. Ditto to Mike’s recommendation of “Brothers…” - really good read! Am adding others to Goodreads too!
I’ve added so many of these titles to my Goodreads!! Thank you for the recommendations. And I was pleased to see Frances Moore Lappé’s seminal ‘Diet for a Small Planet’ in the mix. I just read this for the first time last year and found it galvanizing.
Thanks so much for including The Miracle of Salt in your books roundup. 🙏🙏🙏 naomi
This might be the place to mention that I really, really miss the Bittman Project community discussions. They were the reason I signed on in the first place, and the reason I opened BP emails when I should have been doing other things. I still enjoy the emails, but they're becoming predictable, and I probably won't sign up again without a shift in editorial policy.
With that out of the way, here are some books I enjoyed this year:
Food-related: Six California Kitchens by Sally Schmitt. Humor, history of the California food movement, and commentary on women's place in the kitchen.
Other nonfiction: I've reading memoirs lately. Three by novelists are wonderful storytelling and have enriched my understanding of their fiction. In Love by Amy Bloom is heartbreaking and funny, about her husband's diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimers and his decision--with Bloom's help--to legally end his life. I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell recounts 17 brushes with death. And Hilary Mantel's Giving Up the Ghost recounts the author's childhood and young womanhood, with layers of mordant insight.
Jeff Deutsch's In Praise of Good Bookstores is one of the most unusual books I've read this year. The author, who is general manager of Chicago's Seminary Cooperative, grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family and has lifelong roots in a tradition of deep, thoughtful reading. Here, he makes the case for the bookstore as a kind of sacred space, throwing off reading recommendations along the way, as all good booksellers should.
Dara Horn's People Love Dead Jews is a road trip through worldwide antisemitism. Some of the essays are on predictable topics (Anne Frank, Holocaust tourism), but she has some things to say about Jewish vs. Christian storytelling and name changing at Ellis Island that are sticking with me months later.
I've been reading short stories by Willa Cather and Isaac Bashevis Singer, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout, as much fiction as I can find by the memoirists above (Bloom, O'Farrell, Mantel).
Older cookbooks I've been returning to: My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz, Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden, and Jerusalem. And I have Ruth Levy Berenbaum's new cookie bible out from the library. It's delicious!
I’ve been meaning to read The Brilliant Abyss. Thank you for pushing it to the front of my list. And I need to check out Barbara J King. .