Books to Chew On

After a thorough scouring of book shelves and review lists, it seems that 2006 is the year for two genres among food-centric titles: culinary memoirs and organic/sustainable/food ethics and politics.

In a typical year of recent memory, it's one or two (tops) foodie auto-bios that get released - "Garlic and Sapphires" by Gourmet magazine's Ruth Reichl was last year's big chow, for example.

This year, it's a veritable literary smorgasbord, with at least eight new titles to sink your teeth into, from a motley mix of great writers, chefs and critics. Here's what's on the menu:

Culinary Memoirs

I am close to finishing "My Life in France, " by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme, a delightful romp through Paris and Marseille (among other European posts) with the late grande dame and her beloved husband, Paul Child.

Even if you've never picked up a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," the tome that made Julia famous, you can still relate to the adventures of a curious woman who, admittedly, didn't know how to cook until she and her husband moved to Paris in 1948.

For more, read the Book World Review and for a taste of the book, check out the Chapter One Excerpt.

When not living vicariously through Julia, I'm back on the line cooking with Bill Buford, who recounts his life-changing experiences working at Babbo, the famous New York restaurant owned by uber-chef Mario Batali. The title is "Heat," an apt name for life in a commercial kitchen, for both its physical temperature and temperament of Mario himself. In addition to his first-hand account of working the line, Buford, a staff writer at The New Yorker, reports on Mario's rise to fame and the characters who shaped him. It's a riot reading Buford's travails, as I can relate to my blundering early days as an apprentice at Cashion's Eat Place in 1996.

Keep your eyes peeled for a Book World review June 18.

Although it doesn't fit as neatly into the genre of cook-eat-biographize, "Eat, Pray, Love," by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was released earlier this year, is a personal journey and travelogue of a year spent in Italy, India and Indonesia. Gilbert's first three months in Italy are an eating extravaganza, as a way to work through major life events (divorce, followed by volatile relationship), and you'll witness her release from the stress through language, culture and gelato. Personal note: Gilbert and I waited tables together at a stainless steel diner in Philadelphia in the early 1990s, before she made it to the big time.
Book World Review.

Others I'm gearing up for:

"Insatiable" by Gael Greene, the former restaurant critic at New York magazine, who's penned her dining-out chronicles, which I'm told by a restaurant critic friend, is HOT STUFF. Lots of sex, if that's your thing.

"Mostly True" by Molly O'Neill, a former food columnist for the New York Times magazine. I cut my culinary teeth on O'Neill's column back in the 80s before I even thought about becoming a cook, so my motivation to read her tales is highly personal. Her brother, Paul, also featured in the book, is a retired right fielder for the New York Yankees.

Tomorrow: Part II of the summer reading list, with a focus on the ethics and ecology of eating.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 7, 2006; 10:36 AM ET  | Category:  Cook's Library
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Isn't Molly O'Neil's brother named Paul, not Pete?

Posted by: o's fan | June 7, 2006 11:13 AM

Yes, Os fan, you are correct, it's Paul O'Neill who played for the Yanks. thanks for the careful eye. I made change in my post, too. Thanks!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 7, 2006 12:56 PM

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