The Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary Edition by M.F.K. Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are five books contained in M.F.K. Fisher’s voluminous omnibus The Art of Eating, covering a wide swath of her writing (and eating) in the first half of the 20th Century. There is autobiography, gastronomy, history, even strategies for eating well during wartime rationing — a vast feast of thoughts on cuisine and the enjoyment thereof.
That avalanche of rich commentary threatens to overwhelm the reader’s senses at times — breaks are recommended between books, perhaps within each book as well. I was also amused to find that what makes a meal for Fisher, both in preparation and components, is at times nearly as archaic and wondrous as her recitations of Victorian-era meals were to her.
But sprinkled throughout all five books are these particular moments: stories of love or melancholy or friendship or nostalgia that leave you suddenly speechless and heartbroken in the middle of your workday lunch. You slide the bookmark into that spot, close the book, and try to piece your life back together so you can finish a ham and cheese sandwich before heading back into the office.
It is not hyperbole for me to say she changed how I think about food writing or indeed what such writing can be. There is a blurb on the back cover from Julia Child, in which she quotes Fisher: “When I write about hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied.”
Fisher is just that good a writer, able to weave the tendrils of real, emotional, human life into a subject that can be pretentious or ostentatious in the wrong hands.
Five of five stars is not enough for The Art of Eating, so given there are five books in it, I will multiply 5 x 5 and give it a gluttonous 25 out of 5 stars. Heartily endorsed for anyone who lives to cook or eat.
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The Te Of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
After enjoying Benjamin Hoff’s Tao of Pooh, with its delightful introduction of Taoist ideas using the classic A.A. Milne characters, I approached the rather thicker Te of Piglet with gleeful anticipation. Alas, if only the book were thinner.
There are still the interactions, albeit somewhat less adorable, with the denizens of the Hundred-Acre Wood, but they are nearly suffocated by lengthy broadsides against all sorts of political targets, from anti-Environmental Business to Technology, from Scientists to Western Medicine. And while I am not at all opposed to the notion of screeding to one’s heart’s content, the avalanche of Haughty Thoughts seems entirely out of place given both the first book and the greater Poohniverse.
Of particular oddity was his railing against Grammar “Amazons” whose great crime against humanity — suggesting “he or she” or “they/them” constructions rather than “he” as the default — apparently results in the utter emasculation of Men and the Death of Civilization. For a school of thought like Taoism that has had some sort of inclusiveness for women in it from the beginning (centuries, now), it seems a really weird hill to die on.
I’ll confess, I nearly put the book down at that point. I was reminded of Dorothy Parker (as Constant Reader) reviewing The House at Pooh Corner — “And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.” What the hell, Hoff?
I had a brief urge to edit an expurgated version of the Te of Piglet with the politics dialed back several notches (and a hundred pages or so) so that the lovely Taoist concepts can shine forth. But then I remembered this is but one tiny rock in the stream of Taoist literature and, in the spirit of such things, I should be like water and simply route around it.
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