When I was younger I read much more serious works, including many of the great novels. I was also particularly interested in the Bloomsbury group, and I loved reading biographies of the individuals in that circle.
At this point I enjoy books that delve into a specific topic. I want to feel that the author is deeply, seriously, and passionately involved with whatever subject he or she has chosen. This is particularly true with cookbooks. I find I can identify with the author when she has done an enormous amount of research and is really committed.
For me, a book is a very comforting thing to have and to hold, especially when an author has spilled his guts out on the page. The following books will show you what I mean.
By Michael Ruhlman
I'm very interested in books about my profession that are amusing and informative, like The Soul of a Chef. It truly illustrates what's going on in both culinary training and restaurants in America right now, and it describes people I'm interested in—Brian Polcyn of the Five Lakes Grill in Michigan, Michael Symon at Cleveland's Lola Bistro, and Thomas Keller, chef and owner of the French Laundry, among others.
By Thomas Keller
I know Thomas Keller and I am very fond of him. He's very serious about what he does and is really quite poetic. For him, cooking is almost a religious experience. I value Keller's beautiful book, named for his Napa Valley restaurant, for its ideas about flavors and textures in a meal—but it's really about the love and joy of cooking. It's inspirational.
By Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain is wild—his book is about what goes on in restaurant kitchens and it's very entertaining. I think it should be called "How to Live Through a Nightmare". I don't know if everything he says is true or not; in many ways I hope it's not, because it would be horrible to work in some of the places he describes!
By Russ Parsons
Russ Parsons is the food editor at the Los Angeles Times and a very good writer. He includes more than just recipes here, giving you deep factual information, like why you shouldn't cook Vidalia onions and how to get a good, crisp french fry. It's wonderful to read about the experiments Parsons has done on each dish.
By Anne Mendelson
I remember Mrs. Joy, as we all called Irma S. Rombauer, from my earliest days. I started out using her book, so I read her biography with great interest. It really captures who she was, how she worked, and how she put together the Joy of Cooking. I loved that first edition because you felt that she was there—that she was behind the stove with you. I met her once in Paris in the 1950s; I remember she was quite elderly and frail by then.
Selected and Translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann
When my husband and I were in the diplomatic service, stationed in Germany, I struggled to learn German, and the first thing I read was Rilke. It couldn't have been more difficult. Rilke's poetry is hard to make sense of when you hardly know the language, but I got through two books in those early days. I was fascinated by Rilke and have since read many biographies of him. Kinnell is a very attractive fellow. He lives up in Vermont and I met him last summer. I was very interested to read his interpretation of the poet's work.
By R.W.B. Lewis
I loved Lewis's biography because it read like a novel. After finishing, I really felt that I knew Edith Wharton. It's an excellent biography and a very adventurous one.
I enjoy mysteries by authors such as Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton. In both Clark's and Grafton's novels, you just get caught up in the adventures, and it's easy to identify with the characters. I find it hard to read a story when I don't like the main characters. These are forgettable books on the whole. You remember what went on, you remember enjoying them, but you don't remember the titles.
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