Books I read in March

April 18, 2022 · 5:08 p.m

I’m pretty partial to memoirs centered around food, and last month I read two excellent ones, one of which was Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci. Tucci’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from Calabria, so he was exposed to a lot of traditional Italian cuisine growing up in Westchester, New York. Food has also been a major influence in his acting career, including his 1996 debut film The Big Night, about two brothers who run an Italian restaurant. As you’d expect, the celebrity name-dropping is pretty heavy, but Tucci also provides great insight into how catering works on set, and now has the ability to choose projects based on where in the world they’re being shot and whether the food will be good. He also describes his diagnosis, treatment and recovery from a tumor at the base of his tongue discovered a few years ago, which left him unable to eat properly. Taste, however, is a wonderful read that is less of a traditional chronological memoir and more about the importance of food in his life.

Toast Nigel SlaterDepending on your taste, 1960s and 1970s British cuisine on offer Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger by Nigel Slater It might not be as delicious as Tucci’s Italian diet, but it’s described just as vividly. In short snapshots, Slater recalls the food of his childhood in suburban Wolverhampton, from cured ham, Fray Bentos pies and Surprise peas to sherry trifles, treacle tarts and arctic rolls. Unlike Tucci’s memoir, which avoids delving too deeply into his private life, Slater’s reveals the dysfunctional family dynamics of his teenage years. His mother, who by all accounts was a terrible cook, died of an asthma attack when he was nine. His father later remarried, and Slater had a difficult relationship with his stepmother. He begrudgingly admits that her lemon meringue pie was exquisite and they vied for his father’s love while cooking. This is a frank and at times unflattering coming-of-age memoir that is fascinatingly written.

Disaster tourist Yun Ko-eunTranslated from the Korean by Lizzy Buhler, Yun Ko-eun disaster tourist is an eco-thriller — a genre sure to become ubiquitous in the coming years — starring Yona Kim as a program manager at Jungle, a travel agency that organizes package vacations to disaster areas. She has experienced sexual harassment from her boss and is convinced to visit the fictional island of Mui, near Vietnam, to find out whether it should be recorded on the company’s books, such as whether a major disaster is possible and how much revenue it could generate if it was designed . Things get weirder and more darkly satirical there in a way that contrasts greatly with the sunny cover design. Overall, The Disaster Tourist was perhaps a little too surreal for my taste and tries to cover too many hot topics from #MeToo to climate activism, but it certainly provides a lot of food for thought.

State of the Union Nick HornbyState of the Union: Nick Hornby’s Marriage in Ten Parts is a companion novel to the 2019 BBC television series of the same name, starring Rosamund Pike as Louise and Chris O’Dowd as Tom, who seek marriage counseling after Louise has an affair. Each of the ten chapters begins when they meet in a nearby pub in Kentish town before their weekly counseling session. With minimal description and snappy dialogue, it feels more like reading a script with some stage directions removed than literary prose, and it certainly helps to see the series alongside the nuanced performances of Pike and O’Dowd. It’s tightly written, although the problem with late-2010s fiction featuring middle-class characters thinking about Brexit is that it’s now very hard not to conclude: “Well, you think you’re in trouble, wait until you look what the 2020s will bring.

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