Blog Archives

3 Dangerous Books To Read If You’re Hungry

Forget about glowing author testimonials and ‘award-winning’ stickers. 

What some novels really need is a health warning on their cover. A warning that reading this book will not just stimulate your mind, it will stimulate your appetite. 

Why? 

Because these are novels that contain fulsome descriptions of ingredients purchased, dishes cooked and meals ordered.  Characters in films seem only to sit at a table and play with their cutlery. You hardly ever see them take a sip of wine or a mouthful of food. Meanwhile their book counterparts are tucking in heartily. 

Reading these novels is a dangerous activity. Certainly not one to be embarked upon if you’re trying to restrict your calorie intake or you didn’t get a chance to eat yet. 

Dangerous because just reading about food is guaranteed to:

  • sharpen your appetite;
  • send you running to the biscuit tin or
  • get you foraging in the fridge/freezer

Here’s a shortlist of novels that really shouldn’t be read on an empty stomach. 

The Cruelest Month 

The Cruelest Month

Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamach series is guaranteed to have you salivating.

Much of the action takes place in Olivier and Gabri’s bistro  in the picture-postcard Canadian village of Three Pines. It’s a home from home for the Chief Inspector; a place where he and his deputy, Inspector Beauvoir, can reflect on the progress of their latest investigation. Policemen clearly need their sustenance. 

Gamache’s coq au vin filled the table with a rich, earthy aroma and an unexpected hint of maple. Delicate young beans and glazed baby carrots sat in their own white dish. A massive charbroiled steak smothered in pan fried onions was placed in front of Beauvoir. A mound of frites sat in his serving dish. 

Beauvoir could have died happily right there and then but he’d have missed the crème brülée for dessert. 

Stay the night in the bistro’s B&B and you can be sure that breakfast will be a step up from packets of cereal and thin orange juice.

Yummy, yummy, said Gabri, placing the platters in front of his guests.Each held two eggs on a thick slice of Canadian back bacon which in turn rested on a golden toasted English muffin. Hollandaise sauce was drizzled over the eggs and fruit salad garnished the edges each plate. 

I’ll skip the fruit salad (fruit and eggs absolutely no not belong together) but otherwise yes, yummy, yummy indeed. 

If your tastes run to something more adventurous, perhaps my next book will be more to your taste. 

The Gourmet

The Gourmet

How does “Pan roasted breast of Peking duck rubbed with berbère; grapefruit crumble à la Jamaïque with shallot confit” sound?

This is the kind of dish favoured by Pierre Athens, the greatest food critic in the world. He is dying after ” decades of grub, deluges of wine and alcohol of every sort, after a life spent in butter, cream, rich sauces, and oil…” 

In his final hours, his mind returns to some of the most sublime flavours he has ever experienced. They were not always the most complex of dishes.

The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one’s mouth that brings with it every pleasure. . . . a tomato, an adventure.

I wish I could discover where he buys these tomatoes because it’s years since I experienced any that had any flavour. 

How about something a little more indulgent than tomatoes? Pierre, it turns out, holds sugary treats in high esteem.

Pastries . . . can only be appreciated to the full extent of their subtlety when they are not eaten to assuage our hunger, when the orgy of their sugary sweetness is not destined to full some primary need but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world.

Next time you experience pangs of guilt for picking up an éclair, just remember that you’ll be bringing joy to the world when you eat it.

Chocolat 

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

For unsurpassed joy however, it’s not a pastry you want, but chocolate. the plot and characters in Joanne Harris’ novel may be rather twee but for a chocoholic, it represents absolute bliss. Almost every page oozes with the stuff. 

Not everyone who lives in the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is delighted when the young widow Vianne Rocher decides to open a chocolatier in a disused bakery.

Her timing is unfortunate. It’s the build up to Lent and the villagers have pledged to forgo sweet delights. But all it takes is one whiff of the aroma from the shop and their resistance melts away. 

The air is hot and rich with the scent of chocolate. Quite unlike the white powdery chocolate I knew as a boy, this has a throaty richness like the perfumed beans from the coffee stall on the market, a redolence of amaretto and tiramisù, a smoky, burned flavour that enters my mouth somehow and makes it water. 

Vianne’s mouthwatering bonbons, steaming mugs of liqueur-laced cocoa and flaky cream-filled patisserie become the battle ground between her and the village priest. 

I know whose side I’d be on in this battle. How about you??

Regaining My Reading Mojo

Booker Talk is welcoming two additional members of the team this year. 

In her first post for Booker Talk, publishing student Cerian Fishlock bemoans the effect doing a literature degree had on her enthusiasm for reading


 

rorygilmoreblogpostGrowing up, I was the avid reader stereotype. I would arrive at school every day with at least one non-syllabus book in my bag. My tutor encouraged my passion, asking for recommendations, and marvelling at the (ridiculous) number of texts I consumed in the holidays.

I was the real-life Rory Gilmore.

 

Yet, at some point something changed.

I went to university to study English and History. And to be perfectly honest, I would be slightly ashamed to reveal the number of books that I’ve managed to read in the past 2 years.

Don’t misunderstand, I genuinely loved university. But I’ve only recently realised the damaging effect that it had upon my relationship with the books that I once loved.

I can’t possibly speak for all subjects, but I can say the amount of reading English and History departments require is, frankly, ludicrous. At least one book per week for English (often two, and more for single honours), and probably five or more accompanying chapters. For History it was ten to twenty academic texts a week. These were upwards of 60 pages, and incisive notes were expected – plus your other work. I only had 5-10 weekly contact hours, but I was still in the library daily between 9am-6pm, pouring over the pages and pages spread over all surrounding desks.

As I said, I loved university, so I’m genuinely not trying to complain. But when your time is spent reading for work, it’s difficult to read for pleasure.

You can no longer just be absorbed by a text. Now you subconsciously consider all possible meanings behind every syntactic choice. Books I used to adore I haven’t touched in years. I’m unable to detach them from the indecipherable notes scrawled down whilst my tutor shared his wisdom whilst going a million miles a minute.

There are the books I didn’t like, those I had no say in reading. In my first year I had no influence at all over the English modules taken, and they were often not my taste. I enjoyed them at the time, but that’s a year spent on texts I will never revisit, never look back on in fondness.

Although I hate to admit it, the lack of reading for pleasure whilst studying may have had something to do with the fact that it was around the time I went to university that Netflix really took off. When the options are either struggling through a translation of Middle English or watching the newest season of Orange is the New Black, I think I’ll go for the latter. The thought of reading too much else outside of these hours was just fairly exhausting.

So how am I trying to move on?

Firstly, I’m only reading the books I truly want to. If it’s recommended and sounds like my cup of tea, great. If not, I won’t pretend it’s going on my ‘To Be Read’ list.

Secondly, I’m making a note of all the titles I find interesting, so that when the mood strikes, I’ll be able to take my pick – rather than aimlessly wandering Waterstones, slightly overwhelmed by all the options. (Please don’t say I’m the only one this happens to?)

Finally, I am setting myself personal targets. These are just for me, and will be adjustable to reflect the realities of the rest of my life. Don’t worry I won’t be popping these on GoodReads, I’d probably end up feeling inferior!

I still love books, I’ve never stopped. I think I just had to take a break for a while, to regain my senses. As I’ve said, I really did love university. I just hate that it temporarily ruined my relationship with literature, without me really being aware it was happening.

 

A future without books?

BIGbibliotechThe good citizens of a community in San Antonio, Texas might have beamed with anticipated pleasure when the city fathers announced they were getting a new, purpose- built library.

It was big news for a community that doesn’t have a bookstore and has never had a library to call its own.

Not unreasonably, many of its residents expected that part of the $1.5M cost would go a long way to paying for a few books. Imagine their surprise to learn that theirs will be the first bookless and paperless public library across the whole of North America.

Many libraries around the world are switching funding from the purchase of paper copies of books, to  buying digital versions. Just last year Imperial College in London announced that over 98% of its journal collections were digital, and that it had stopped buying print textbooks. Other academic institutions have experimented with this approach, particularly in their science and technology faculties.

But the new BiblioTech facility in Texas will be the world’s paperless public library.  Readers will visit the Apple-inspired building to download e-books directly onto tablets, smart phones, PCs and e-readers from an initial collection of around 10,000 titles. If they don’t have their own devices, they’ll be able to borrow one apparently.

The county commissioners and officials are excited about their new baby, seeing it as the first step in a much bigger project that will see similar facilities open in other parts of the state. “We are trailblazing,” said the county’s top elected official, County Judge Nelson Wolff. “…the world is changing and this is the best, most effective way to bring services to our community.”

Traditionalists (and I hold my hand up to being one of them) might react with rolling eyes to such comments. The first time I saw this picture I imagined that using it would be an antiseptic, soulless experience completely alien to  the musty, dusty but oh so atmospheric libraries of my formative reading years. Even now, as libraries have modernised and refurbished, I still can’t imagine getting the same thrill from selecting a book from an on line catalogue rather than taking it down from the shelf and browsing a few pages before deciding if it’s for me. Orange walls and green bar stools don’t make the experience any more pleasurable. If they were going to spend a few million dollars, couldn’t they have done something inventive and pleasurable.

Like this new library in Maranello, Italy which seems to float in water.

Maranello Italy

Or this one in Mexico city where the architects designed a concrete and glass frame around the front of an old house

Mexico city

But once the initial reaction wore off, I began to think that maybe these good burghers of Buxton county are not only smarter than I gave them credit for, they could be considered community heroes. Woolf is a personal fan of the printed book — he owns about 1,000 first editions though not an electronic reader. “I am a guy who likes that physical book in his hand,” Mr. Wolff said. “But I also realize I am a bit of a fossil.”

Faced with rapidly growing populations in  suburbs and satellite towns outside the San Antonio city limits he knew the residents of these areas wanted more services. But no-one would be happy to see their local taxes escalate to pay for them. His plan not only gets people access to a library for the first time, he’s doing it at at a significantly lower cost than the traditional approach.

And he’s given the new facility a very strong community education focus through partnerships with local schools, digital literacy courses and late opening hours.

The new BiblioTech site is due to open later this summer. Whether it will get the positive reaction the officials are hoping for, therefore remains to be seen. There was a public outcry in Newport Beach, California in 2011 when residents learned their city was planning a bookless library. Eventually the city fathers backed away from the plan. Will Buxton become a failed experiment or will convenience and the preferences of a new generation of readers prevail?

One comment from a local father could hold the key.

I’m not likely to use a library containing only e-books, but my kids probably will. I really hate those little screens. But my teenage kids—that is the only way they want to read now.”

The magic of second-hand bookshops – part two

My recent post about the delights of antiquarian and second-hand bookshops, seems to have struck a chord with many of my blog followers. By coincidence I found this interesting article from Sam Sacks, who writes on fiction for the Wall Street Journal, about his experience of working in bookstores. While he loves the portability that ereaders and other devices offer, the feeling of going into a store and of building your own library is irreplacable in his view. What he loves most is spending time  as a volunteer at the Housing Works charity bookstore in downtown Manhattan.

We browsers might think on walking into the store that there is little rhyme or reason to how the shelves are organised.But Sam explains that the selection isn’t as whimsically random as it looks at first glance.  In fact, the decision of what goes next to what is the product of considerable thought, the trick of which however, is to make the result look almost accidental.

“The chance of discovery is vital to the act of book-browsing, so I always tried to fill the categories that attract different kinds of truth-seekers—religion, new age, and philosophy. The habitués of these sections (along with those of classics, children’s books, and cookbooks) compose a bookstore’s most enthusiastic patrons, and they add to its sense of magic,” he reveals.

Next time I come across something in one of the second hand stores or charity shops that I think is a real find, I’m going to have to remember that this was probably part of a plan by someone like Sam who says: ” I always sprinkled the dollar- and fifty-cent-book shelves with gems of higher value to cultivate the feeling of treasure hunting that draws so many people to bookstores in the first place.that I think is a hidden treasure.”

 

%d bloggers like this: