It’s the dog days of summer, time for lounging by the pool with a novel, reading on a blanket near your cabin, or hanging in your hammock with a book.
The point is to be outside. My favorite place to read food writing is my sun deck’s lounge chair, perhaps followed by a nap. There’s something luxurious about dreaming on a summer day.
So what’s good to read right now? I’m not talking about summer cookbooks. There are lots of lists of those. Instead, here’s a mix of novels, memoir and non-fiction narratives, some old and new, that are worth your time when you’re prone in the sun or sitting in dappled shade:
I finally read this novel and couldn’t put it down. It’s a love story about a food writer who goes to Beijing for a magazine assignment and meets a chef. I also learned about the Chinese culinary arts and ancient food culture and enjoyed every minute. The author was a freelancer for Gourmet magazine who travelled to China frequently, and she’s a powerful storyteller.
2. The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber. Sensuous and lyrical, this 2004 memoir about growing up in America with a food-obsessed Jordanian father includes rich descriptions of family meals. I discovered it after reading a short online story by the author that stunned me so much I had to buy her book. I too, had an immigrant father obsessed with food, and this touching, funny, and unusual story spoke to me in so many ways.
3. Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, by Adrian Miller. No ordinary food historian, Adrian Miller was a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and a senior policy analyst. He’s also a Southern Foodways Alliance board member and a barbecue judge. And he lives in Denver, Colorado, not exactly a hotbed of Southern food.
If you’ve ever wondered how soul food is different from Southern food, or how fried chicken became incorporated into American culture, this is your book. Miller’s meticulously researched book explores identity issues, bad health raps, and African-American culture. It’s surprisingly entertaining. He takes you through chapters on chitlins, yams, greens and “red drinks” — perhaps the most hilarious chapter of all. As he says, “I know this is controversial, but I think that red Kool-Aid is soul food’s official drink.”
I can’t wait to meet Miller at the Association of Food Journalist’s annual conference in Memphis this September.
4. Natural Prophets: From Health Foods to Whole Foods — How the Pioneers of the Industry Changed the Way We Eat and Reshaped American Business, by Joe Dobrow. A publisher sent me this book and it took me a while to get to it because the cover is not so inviting.
However, if you remember the birth of the American health food industry, or shopped at health food stores and coops, or you buy natural food products, this is a fascinating read. It tells the story of the risks seemingly ordinary people took to found such companies as Whole Foods Market, Celestial Seasonings tea, and Silk soy products.
If you want to change the way that people eat, read about how these committed folks did it. They created a multi-million dollar industry too. It’s inspiring, and Dobrow tells a good tale.
How about you? Which food-related books are you reading this summer? Tell me your favorite.
(Disclosure: This post contains Amazon links.)