Book Seven: Tender at the Bone

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is one of those people that I just want to totally eat up. Literally. I mean, like, bake her into one of those apple dumplings she talks about in the first chapter of this book and just devour her. Okay, obviously I don't want to literally eat her up, but I'm happy to do it in the more figurative sense. She is all good things to me: a good writer, a good cook, and most importantly, a good story teller. Reading all these books this year I'm discovering that, to me, the most important thing in writing is simply to be able to tell a story and tell it well. I think the charm of Ruth Reichl is her ability to make you feel like you're right there next to her. We all know she knows far more about food than any of us ever will, but she doesn't rub it in our faces. In fact, she tells us all the time how much she doesn't know. So, of course, we can identify and feel like she's our pal, like we can say to her, "You know, I don't really don't anything about wine, either!"

I found it interesting to read this food book so soon after reading Corks & Forks. (Okay, I swear after this I'll stop harping about how much I disliked that book.) But there's a good example here. Both Ruth Reichl and Robert Finigan have chapters where they talk about Kermit Lynch. Whereas Finigan's was some pompous description of something or other having to do with Kermit Lynch that was essentially written for the purpose of name dropping (I honestly have forgotten what his point was), Reichl's chapter told a wonderful story about going to France with Kermit and knowing nothing about wine and learning how he picked the wines he did, all the while telling funny stories that helped me learn something about the wine world and about Kermit Lynch.

And, not to mention, what an interesting life Ruth Reichl has had! What a crazy mother and strange upbringing and circuitous path she took into the foodie world! What great stories! What sweet recipes she includes in the book! What a book!

Book Six: Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

You know that book that you've had forever, that you always look at and think, "One day I'm going to read that," and maybe once or twice you do actually try to read it but you get 15 pages in and then lose focus or move on to something else and never end up finishing it, but you still keep it there at the back of your mind as one of those books that you know will be absolutely amazing and you swear you're actually going to read it one of these days? Well, Brideshead Revisited was totally that book for me.

I bought it long ago because not only had I heard how great Evelyn Waugh was, but the cover has to be the most insanely attractive book cover ever (and I certainly can't resist an attractive cover--in fact, all of the paperback Waugh editions from Back Bay Books are super pretty). But, in a way, I started to think that maybe it couldn't live up to my expectations. So I was so happy to pick it up again for this project and absolutely love every page, every sentence, every word of it. I don't want to summarize the plot here, but it was lovely how the book almost functioned as two separate stories. The first part made me think, "Holy shit, Donna Tartt sure owes a heck of a lot to Waugh for The Secret History," in terms of characters and this feeling of an outsider mingling with the colorful upper class and telling their story. And then the second part had this melancholy lurking around that you realized was probably there the whole time through the first half, but you were too involved with how funny and satirical it was to notice. I could ramble on about all sorts of ideas brought up here--religion, the upper class, England, art, war, homosexuality, alcoholism--but in short I'll just say that this was one of those great books that completely sucked me in and pooped me out in the end enormously sad that it was over.

And isn't Waugh a pretty writer? Seriously, read these pretty, pretty words:

"The languor of Youth--how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrecoverably, lost! The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth--all save this--come and go with us through life; again and again in riper years we experience, under a new stimulus, what we thought had been finally left behind, the authentic impulse to action, the renewal of power and its concentration on a new object; again and again a new truth is revealed to us in whose light all our previous knowledge must be rearranged. These things are a part of life itself; but languor--the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the mind sequestered and self-regarding, the sun standing still in the heavens and the earth throbbing to our own pulse--that belongs to Youth alone and dies with it. Perhaps in the mansion of Limbo the heroes enjoy some such compensation for their loss of the Beatific Vision; perhaps the Beatific Vision itself has some remote kinship with this lowly experience; I, at any rate, believed myself very near heaven, during those languid days at Brideshead."