Via an intrepid correspondent known only as Homer, a chilling interview w/ the guy responsible for the cookbook reviews that appear in Publishers Weekly. I don't follow PW, but it's certainly a frequent source of blurbs on mass-market paperbacks, and thus a voice to be heeded in the book world. Or not, based on this account of their process. The most remarkable thing about this interview is that it exists. What Mark Rotella describes happening at Publishers Weekly is to cookbook reviewing as bleaching pig assholes is to calamari. That is to say, one does not expect the person responsible to describe the bleaching and the slicing of the pig assholes as if he were running a legitimate seafood operation. But that's about what happens here:
In a way, this complete IDGAF approach is the only thing that mitigates what seems at first like the most alarming part of this, which is that the rate for these reviews is $25 and no byline. Under the circumstances, Rotella seems to be getting about what he pays for.
If you can get past the preposterous and gratuitous misidentification of Streep's portrayal of Julia Child as other than criminal, there are some sort ofinteresting ideas in this NYer blog post (god that sounds weird) on the continued celebration of Child, James Beard and MFK Fisher:
Well, kind of. It's not clear if the post's author (Bee Wilson) is more concerned about the crippling effects of nostalgia or of Francophilia. Considering that even Wilson concedes that all three of her triumvirate backed of Gallic rigor in the kitchen as their lives unfolded, so the real issue is the time:
What's the problem? People keep writing books about things people keep reading books about. Call it the GolfingFor Catsprinciple. This principle works both chronologically and thematically. However, Wilson wants something else from her food writing:
More seafood and cheese for the rest of us, I guess! More to the point, Wilson seems to miss that Provence 1970 is no more a cookbook than Please Kill Me is a self-help book. The analogy is overstated, but it's more interesting to read about Sid Vicious, Richard Hell, Richard Olney, et al, precisely because they lead lives that are not like our own. Speaking of nostalgia for 1970, let's ask Iggy and the lads to play us off:
Now and again, one of the grasshoppers will ask me about cooking. In response to a concern about originality, I suggested the following:
Pick up something like Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, and see what inspires. It is a very unoriginal cookbook, and that is its strength. Learning to cook is more like playing in a wedding band than being a jazz solost. Do I know The Hustle? Check. Can I make a roux? Check.
Was this good advice, people who read this and are smarter about cooking than I am?
The Cod has roasted hogs in two blue states, two red states, and a purple state, has pickled green peaches, and fed any number of folks any number of ways. However, 2012 marks the first time that The Cod and cinetrix will host Thanksgiving. In the nick of time, Sam Sifton delivers the book for just such a thing. "Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well." It is the only thing you will ever need to read about Thanksgiving cooking.
The book format gives Sifton an unfair advantage. Thanksgiving is a holiday for traditional cooking. It is not a day for experimentation. Newspapers, blogs, and magazines come out every day or week or year, and have some obligation to present holiday service journalism that goes beyond "Do what you did last year, but maybe wait until after noon to get into the Beaujolais, for Christ's sake."
Sifton's approach emulates that of the coach of his favorite college football team, munus the joylessness. Focus, attention to detail, and preparation mean that relatively straightforward dishes come together to form a successful meal.
Moreso, the book's genius lies in understanding hostingThanksgiving as a challenge of adulthood, and a problem of logistics and social engineering as much as it is of cooking. I would like to see a series of such books, on other grownup stuff like refinancing your house, or building a deck, or suchlike. If you have a big monitor, watch this while you order:
Old friend Thomas McNamee dropped in on Eater to plug his new jawn -- a Craig Claiborne bio, the which no ARC has manifested itself, so you're on your own. But! If you write for a magazine that covers food, Thomas McNamee would like you to know that you are a fucking whore:
Hi! Sorry I suck at blogging anymore. Morale is low, with nary a Roiphe in sight to deliver the beating that might restore morale. But! I saw where Emily Gould was revisiting Laurie Colwin. Laudable, but one thing Laurie Colwin* would not do is read an article about herself where the platform is an allegedly buggy app branded w/ the name of a defunct food mag. Buy the book, and the other book - her ode to biscuits is the single most compelling piece of food writing I've read in some time. Basically -- make biscuits, or you are an asshole, but better than that.
*Thanks to TAFKAOGIC for hooking me up w/ Colwin back in the day.
Gwinnie, et al, seem to be in the throes of an heroic romantic notion of authorship, which is a relatively recent phenomenon, and exists for the sake of copyright as much as anything. But to be an author is to be that kind of author, so there is an idea that a book springs from the brow of its creator. For novels, sure, maybe, academic monographs, sometimes, but for cookbooks, less so. Recipes in a cookbook need testing, in a way that chapter 12 of the new Marcy Dermansky novel does not. It is, by its nature, a collaborative product. Here is where auteur theory might help. Scorsese, for instance, makes movies, but Thelma Schoonmaker edits them. It's silly for Gwinnie to beef, much as it would be silly for Scorsese to insist that he shot every frame of Raging Bull himself. It's not true, but it's also not the point. Scorsese makes Scorsese films, and other folks help him realize his vision, just like if Mario does a NASCAR cookbook. Moskin's article seemed to be more of a memoir ("I was the literary equivalent of a plongeur"), than an expose', but the reaction from various cookbook producers turned it into a scandal.
Martha Bowden: The Reform’d Coquet, Familiar Letters Betwixt a Gentleman and a Lady, and The Accomplish’d Rake, an edition of three novels by Mary Davys (1674?-1732), University Press of Kentucky, 1999.