I have been on an immense reading kick. Reading is something I turn to in times of need. Lately, the need is for nothing more than a little bit of comfort in the bleak winter months. Since I went home for "winter break" (the perk of working in the public school system), I have devoured Rachel Dratch's Girl Walks Into a Bar, Anita Loos' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte, and am now in the midst of MFK Fisher's The Gastronomical Me.
"Personal essays," as I would call them, have always been among my most favorite things to read. I love autobiography. I love creative women. I love reading their musings about their chosen form of art and their life beyond that art. Anne Fadiman, an author whose essays center around her own love of books and writing, is one of my best loved in this category, and I've relished every book by an awesome female comedian that has come out in the past couple of years (Tina Fey, Mindy Kailing, and, most recently , Rachel Dratch).
Food literature is somewhat new for me, though. Hesser's Book was so deeply comforting to me that it made me long for more writing of a similar subject matter and nature.
My first exposure to food literature, I would say, was when I read the letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto last winter. The book and the women had a lasting effect on me. Interestingly enough, it was while watching the movie "Julie and Julia" that I became "acquainted" with Amanda Hesser. I've watched that movie so many times that her name has always stuck with me ("Amanda Hesser of the New York Times"), and she actually appears as herself in the movie.
In my beloved Harvard Bookstore on New Year's Day, mere pages away from being done with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I peered on the Cooking shelf in search of something to read (The Harvard Bookstore has my favorite cooking section - it is fairly small, in a cozy spot, and it seems to be more food literature than actual cookbooks). I spotted Hesser's name on a wide spine and, feeling warmth from her connection to a movie that is warmly connected to a book I love, purchased her collection of recipes and memories. I read it so quickly and, knowing Hesser herself has no other literature published, knew I needed more of something similar.
MFK Fisher is someone I've contemplated reading for several years. It is actually only on the lovely Cooking Shelves of the Harvard Bookstore that I have seen her work. The only book of hers I'd ever seen there was Consider the Oyster - a slim, grey edition that eludes to silk and shells. I've thought about buying that book so many times but never made the move. It is true that the final push I needed came from the comparisons between Hesser and Fisher in reviews on the back of Hesser's book (I like links and connections between what I intake - it makes me feel like I am growing a database, becoming knowledgeable about a specific topic, and am part of a network of beautiful, amazing people even though I only get to know them through their writing).
This time, the Harvard Bookstore had a couple more of MFK Fisher's books, and they were beautifully designed so that each cover featured a gorgeous black and white photo of her (mid-century, a large draw for me) against a bark cloth-esque background in different shades of warm oranges, yellows, and soft reds (these editions by North Point Press). In short, I fell in love instantly, and I brought home The Gastronomical Me. In researching her online, I've become fascinated by her life and want to collect and read each neatly designed book.
Her essays take small moments and elaborate beautifully. Movies are painted by her simple sentences. She, as a writer, is quite special. Food writing is special in its taking of a basic human comfort and letting the reader relish in it in a new way.
I think I just love reading about women who were - and are - passionate about life, travel, nature, love, people, animals, art, and art as career. It makes me feel more passionately and eager about my own projects, my own dreams of more travel, and of other things. A sense of hope. A sense of security in knowing that there are people who feel deeply, take pleasure in small things, and dream largely.
Happy New Year to all of you! xo