My friend Carol over at FL at Home emailed to alert me that the Wall Street Journal had done a piece on a niche in the food blogging world—people who work through a single book and blog about it; good story if you haven’t already read. The phenomenon began with the Julie/Julia blog, a brilliant idea ripe for the blogosphere (the book was less successful, I thought; for some reason the voice didn’t translate to the book form). Carol brilliantly picked up this idea and ran with it and now there are numerous blog the book sites. (She’s moved into video in the current post with her rendition of the French Laundry pig’s head.) No less than three people are doing the massive Gourmet Cookbook (and I thought Carol was whacky). Is this a fad or will increasing numbers of books have their blog the book sight? And what will Carol do when she’s finished with the FLC? Regardless, I don’t think any of them will match the devotion of a teenager 30 years ago named Dan Hugelier who, determined to learn to cook, worked his way recipe by recipe through Escoffier: The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery. Exactly 5012 recipes, each one numbered. Dan would become a certified master chef, a gifted teacher at Schoolcraft in Michigan, a skilled boyer and hunter. The man can cook.
Speaking of learning to cook, my friend Russ Parsons, with whom I often disagree, occasionally with justification, has reviewed in the LATimes Bob Spitz’s midlife crisis/cooking/travel memoir, The Saucier’s Apprentice, not to be confused with Ray Sokolov’s classic cookbook, The Saucier’s Apprentice, and found it compelling even while he couldn’t stand the narrator. It speaks to the difficulty of setting the right tone in personal writing of this sort, and suggests that we’re likely to see more learning-to-cook memoirs. Parsons compares the author and the book to Buford and Heat, a terrific book, and the Spitz book suffers from comparison. Again, it’s the voice issue. Another book Parsons might have mentioned is a similar midlife crisis/cooking/travel memoir called The Sharper Your Knives, the Less You Cry, Kathleen Flinn’s journey from Seattle to and through the Cordon Bleu in Paris. I, of course, like to think that my book sets the gold standard for such works, but I know the curmudgeon Parsons would take me to task on that as well. I can report, however, that I’ve just finished an introduction to a new edition the publisher will bring out next year. Pardus is lobbying hard for his mug on the cover.
Speaking of Pardus—if you’ve been wanting to meet the hero of Making of a Chef you can join him and others on a tour of India in August. Sounds like a great trip for intrepid culinarians at a reasonable price. He invites you at A Hunger Artist, and here’s the trip’s site. Six (of 20) spots remain.
Last, the book on the top of this post, Comfort, just published, has nothing to do with food. It’s just an incredible book about the loss of a child. Ann Hood (I’ve mentioned her and her amazing Modern Love essay before and her novel The Knitting Circle, both on the same topic; on her site she discusses in a video how learning to knit saved her and paved the way for her being able to write again) is an extraordinary writer and Comfort is a raw raw raw account of losing her 5 year old daughter, Grace, in the blink of an eye. One April morning she’s skipping off to school a perfect child in perfect health, and a few days later she’s gone, the victim of a virulent strep infection. It’s a nightmare of unimaginable depth, one that no parent should have to endure, though many do. In Walk On Water, a book in which parents lose children, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic named Marc told me that when he was a young boy, a friend of his died. Thirty years later, he ran into the boy’s mother. The mother began bawling right there. It never goes away. Ann Hood knows that as well as anyone else. And the amazing thing that happens when you read her book, as with any true and truly told tragedy, is that there is something powerfully cathartic in experiencing such a story. Evelyn Waugh noted that the power of tragedy is not in an artful account of horrible or catastrophic events in a malignant universe, true tragedy reconciles such events within a benevolent universe. Somehow Ann has done this. It’s a great book. (Here’s the uncommonly thoughtful review in the LATimes.)