Tuesday, February 17, 2009

January Reading: IV

I discovered Amanda Hesser, now New York Times Food Magazine editor, via her book Cooking for Mr. Latte. The story of her courtship through food captivated me; the saga of being a young New Yorker took me me on a journey of reminiscence to my post-college years in the Big Apple. I really do miss New York.

As a Hesser fan, I couldn't wait to get my hands on her latest effort: Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table. As the title suggests, this is a collection of food-related essays by an impressive list of contemporary authors. Hesser has collected these essays over a period of years at the New York Times and given them homes in chapters titled "Illusions," "Discovery," "Struggles," "Loss," and "Coming Home."

Without question, Hesser has an all-start group of authors assembled here. My favorites, based on author and topic, included Chang-Rae Lee on the food his mother cooked, Heidi Julavitz on Japan, poet Billy Collins on fish, Kirin Desai on bringing Western food to an Indian family, and Pico Iyer on Japanese convenience stores.

The book is a straightforward read with its bite-sized essays but has a bit of a dark shadow hanging over it. Many of the essays have a persistent note of sadness or even gloom to them. Perhaps I should have anticipated this from the section titles.

Overall, editor Hesser didn't deliver the experience that I enjoyed with author Hesser and it made the collection less satisfying to me. That said, there is still good reading here. I will also be checking the Eat, Memory column in the New York Times to look for gems and see if the tone of the essays changes over time.

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