It's that time of year when I fill my pool bag with good books and settle into a lounge chair. If the warm weather finds you on a lounge chair, a hammock or the back deck with an urge to pick up a good book, try one of these food and drink memoirs.
"Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste" by Luke Barr. I'm obsessed with Provence, I miss Provence — and I’ve never even been there. So when I saw this story, written by M.F.K. Fisher’s grandnephew, I grabbed it. During the holiday season of 1970, Fisher, Child and her husband (Paul Child), Beard, and a handful of their food writing royalty friends gathered in Provence for several meals. Readers become a fly on the wall at these feasts that sometimes required a full day to prepare.
The meals are recounted in detail, as are some of the internal spats between these passionate food lovers. This holiday in Provence came at the turning point in food writing, when Child and others were beginning to realize that American cooking didn’t need to emulate French cooking. Not everyone agreed. It’s a well written book in which some of our best food writers are the characters of this true story. Many of the details in “Provence, 1970” were culled from Fisher’s detailed, personal journals.
"Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar" by Jay McInerney. Fiction lovers may know McInerney from his bestsellers like “Bright Lights, Big City,” but he’s also a wine lover and writer who explains wine through story. I learned so much about wine from this book. “Bacchus and Me” is a collection of his wine columns from “House and Garden.” Each section is about 3-5 pages long, making this a great summer read because you don’t have to invest hours and hours.
The book was written in 2000, and it’s interesting to see which of his predictions about wine in the new millennium were spot on. The information about pricing and specific bottles is obviously out of date, but the information about wine history, regions and grapes is timeless. He has since written two other books about wine, “A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine” and “The Juice: Vinous Veritas.” Both of them are on my to-read list.
"Poor Man’s Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking" by Elissa Altman. I wrote a separate review of this food memoir last summer after I devoured the book “with as much enjoyment as Altman has when she devours roughly torn baguette and soft, stinky cheese while drinking wine.” Altman, who won a 2012 James Beard Award for her food blog, tells the story of her lifelong relationship with food and her parents (her mom saw food as the enemy; her dad snuck her into NYC for secret lunches and dinners), and how her relationship with food played a big part in the beginning of her relationship with her partner, Susan.
What made this book stand out for me was that it isn’t just a story about loving food. It’s a story that over and over again describes the communal experience of sharing food with the people you love, and how when it’s done with intention, it can deepen and strengthen relationships and create memories.
"The Watering Hole: A Bartender's Breakdown of the Bipedal Drinking Establishment" by Jay Reid. Reid, a veteran bartender, holds nothing back when he tells the true stories of what he’s seen and what he’s done as a bartender. It’s not always pretty, but it’s always entertaining. If you’ve ever wondered what bartenders really think about those who sit on the other side of the bar from them, baring their souls or letting it all hang out, “The Watering Hole” spells it out. It’s a quick read and perfect poolside or beach reading. You’ll probably find yourselves reading portions of it out loud to your friends — just make sure there are no young kids around. Reid’s a great storyteller, and he even has a story about one of his regulars, a writer named Robin. You’ll have to read the book to find out what he says about her.
"An Omelette and a Glass of Wine" by Elizabeth David. I haven’t read this yet. It's on my summer reading list. David is part of the food writing royalty included in “Provence 1970.” She's considered one of the best and earliest of the modern food writers. This book is a collection of her favorite essays and articles, spanning decades, and it’s considered a classic. It’s one of those books you should read if you enjoy food memoirs and good food writing. I just haven’t gotten around to it, but I will this summer.
And, please take a look at my recommendations from the past four years. Altogether, you have 35 books to choose from, so I bet you'll find something that makes you want to grab that lounge chair.