For 10 summers now, right around Memorial Day, I've recommended a list of five books for food lovers that are great summer reading on the beach, by the pool, or by a pitched tent in the woods. They aren't heavy food policy books or recipe books (although some may contain a few recipes). They're usually memoirs of people who have traveled and eaten well along the way.
This year, I've revisited those lists and pulled the five books that still resonate with me most. As you're deciding what to read this summer, consider these books.
"A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle. This was on my first list of recommendations and at the time, I said "If you’re only going to choose one of my recommendations from this list, make it this one." It is still the book I suggest the most. It's the memoir of Mayle's first year living in Provence with his wife. Each chapter is dedicated to one month, and I felt like I was there with the couple as they renovated their vineyard home, met their neighbors, visited the French markets and restaurants, and drank wine. I still have not been to Provence, but because of this book (and many others I've read), it is the top place on my wanderlust list.
"The Dolce Vita Diaries" by Cathy Rogers & Jason Gibb. This is another book that immersed me in the experience of others who made the bold move to settle in another country. This English couple left successful television careers and moved to Italy to make olive oil even though they didn't know how to speak Italian or grow olive trees. I included it in my 2010 list, but I also did a separate review of "The Dolce Vita Diaries." The descriptions of each experience — from dealing with real estate agents to carrying heavy crates of olives up rainy, muddy hills — made me feel like I was there with Cathy and Jason, living the good life.
"Round Ireland with a Fridge" by Tony Hawks wasn't just one of my favorite food-related books of 2011, it's one of my favorite books ever. It made me laugh out loud many times and I wanted to be with Hawks on his adventure. It's the tale of an English comedian who made a drunken bet that he could hitchhike around Ireland for a month with a dorm-sized fridge. The country embraced his crazy trek, and he met wonderful people along the way. The story isn't specifically food- or beverage-focused, but it's peppered with plenty of descriptions of what he ate and drank. I just discovered there's a movie based on the book, and I can't wait to see it.
"Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar" by Jay McInerney. This 2000 book from wine writer McInerney (also known for his bestseller “Bright Lights, Big City”) is a collection of his wine columns from “House and Garden.” Each column explains wine in easy-to-understand language and engaging stories. The reader learns wine history, regions and grapes in short spurts, and this makes it a great summer read because you don't have to invest hours and hours to learn something. You can do it 5 to10 minutes at at time.
"Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman" by Alice Steinbach. Pulitzer Prize-winning Steinbach spent a year living alone in Paris, London and Italy, meeting new people and being open to the experiences — including meals — that came to her. When I first wrote about this book in 2016, I said it may inspire the solo traveler in you and encourage you to find a few people to share a table and a bottle of wine with. I don't know if it has inspired anyone else, but it certainly motivated me. In fact, I'm writing this from the terrace of a 16th century villa-turned-hotel that overlooks the Arno River in Tuscany. I'm here for a media trip, but before I checked in, I spent several days solo in Florence, exploring the culture, history, art, food and wine of the city that has preserved its Renaissance heritage. I had dinner each night with people who live in Florence that I've never met before. I made new friends and had wonderful experiences, remembering the inspiration of this book.
Often the books that I recommend in these summer lists allow the reader to live vicariously. But, one of the amazing things about these entertaining summer reads is that they not only allow you to live through someone else's experiences, they may inspire you live — to choose new experiences that feed not just your body but also your soul.