10 April, 2015

Fiction Friday: Literature seasoned with a dash of Food

I wasn’t sure whether to file this under Fiction Friday or Tasty Tuesday because it fits both.

My local library recently launched a new book group dedicated to 'food literature!' This is, apparently, a hot topic, with discussion groups popping up in all the major cities.  Goodreads lists 217 entries on its “Popular Food Literature Books” list, ranging from Julia Child’s My Life in France to  Calvin Trillin’s The Tummy Trilogy. PBS has a series titled Food and Literature.
The first book selected for discussion was Blood, Bones & Butter, a memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, who runs Prune restaurant on East 1st St. in New York. The library expected 4 to 5 participants; 25 showed up.

As a food enthusiast and aspiring writer of food-centric mysteries, I wanted to love this book.  I didn’t. Disclaimer: this is my personal opinion, others in the group disagreed with me. Vehemently. Basically, we were all looking for something different from this book: food references, a good story, a stirring memoir, whatever.

Hamilton has a MFA in writing and  the structure is good and the language interesting if sometimes excessive, almost as if she were being paid by the word.  My biggest problem was that I simply didn’t like Hamilton as a person, and halfway through the book I’d lost interest in her and anything she had to say.  Compounding that, the food theme was not strong enough to hold my interest. The book was provocative, but not evocative.

All of which begs the question: Which is more meaningful: a novel centered around a food theme or a food-centric passage in a great literary novel? 

I don’t have the answer.  I’ve read many of the books on Goodreads’ list:Babette’s Feast, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, My Life in France, A Moveable Feast, Kitchen Confidential, Cooking with Fernat Branca, Alice in Wonderland, etc.  All very different, yet all accepted as part of the food literature genre.

So what’s your  preference: Food as a theme or subtext?