I started keeping track of the books I read on this site last year, mainly to just keep a record of them but also to motivate myself to read more. I doubt anyone pays much attention to my list, but I can’t help feeling good as it gets longer and longer.
I have a habit of reading voraciously for a while and then getting stuck on a book I don’t really like, and instead of just giving up on it or forcing myself to finish, I keep telling myself I’ll get to it and end up not reading anything for a few months. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2008 was to read more and fight that silly habit – if I got stuck on something, I’d power through or give it up and move on. I’m happy to say I found myself doing the former more than the latter and ended up really liking several books I might otherwise have put down.
I ended up finishing 25 books this year, compared to 14 last year, and I have to say, it’s nice to have actually stuck to a resolution for once, even if it was a pretty easy one. I mean, I do enjoy reading. A whole lot more than I enjoy, say, exercising. But that’s another story. Let’s just focus on the positive for now.
Eight of those books were food related, and not surprisingly, some of them were my favorites this year. Here’s a quick roundup of the food reads I gobbled up (and choked down) this year:
Heat by Bill Buford – My first book of the year, Heat was a great way to start 2008. Buford’s “adventure as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany” was inspiring. I especially enjoyed the unsanitized but not necessarily unflattering portrait of Buford’s first boss in the restaurant industry, Mario Batali.
Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman – This one wasn’t so much fun to read (plenty of gross-out material) and it’s pretty heavy on the snark, but I was glad to have read it, especially as I was deciding to stop eating meat. The vegan thing didn’t work out for me, but it’s definitely a good read for someone who wants to know more about what she’s eating. Just be prepared – you may be compelled to change your eating habits.
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme – I loved every page of this book, a memoir written with the assistance of the iconic chef’s great-nephew. I didn’t know much about Child before I read the book, so it was a delight to learn about her fascinating life.
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee – See my take on this book here.
The House of Mondavi by Julia Flynn Siler – I don’t have a very refined palate when it comes to wine, and I’m not really into studying it. But I do like a good drama, which is what this book promised to be. The first half delivered that more frequently than the second, which was too heavy on financial and legal issues for my taste. Overall, it was extremely well researched, but pretty dry.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan – This young adult novel isn’t a food book per se, but food plays a major role in the story. Esperanza and her mother are forced to flee their wealthy estate home in Mexico and become migrant farm workers in California. Set in the Depression, the book touches on the Mexican Deportation Act and efforts to improve workers’ conditions, weaving in descriptions of seasonal foods and bits of fantasy. I think it’s a great read no matter what your age.
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan – This is such a great little novel (little as in only 160 pages). It’s about the last day of business at a Red Lobster restaurant in Connecticut as told by the earnest, barely-holding-things-together manager who’s always thought of the place as his own. Set during the holiday season in the midst of a snow storm, it’s a great winter read. If you’ve ever worked at such a place, I think you’ll find many of the little details ring true.
Waiter Rant by The Waiter – I got this book for Christmas and finished it this morning. It’s kind of funny that I started the year reading about someone idealistically starting out on his culinary career and ended it with an account of a long-suffering, cynical waiter. The Waiter dispenses freely with the snark and gossip, but he also waxes philosophical and offers often-poignant insights about human behavior. It was a fun, relaxing read for some lazy holiday vacation days.
Here’s to good eating and reading in 2009! Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve!