Some foodies love to cook, but some just love to eat. For everyone who obsesses over food but doesn’t have the chops to cut it in the kitchen, we’ve crafted a list of 10 amazing books about food that aren’t cookbooks. Some of these celebrate the joys of mealtime while others dive into the dark realities of eating poorly, but all express a great love for good food and its remarkable ability to bring people together.
1. Nine Rabbits by Virginia Zaharieva
Zaharieva’s memories of lush gardens and comfort food weave through this novel about learning to feed your damaged soul. Think of it as a follow-up read to Eat, Pray, Love. When Zaharieva began writing this 2008 Bulgarian bestseller, she was actually battling a 10-year run with writer’s block — that is, until she started writing recipes from her childhood. From these simmering pots and chopping boards, the rest of her tale of rural poverty, shaky marriages and self discovery rose, producing a book as deep as it is delicious.
2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Is Franzen a secret foodie? Both in life and fiction, it seems. When people mention The Corrections, they don’t necessarily jump to its thrilling culinary narrative, but oh, it’s there. From Gary’s mouth-watering kabobs to Denise’s restaurant food porn, there’s no doubt that the Lamberts of Franzen’s novel know how to seek out and even make some seriously tantalizing dishes. For food-lovers, the best part of this novel might be Denise’s gustatory tour of Europe to inspire a menu for the restaurant she intends on running in Philadelphia. Upholding his reputation for dark humor, Franzen even sends the middle child, Chip Lambert, to some chichi food shop to pick up grub for the family, leaving readers with one of the most uncomfortably hilarious food-related scenes in literature: Chip shoplifting a piece of $78 Norwegian salmon filet by smuggling it under his sweater.
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
We all succumb to our sweet tooths every now and then, even as adults. This childhood classic illustrates the challenge of resisting temptation, where it be rivers of chocolate or deliciously dangerous chewing gum. In real life, of course, no one turns into a giant blueberry from tasting forbidden fruit-flavored gumballs and whipped cream isn’t actually made by violently striking cream, so eat up! We won’t tell.
4. The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
Ah, the great American dream of being able to feed your children however much they need whenever they need it. The book begins with a childhood flashback to a young, plump Edie Middlestein, whose parents allow her to indulge in however much food she wants because “... how could they not feed her?” This idea breeds an insatiable hunger in Edie, which eventually drives away her husband and threatens her life. Unfortunately it seems no amount of surgery can persuade her against impulsive drive-thru trips to McDonalds and Burger King, even when the ones she loves urge her against it. Attenberg’s novel shows that food can bring people together, but it also has the power to drive them apart.
5. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
This modern bestseller describes the horrors of the fast food industry, tracing it all from McDonald’s humble beginnings as a hamburger stand to the Big Macs we know today. It’s at times hard to stomach, but so well researched and infinitely less gimmicky than Supersize Me. Beyond food, the book also discusses the politics of the fast food industry without preaching too much. In the end, whether or not you choose to still indulge in fast food, it helps to be aware of its realities.
6. Relish by Lucy Knisley
No matter how glorious it is to feast on 600-page novels, it’s sometimes refreshing to snack on a worthwhile graphic novel. Knisley’s illustrated memoir explores how food shaped her family. As the daughter of a chef and a foodie, she writes about her affinity for great food and laces the 12 vignettes of this book together with beautifully illustrated, easy-to-make recipes. It’ll put any old-school cookbook to shame, ensuring that the next time you leaf through one for a recipe, you’ll be asking yourself, “But where’s the story?”
7. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Bender takes emotional eating to the next level. In this novel, Rose Edelstein can actually taste the feelings of the people who prepare the food she eats. This curse is realized on her ninth birthday, when her mother serves her homemade lemon cake and all Rose can taste is her mother’s loneliness. It might sound a bit gimmicky, but the book is truly mesmerizing. In the end, Bender’s novel will have you wondering whether or not it’s a gift to taste the world so honestly.
8. Food Rules by Michael Pollan
Think of this as the eater’s equivalent of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. These bits of food-related advice might not necessarily be new to many readers, but they can serve as a nice reminder for how to maintain a healthy relationship with what you eat. Plus, the easy-to-read guide is laced with equal parts silly and ridiculous puns, like “silence of the yams.” (GET IT?!) The rules Pollan offers up might not get you to swear off Taco Bell for good, but they’ll certainly help you think more about what you’re eating — and maybe even get you to treat yourself to better food more often.
9. Alice, Let's Eat by Calvin Trillin
Did you laugh, cry and fall in love after reading Trillin’s About Alice? Then this book is the next step for you. Now that you’re done grieving, you can read this charming book about the lengths that Trillin and his family are willing to go to get good grub, whether that’s in California, Kentucky or Martinique. The book has so much affection for great food, it will charm you with its endless quest to find something great to eat.
10. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
New York Times restaurant critic Reichl exposes her humble beginnings in this witty memoir, through which she documents her love for food despite her mother’s awful — and sometimes even poisonous! — cooking. Though being the daughter of the “Queen of Mold,” Reichl developed an incredible taste for great food from her family’s maid, the gourmand who served her first Souffle, and friends who lived with her in a Berkeley during the organic food revolution in the 1970s. The memoir is hilarious, bittersweet and honest, speaking to the connecting powers of food, which can be so strong that it can woo people to stick by your side — that is, if you cook well enough.
We hope you’ll get your fill from these 10 delicious books about food that aren’t really cookbooks, but we know that they’re so many other titles that should be on the menu! What would you add? Tell us all about it in the comments below.
Freddie Moore is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her full name is Winifred, and her writing has appeared in The Paris Review Daily and The Huffington Post. As a former cheesemonger, she’s a big-time foodie who knows her cheese. Follow her on Twitter: @moorefreddie
This blog post about the culinary literature beyond the traditional cookbook is brought to you by Nine Rabbits, the bestselling novel by Virginia Zaharieva now available from Black Balloon Publishing.
About the Book:
A restless writer's fiery enthusiasm for her family's culinary traditions defines her from childhood to passionate adulthood as she strives for a life less ordinary. Lush gardens, nostalgic meals and sensual memories here are as charming as the narrator herself.
About the Author:
Virginia Zaharieva was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1959. She is a writer, psychotherapist, feminist and mother. Her novel Nine Rabbits is among the most celebrated Bulgarian books to appear over the past two decades and the first of Zaharieva's work available in English.
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