The Tenth Muse

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, by Judith Jones

Yup, another food book. This was an interesting memoir by an interesting woman. She had a WASP-y childhood but ended up living in Paris after WWII and working for a publisher. She loved good food and she came into her own when living in Paris. It opened her eyes to a new way of eating, and she combined her love of food with her literary career by searching out good writing about food. She worked with Julia Child, and they ended up publishing "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," which changed how Americans cooked. I didn't realize how influential is was until I read this book. Judith Jones then sought out other ethnic food cook book authors. After a while, she realized she was what she called a "food snob" and started looking for authentic American cuisine. Through many travels with her equally food-focused husband, from Appalachia to Vermont to Paris to Bali, they found and celebrated good food.

I also enjoyed her writing about her friendships with food giants like MFK Fisher, James Beard, and Julia Child. Other cookbook authors I want to find now are Nina Simonds, Edna Lewis, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Marion Cunningham.... The end of the book is a collection of recipes which mirrors the different stages of her life. I think it was generous of her to share what she loved, and her passion made the book a great read.

Here's the last two paragraphs of the book, which sums it up, I think.

"Moreover, I always take home new tastes and new challenges, so my table for one is constantly changing. And friends and family who partake of my fare are, I hope, never bored. There is an old Italian saying, A tavola non s'invecchia--"At the table one never grows old." Isn't that reason enough to come home at the end of the day, roll up one's sleeves, fire up the stove, and start smashing the garlic?
As Brillat-Savarin wrote: 'The pleasures of the table are for every man, of every land, and no matter of what place in history or society, they can be part of all his other pleasures, and they last the longest to console him when he has outlived the rest.'"


Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley

This will probably be the last Christopher Buckley novel I read. It was laugh-out-loud funny at parts, but he's better at interesting plot lines than at writing good characters. At the end of the book, all of the characters annoyed me, which wasn't enough to redeem the 318 pages.

You have to hand it to him--he's good at creating interesting situations. The "heroine" of the novel becomes a disaffected cynic when her father blows her Yale tuition money on a dot-com startup. She then joins the Army to get money for college, but then is bounced out after a visiting senator takes over her jeep and almost gets killed in a mine field in Yugoslavia. He feels badly enough to get her a new job in a Washington PR firm. By this time, she's so angry at everyone older than she is, she angrily blogs away. (I'm guessing the author thought frequent mentions of blogs would make him more relevant.) She blames the Baby Boomers for all their selfishness and indulgence, and encourages others under 30 to commit acts of vandalism against golf courses and segways. The movement gains adherents and notoriety, and she develops a plan: "Voluntary Transitioning." Baby Boomers get tax breaks if they agree to kill themselves at 65, so young working people no longer have to fund the massive social security debt passed on to the next generation.

All the characters are two-dimensional, although the president was funny. The most irritating character was the southern Christian who acted as the self-appointed right-to-life expert. Of course, he ended up being a a loser and a hypocrite--so surprise here. Between that and the language, I think I'll pass on future Christopher Buckley novels.