Academic journal article American Studies

BOOKS THAT COOK: The Making of a Modern Literary Meal

Academic journal article American Studies

BOOKS THAT COOK: The Making of a Modern Literary Meal

Article excerpt

BOOKS THAT COOK: The Making of a Modern Literary Meal. Edited by Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite. New York: New York University Press. 2014.

Books that Cook is a savory concoction of prose, poetics, and recipes that narrate U.S. history and memory through the optic of the cookbook since the eighteenth century. Through the simple notion that everyone eats, the contributors insist that food is a pedagogically effective and generative site of knowledge production and transmission: "the joy of learning is like eating, and words are dishes to be savored" (1). Complementary to the layout of the common modern cookbook, Bill Kloefkorn's "invocation" gives way to an array of rich "courses" arranged in menu sequence-aperitifs, starches, eggs, main courses, sides, sweets, and, finally, "a toast;" each course is saturated with sensory, emotional, and historical depth that gives way to the other. Contributing authors are a handpicked consortium of classic and contemporary scholars, fictionists, poets, and cookbook artists. The book is situated around three conceptual themes: recipes as cultural texts, cookbooks as literature, and menus as pedagogical tools. Collectively, these themes allow for an innovative "literary meal" that narrates U.S. history as it relates to environmental issues, ethnicity, love, growth and nostalgia, life and death, and loss and kinship. In style and content, Cognard-Black and Goldthwaite argue that recipes are not dormant instructions for the preparation of dishes; instead, they are "culture keepers and culture makers. They both organize and express human memory" (2).

Given its unique layout, co-editors Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite offer a recipe for reading: "the literary works within each section should be read as an extension of the cookbooks, while the cookbook excerpts should be understood as an extension of pieces of literature: as forms of storytelling and memory making all their own" (1). What is particularly innovative about Books that Cook is the way in which the book calls upon the reader to bring these recipes to life: "When a food is shared and eaten, the reader actually embodies the text . …

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