Magazine article American Libraries

Food Lit

Magazine article American Libraries

Food Lit

Article excerpt

I once had a professor who argued persuasively that if a novel - D. H. Lawrence's "bright book of life" - was to be any good, it had to be about sex. Currently I have a colleague, a Lawrence buff as it happens, who contends that a novelist who ignores God can never be great. Leaving aside, for the moment, my belief that these two theorists are actually saying the same thing, I would like to offer an addendum to their hypotheses: After sex and God, a writer's best subject is food.

Food supplies both the sensuality of sex and, properly prepared, its own Godlike form of transcendence. It should come as no surprise, then, that there exists, lurking unclassifiably amid the banality of the generic cookbook, a literature of food that can stand, shoulder to shoulder, with the best fiction. A memorable meal contains all the elements of a fine novel: multidimensional ingredients, be they animal or vegetable, that are transformed through what Dylan Thomas called "my craft or sullen art" into something altogether new; a setting that, creatively defined, can enhance the meaning of the ingredients; and, finally, ambiguity, introduced in the form of the eaters themselves, who generate through their tastebuds and their conversation the climax to a well-told tale. Bring on the chefs!

Fisher, M. F. K. The Art of Eating. Vintage, 1976, $9.95 (0-394-71399-0).

Any discussion of food literature starts with M. F. K. Fisher, whose simple, elegant prose transformed cookery into a subgenre of belles lettres. This omnibus volume, which brings together five books written between 1937 and 1954, makes the ideal overview of her work. Whether discussing food in the context of the privations of World War 11 or explaining how to boil an egg, there is a calm sensibility and a quiet wit behind her words that should be the envy of any writer, whatever his or her subject. …

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