Food and Travel: Twin Readers' Advisory Pleasures

By Hooper, Brad; Trott, Barry | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Food and Travel: Twin Readers' Advisory Pleasures


Hooper, Brad, Trott, Barry, Reference & User Services Quarterly


Sometimes we can get so caught up in the minutia of our daily work that we forget the passion that brought us to the library profession, and to readers' advisory work in particular. In this issue's column, Brad Hooper rekindles some of that passion as he looks at the connections that readers" advisors can make between food writing and travel writing. Reader interest in narrative nonfiction continues to grow, and Hooper offers here some excellent suggestions on how librarians can support and build on that interest. He reminds us that it is okay to be passionate about books and to communicate that passion to our readers.

Brad Hooper is the adult books editor at Booklist. His most recent book is Writing Reviews for Readers' Advisory (ALA Editions, 2010). His other works include The Short-Story Readers' Advisory, The Fiction of Ellen Gilchrist and Read On ... Historical Fiction.

Anthropologists have given us the list of the three basic necessities for human survival: food, shelter, and clothing. But these also can be pleasures, not just survival necessities. That is, not just food but good food, a nice dwelling rather than simply a cave to call home, and stylish or at least well-presented clothes as opposed to an animal skin.

To the list of good food, comfortable shelter, and stylish clothing, I would like to add travel. Avid travelers would insist that travel is, first, a survival necessity, and second, a primary source of pleasure in life.

At the risk of getting too complicated--but I believe you will soon see the method in my madness--let's now cut our new list of four down to two, leaving only food and travel. My reason is one word: writing. People write columns, articles, and even books about clothing--fashion, specifically, but also costume history. And people write columns, articles, and books about shelter, from building a house by yourself to interior decoration. These materials are widely read and appreciated, but generally by a limited, topic-interested audience and not usually by people whose primary interest is enjoying good, evocative writing.

Food and travel, on other hand, tempt a far broader, more extensive, and less specific-focused readership. I believe that food and travel books easily attract all kinds of general readers that are interested only m good writing.

FOOD AND TRAVEL LITERATURE

Why are books about food (food literature, not cookbooks) and books about travel (travel narratives, not travel guides) so attractive as reading material? It's because both derive from sensual pleasure: the actual experience of consuming good food and of going to new or familiar places are both reacted to by our senses. The sweet taste of new potatoes, the color pattern of a salad composed of fresh-cut lettuce sprinkled with blue cheese and topped with sliced strawberries, and the nose-tingle of brewing coffee or a curried lamb stew cooking: we react to food with all the salivary anticipation of the rest of our mammalian brethren. The sight of the Duomo in Florence, the ironically claustrophobic yet comforting feeling of the vast Midwestern prairie, and the swaying palm trees backdropping a Maul beach are some of the indelible pictures by which place registers in our minds.

The two sensory stimulants food and travel are succinctly yet resonantly linked in this famous Ernest Hemingway quote written to a friend: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." (1)

The image of Paris sits so well with the image of a banquet. Paris and food are connected--easily mentioned, as the Hemingway quote indicates, in the same breath--just like travel writing and food writing, together representing twin passions. The passion generated by food and by travel is reflected in the passion found in food writing and travel writing.

Here is another quote suggesting the close affinity between place and food (as well as exemplifying what I believe is the inherent stylishness of food and travel literature), this one by the great British novelist and travel writer Lawrence Durrell, on this occasion writing about the Rhone River region in France: "All roads lead to Lyons, and no wise traveler will complain for this great city is also the axis of good eating--the very midriff of haute cuisine, as it were. …

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