For my first post this year, I want to share some books that I read recently, much enjoyed, and reviewed on this blog. Reading these books is like an imaginary voyage to Paris and other wonderful places in France. I was celebrating Paris in May and June, not just July, here at this blog.
- First there's the delightful novel Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, which I read in May and reviewed HERE. Barbery became famous around a decade ago for her novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which takes place in a Paris apartment building on rue de Grenelle. The same apartment building is also the site of Gourmet Rhapsody. So this earlier novel, published in French in 2000 and in English in 2009, is a perfect book to start an imaginary trip to Paris.
- Second is the wonderful food memoir When French Women Cook by Madeleine Kamman, first published in 1976. Kamman was a well-known as a chef and cookbook writer. I read it in June and reviewed HERE. Kamman begins with her memories of her own great-grandmother in Paris when she was a small child before World War II. The book is filled with memories of women who made marvelous French food and taught Kamman to cook. So this is a perfect book to continue an imaginary Paris visit.
- Third, the famous chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) wrote a collection of memoirs about his life as an entrepreneur, an inventor of recipes, and an innovator of new restaurant practices. His heirs assembled this book from his papers after his death; the first English edition was published in 1996. I reviewed it HERE.
- Most recently, I read A Taste for Vengeance, the nineteenth in Martin Walker's series Bruno, Chief of Police. It was just published in June, 2018. I reviewed it HERE. All of the books in the series take place in the fictitious and idyllic town of Saint-Denis in the Périgord region of France: so not quite in Paris. Still, any of the Bruno books, which are full of amazing food descriptions as well as suspenseful detecting, would be a good choice for an imaginary trip to France.
To help your imagination here is an appreciation of the croissants in Paris compared to those in Bruno's perfect bakery in his perfect provincial town in the provinces. From A Taste for Vengeance:
"'I thought the croissants were pretty damn good in Paris, but this is in a different class altogether,' Hodge said.
"'Where do you go in Paris?' Bruno asked.
"'I’m working my way through the ones that won the prizes for the best in the city. My favorites are Poilâne on the rue du Cherche Midi and Blé Sucré, off the rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine. The coffee here is as good too.'" (Kindle Locations 3211-3214)
Thanks for these wonderful reviews of food books with a French twist.
This is a new side of French reading for me....usually I read fiction. (see French booklist on my website)
I’m visiting your blog for the first time and wiil come back
regularly because you have some great posts!
I have noticed that many French books seem to feature characters with a food fetish of one kind or another.
I’m reading a Maigret book & im learning all about sausages thus time!
I'm so glad you reviewed these again. I was going to mail you if I couldn't find the post about the Bruno books because I think I want to start that series from the first. Have you read all 19? And from another post, order the breads in france book for Rick's birthday!
I got my post up early too -- we're in baby wait mode and I don't know how the schedule of life will change here!
@jeanie -- yes, I"ve read all 19 Bruno Chief of Police books, as well as some short stories and a couple of the author's other books. But I've been at it for a long time.
Hi Mae, theres a few good books appearing in the Paris in July reviews and wishlist. I just wish I had more time.. i think When French Women Cook looks fascinating, and I always like a crime novel, so the Bruno book might be tempting too. Thanks.
Thank you for the book tips. I loved 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog'. I have not really checked up if she has written other books, but here is one. Have to try it.
Thanks for these suggestions. A classic I liked a lot was The Belly,of Paris by Emile Zola. Of The works you spoke of I have read one
Gourmet Rhapsody, published in 2000 (before her marvelous The Elegance of the Hedgehog) but not translated until 2009 is about the world's leading food and restaurant critic. He lives in the apartment house made famous in The Elegance of the Hedgehog. He is on his deathbed and he is probing all his conscious memories to discover the one supreme gastronomic experience of his life.
The story unfolds in short sections. We hear not only from the critic but from his grown children, his long suffering but still in love wife, his grandchildren and even his cat. All the speakers have their own voice. We learn why every one hates Pierre Arthens, the critic, and we do not much like him either. We get a feel for what it would be like to be the world's most highly regarded food critic. Most of all in the book we are drawn into Pierre's experience of foods. His descriptive powers are awesome. We can see why a good word from him would make
a restaurant or an article send everyone to the market looking for the ingredients required for a vain attempt to recreate a meal he describes.
Here is how Pierre sees himself. "When I took possession of the table, it was as supreme
monarch....I am the greatest food critic in the world".
I will share with you a few of my favorite lines from Pierre's food descriptions.
"Early man, in learning to cook fish, must have felt his humanity for the first time.....Meat is virile, powerful, fish is strange and cruel....The Raw Tomato,devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one's mouth that bring with it every pleasure...slicing into raw fish is like cutting into stone. "
Who of us could bite into a factory farm produced tomato after this or relish a meal of fish sticks?
"Tasting is an act of pleasure, and writing about that pleasure is artistic gesture, but the only true work of art, in the end, is another person's feast".
Now this is a bit disturbing.."No one will ever manage to banish from my thoughts the notion that raw food with mayonnaise is somehow deeply sexual".
I came to see my proper attitude toward Pierre was to humble myself and learn from a master.
Pierre's character, that of his wife, children are all very well articulated. Pierre was a terrible husband and a worse father but once he begins to talk about food we forget all that. (He was good to his cat!)
I was so sure I had read Gourmet Rhapsody, but, I am happy to say, I see now that I am wrong. I am adding it to my reading list right now.
Some Paris foodie books that I have read are: Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes; Crepes by Suzette (children’s book); Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris; Paris by Pastry: Stalking the Sweet Life on the Streets of Paris; The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France; Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat (children’s book); Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child (children’s book); The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food; The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious—-and Perplexing—-City; Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes; French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure; Serve It Forth; The Olive Farm; and A Moveable Feast. Wow. I think I need to do a blog post on this.
I love a good Paris book, and food is never far away- this selection looks delicious- I haven't read any of these.
My first time joining Paris in July and a first visit to your blog. I love reading and shall try to find some of the books you shared. What a fun party this is!
When French Women Cook looks like the kind of book I would enjoy!
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