The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Renee is a concierge of a hotel particuleur in Paris who hides her intellect in keeping with her social position. Paloma is a precocious 12-year-old who hides her intellect to fit in with other kids. That is, until a wealthy Japanese man moves into the building, discovers their secrets, and befriends them. This book is beautifully written, as the two misfits ponder the nature of beauty, language, wealth, and what’s really important in the world. The transition from solitary musing to sharing their thoughts with a kindred spirit is heartening.
Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, by Kim Severson. I’m a sucker for food books. Kim Severson was a food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. She writes about the eight women cooks who are her heroines and who got her through the hard times of alcoholism and figuring out who she was and what she wanted to do with her life. Some are famous – Ruth Reichl, Marcella Hazan, Alice Waters, Rachael Ray – and others are not. It’s fun to get the low-down on these revered chefs. But I also enjoyed reading Severson’s coming-of-age story about herself.
Comfort Me With Apples, by Ruth Reichl. I’ve completed the trilogy. Comfort Me With Apples is the second in Ruth Reichl’s trilogy of memoirs. The first, Tender at the Bone, is about her upbringing, coming of age as a person and a cook, and ends with her becoming a food writer. Comfort Me With Apples is about her transition from freelance food writer to esteemed restaurant critic, with a large dose of personal history about her marriage, fraught relationships with men including but not limited to her husband, and her desire for a child. The third, Garlic and Sapphires (reviewed on this blog), is about her experiences as restaurant critic of the New York Times. The fun about Comfort Me With Apples is Reichl’s encounters with young chefs whom we now know to be mega-famous, such as Wolfgang Puck, Mark Peel (owner of my favorite special occasion restaurant in LA), Alice Waters, Jonathan Waxman (whom I always see on Top Chef Masters). I love reading Ruth Reichl because she seems fearless — she’ll travel anywhere and eat anything.
Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan. Winner of the Booker Prize. Composer Clive Linley and editor Vernon Halliday are thrown together after the death of their common lover Molly Lane. They discover other lovers, namely Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, who has a huge secret. When Halliday is tipped off to this secret, it causes a huge moral dilemma and the possible end of Clive and Vernon’s longtime close friendship. The ending seems dumb and arbitrary, although you can see it coming, but upon thinking about it later, perhaps the ending is farcical rather than dumb. It did win a Booker Prize, after all.
The Last Resort, by Allison Lurie. I enjoyed this very fast read, but it also made me mad. It’s about a well-known professor and naturalist who thinks he’s dying so plans to commit suicide. Meanwhile, his wife suspects something is wrong and makes plans for them to go to Key West for a few weeks. Characters get caught up in each others’ lives in a semi-soap opera-ish and comic way. The main character, the professor’s wife, is so bland that I care nothing about her, and I can’t see why any of the other characters care about her. She’s described as being totally devoted to her husband — her life’s work is helping him with his important work. Like Dorothea in Middlemarch, but much less interesting. Can she see that her husband is a pompous jerk and if so, does she regret devoting her life to him? We can’t tell. A little more effort in character development would have made this book much better.