Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Five Fiction Books for the Frugal Foodie

Thanks, you guys, for all your suggestions from yesterday’s nonfiction food books post. They were wonderful to see. I’d never heard of Laurie Colwin before, and hereby pledge to get on the MFK Fisher tip immediately.

Today, as a follow-up, I thought I’d recommend my favorite food fiction. Like yesterday’s selections, the books might not have much to do with inexpensive, healthy meals, but all include important scenes and plot points involving edibles.

Have you read any of these? What about other novels with stellar food scenes? The comment section is ready and waiting.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
Since main character Sethe is a cook, much of Beloved revolves around her post-Civil War era kitchen, where she prepares a series of biscuits, jams, and simple meals. Aside from that, though, there’s a flashback scene, vital to explaining the rest of the book, in which her family throws the world’s greatest picnic. It begins with a bucket of berries, and ends in luxury, celebration, and bitter feelings that affect the characters for the rest of their lives.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
For some reason, when I think of great literary food scenes, they tend to involve novels in which food is scarce. With no farming jobs to be had in the depths of the Great Depression, GoW’s Joad family heads west, and practically starves along the way. The skimpiness of their meals – when there’s even food to be had - makes a pivotal breastfeeding incident all the more powerful.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by JK Rowling
Yes, the Harry Potter series is fundamentally about kid wizards learning their craft, coming of age, and overcoming evil. But a good part their characterization comes from Rowling’s early descriptions of their relationships with food: Harry’s amazed at the surplus, Hermione's bewitched by its quality, and Ron’s just hungry. Later, the surplus of butterbeer and field trip takeout (such as it is) hints at the kids’ maturation. Good stuff. (Plus, Bertie Bott’s Beans, anyone? I’ll take one in vomit flavor.)

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
On the whole, this book rules. As something that will make you immediately want an Indian buffet shoveled straight into your mouth, it rules even harder. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, but my drool is shorting out my keyboard.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Many suspect the story of Francie Nolan’s BK childhood is actually Smith’s own thinly disguised biography. Either way, her perseverance in the face of occasionally crushing deprivation will charm your face off (and make you appreciate coffee a lot more). Also, if there’s a greater fictional mom than Katie Nolan, I’d like to know.

Also of Note

Bunnicula by Deborah Howe, James Howe, and Alan Daniel
A vampire bunny? That only eats vegetables? In a story told by a dog? Yes please. Growing up, this was one of my favorite books. Has anyone read it lately? Does it hold up?

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Much like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, this modern memoir focuses on the author’s poverty-stricken childhood, though in a series of locations instead of just NYC. As Walls becomes increasingly frustrated by her parents’ inability to provide the basics (shelter, food, etc.), I became increasingly grateful for how good I had it in comparison. Powerful.

Remembering Needleman by Woody Allen (short story)
If only because it has one of the greatest opening lines in literature: “It has been four weeks and it is still hard for me to believe Sandor Needleman is dead. I was present at the cremation and at his son's request, brought the marshmallows, but few of us could think of anything but our pain.”

Somewhat of Note

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Can you dislike a book overall, but really dig the way it does one thing? Okay, good. Because I appreciated SLoB’s food scenes. The honey-making was particularly interesting, not least because I never considered the cleanup involved. Never, EVER spill that stuff.

Not of Note

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Do not read this while eating. I mean it.

(Images courtesy of A Guy's Moleskin Notebook, stupid fool yet again, and UMBC.)

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Anonymous said...

Of course Harry Potter makes the list! I noticed this more when I listened to the books, but those kids are ALWAYS eating chocolate, candy, feasts, and huge meals.

Kitschen Bitsch said...

_Like Water for Chocolate_, and the whole eggplant ordeal from _Love in the Time of Cholera_ really sticks out for me for some reason. Oh, and the entire _Little House on the Prairie_ series. That and my grandmother probably explain why I was such a fat child...

Zegi said...

I am so freakin' thrilled that someone else remembers and loves Bunnicula. In graduate school I went to a costume party dressed as bunnicula (it was an easy costume, what can I say?) and nobody knew what the heck I was talking about. These were all people the same age as me, they should have had a clue for crying out loud. So thank you for confirming that I am not crazy. Do you by chance remember the cartoon????

Michelle said...

Do not read American Psycho on a full stomach.

Anonymous said...

I'll second "Like Water for Chocolate." I read it as part of a college English class and the descriptions were lovely.

Anonymous said...

The Bunnicula series is wonderful - we get the audio books for trips from the library; the bonus is that they are read by Victor Garber - fabulous!!! Our boys love them (and we do too!)

Kris said...

Zegi, I sort of remember the cartoon, but love your costume. I'm glad you didn't go the Judy Blume route. That could have been messy.

melissa said...

oh wow, I hadn't thought about Bunnicula in years! I've got a signed copy somewhere at my parents' house - it was my favourite book as a kid, too!

Anonymous said...

I vote for The Epicure's Lament! :)

Lake said...

I remember Bunnicula too! How great was that? I read most of the other books in the series too, although the first few are the best.

Off Pike said...

I saw the note from Kitschen Bitsch. I was going to say, of the Little House series, Farmer Boy has the most amazing food scenes. It's been years since I read it, and all I really remember is it making me hungry.

::::wifemothermaniac:::: said...

I recommend Ray Bradbury's book "Dandelion Wine"He has an awesome chapter about his culinary genius grandmother and her very very VERY messy kitchen. They decide to clean it up for her as a surprise, and well, I won't ruin the book by telling you any more. Here's a quote from my blog from that book:

RELISH! What a special name for the minced pickle sweetly crushed in its white capped jar. The man who had named it, what a man he must have been. Roaring, stamping around, he must have tromped the joys of the world and jammed them in this jar and writ in a big hand, shouting, RELISH! For its very sound meant rolling in sweet fields with roistering chestnut mares, mouths bearded with grass, plunging your head fathoms deep in trough water so the sea poured cavernously through your head. RELISH!

Sara said...

oooo good list! i just ordered The Namesake and The Glass Castle on :-)

Marta said...

Try "Pomegranade Soup" by Marsha Mehran.