I’m a member of a book club, but not as you know it.
Our book club – the official name is (Wine &) Book Club, and our members are sometimes called Wobblers – meets more or less each month at a local pub where we have dinner and chat first, and book chat (usually!) after. Wine is generally involved. I’m liking shiraz at the moment.
We’re a small group, about ten, and we’re pretty selective about membership. It’s not that we’re a bunch of literary snobs, or think we’re elite – it’s probably the opposite. Regular bookclubbers would be aghast at our lax and loose club activities. How so, you say?
Well for starters, we all read whatever we like. Sometimes someone will turn up without having read anything at all that month. That’s fine. If I’m completely honest, I’ll admit the WABC began life as a way of improving my social life, having met some people I enjoyed spending time with, but having no other mutual connections with. So I invited a few of them to join me for a bite, a beverage and a book chat, and hoped they’d all get on. They do, and it works!
So it’s really about a small group of people who enjoy each others’ company first, and enjoy book chats second. But a close second! As far as a mental health activity goes, It’s a pretty good way of supporting friends or forgetting about other problems for a few hours.
Covid-19 has impacted even on our book club, and so we had our first Zoom Chat this week. Like true nerds (well, it was my idea so I accept the nerd title) a loose theme was set: food had to figure in some key way in the books we read. We don’t rate our reads, so apologies if you try one of these out and don’t like it.
The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister
The story of a chef who holds monthly cooking classes, which become evocative lessons in food and life, as eight students learn about ingredients, recipes and the science of cooking. The lessons become metaphors for relationships, attitudes and experiences as each student transforms in some way throughout the series of classes. Through the classes, they come to understand more about life, food and themselves.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Translated from Spanish, this story is delivered in chapters divided into life events, each beginning with a list of ingredients for a dish being prepared for the de la Garza family around the time of the Mexican Revolution. Mama is the matriarch of the all-female household, ruling with an iron fist over her daughters. Youngest daughter Tita falls in love with Pedro, who asks for her hand in marriage, but Mama invokes a tradition that will keep Tita single until her own death. Told through the recipes and emotions of the household, magic unfolds through the decades of their story.
Women In Sunlight by Frances Mayes
By the author of wildly popular Under the Tuscan Sun, this book relates the experiences of three American women who leave their lives behind on a spontaneous adventure to Italy, renting a house in Tuscany and discovering new food, a new culture and a lot about themselves and each other. New life, Italian food and realisations about life from a writer who’s lived what she’s writing about.
The Love That Remains by Susan Francis
The author, from the Hunter Valley, tells her own story of a late-life romance that saw her and the new man in her life head off to Spain to start a new life, discover a new cuisine and culture. Adopted as a baby, Susan was keen to learn more about her birth parents, although Wayne, her new partner, tried to dissuade her from going back to the past. When a terrible event in Spain forces her to re-evaluate everything, she finds out that secrets from the past might be better left alone.
A Year of Good Eating by Nigel Slater
An English food writer and cook, Nigel Slater writes a month by month account of life, making seasonal produce and food the centrepiece of each story. Each month he recounts a slice-of-life about his own life, his restaurant, his garden, along with recipes that have relevance to those threads of his culinary experiences. His writing style is lyrical, almost poetic, as he shares his personal stories within the recipes. Worth reading just for the bacon granola recipe!
If you have any suggestions for books that incorporate food as a theme or subject, I’d love to hear them. Note I don’t have any affiliation with the links above, I’ve simply linked to a number of Queensland or Australian online bookstores as a way of supporting them.