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Novels (fiction or non)

Looking for some summer reads food related. Can be about chefs, food critics, whatever. I loved HEAT a few summers ago. Historical fiction or travelogues with food ties are great too. I have done the searches, just looking for some new ones.

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  1. i haven't yet gotten to Bourdain's latest - "Medium Raw" - but it's #1 on my list when i find the time to curl up with a book for pleasure.

    there's also Gabrielle Hamilton's "Blood, Bones & Butter."

      1. Last summer I read Ruth Reichl's memoirs, "Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table," "Comfort me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table," and "Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Restaurant Critic." I enjoyed them all; she has a good sense of humor and struck a nice balance between providing insider info about the food industry while not taking it too terribly seriously.

        I also read Jeffrey Steingarten's, "It Must Have Been Something I Ate." I would like to read his earlier book, "The Man Who Ate Everything," but last I checked I couldn't get it for my e-reader. He was fascinating to me and I now watch him as a judge on Iron Chef without getting annoyed by his grouchiness.

        For a really light fictional look at a restaurant on Nantucket during summer season, I enjoyed "The Blue Bistro" by Elin Hildebrand. Great escapist beach reading.

        10 Replies
        1. re: jlhinwa

          FWIW, i'm struggling with The Man Who Ate Everything. i know this is going to sound like a strange criticism for a *book* but it's too wordy...i'm just not crazy about the writing style and i'm finding it tedious to get through.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Hmmm....I am happy to know it is in kindle version now but am not sure I am as excited to read it now. He does have a painstakingly detailed way of documenting his food experiments. I definitely did some skimming on his other book but still enjoyed it.

          2. re: jlhinwa

            Man who ate everything has a kindle version now for sure, I finished it a few weeks ago.

            I'm currently reading "The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran AdriĆ 's elBulli"

            1. re: twyst

              Ohh...I think I would like this. Although I've never eaten that type of food...I'm facinated by the process.

            2. re: jlhinwa

              What I like about both of Jeffrey Steingarten's books is that they're easy to read in bits and pieces. I read The Man Who Ate Everything over a few library checkouts last summer, and I've been working on It Must Have Been Something I Ate in the same way this summer. I've always been amused by his judging on ICA, and his writing is bright and funny and shows the often ridiculous extents he's willing to go to in order to find his next perfect bite.

              I love Anthony Bourdain's voice and narrative style in his nonfiction. I'm tempted to read his mystery novel, though I'm worried it won't live up to my expectations.

              1. re: writergeek313

                He has three mystery novels, and if you read the three in chronological order, you may see a great progression in his writing skills.

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  I read them all and really liked them. True about the progression of writing...I do wish he'd write another one.

              2. re: jlhinwa

                +1 Blue Bistro by Elin Hildebrand: I read Blue Bistro this summer and really enjoyed it too! I read it on the beach too. Yum. I was just envisioning those delectable picnics on the beach, plus the meals at the bistro, featuring summer goodies.

                Ruth Reichl's books are fantastic, in my opinion. I utterly enjoyed them all.

                1. re: twilight goddess

                  Twilight goddess: I just read her book "The Love Season," also set in Nantucket. The main character is a former chef and there is lots of interesting food descriptions. I think I enjoyed the story of the Blue Bistro more, but it was another great read.

              3. I love the title of this thread. All these fake memoirs have done a number on us, clearly leading to this new designation of the "non-fiction novel." Hilarious.

                As for some suggestions, I second 'Garlic and Sapphires' and also throw in some Jay Rayner with 'The Man Who Ate the World' (fun in doses) and his novel, 'The Apologist', which I read years ago. Food plays a much smaller role here as the story is about something else, but the descriptions are there.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Lizard

                  Ok..I thought that was funny too..but didn't want to comment on it.

                  actually I was LMAO.

                  But to food books..."rememberance of things paris..60 years of Gourmet writing" R. Reichl" is not a novel.

                  "Blessed are the cheese makers" By Sarah-Kate Lynch is.

                2. The New Yorker book on food and drink "Secret Ingredients" is a lot of fun (contains the best food-related cartoon ever, by Charles Addams). Also really enjoyed the divinely-titled "Food and Booze".

                  1. For Novels I'd recommend the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri. Set in Sicily and not specifically about food, the story line is laced liberally with descriptions of the Inspector's meals, both those cooked by his housekeeper and those served at his favorite trattoria. Also, there's a measure of comic relief. I've even managed to duplicate some of the recipes simply from the clear descriptions.

                    One other I like is a series set in Venice, the Commissario Brunetti series by Donna Leon is sophisticated writing at its best. The lunches his wife Paola cooks for the family are typical models for Italian regional cooking. The stories themselves are politically charged and insightful. These two series are poles apart, I'd say, but each is compelling in its own way.

                    In the non-fiction vein: I had a really hard time with Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. It was one book that i had to read in stages and force myself to finish. There's a thread on the boards with opinions of other Hounds who were reading it.

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: Gio

                      Hamilton makes Bourdain look like the least egotistical human imaginable in comparison.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        LOL.... I am woman. Hear me rant.

                        1. re: Gio

                          gah. i very much agree, Gio i had a tough time with hamilton's book as well. it's tough because i loved some of the writing earlier in the book and it's very vivid and memorable still, but i want a refund on the time i spent on the latter part of the book.

                          while i'm being a negative nelly, i also read "how to bake a perfect life" by barbara o'neil. i bought it because it looked potentially interesting and the book has some (baking) recipes. i would rec trying the recipes but skipping the novel, unless one is a fan of syrupy chick-lit. which i have no patience for, but ymmv-- again, i'm mad that once i begin a book i must finish it, and i spent time on "how to bake a perfect life" that i could have spent on "dead souls." but if "beaches" is your thing maybe you can read "how to bake a perfect life" and have a nice cry or something. . . :)

                      2. re: Gio

                        Sounds similar to this one I posted 02.21.11 to another thread:
                        <<"The Monte Cristo Cover-up" by Johannes Mario Simmel is a somewhat light-hearted WW2 spy novel wherein the protagonist is a wealthy gentleman banker of German descent who lives in England and loves to cook elegant meals in times of crisis, gets caught up in espionage activities as an agent for England, France and Germany all at the same time. Exact measurements of ingredients are not included, just the menu and prep instructions.>>

                        1. re: mucho gordo

                          Hmmm... I'll have to search this out. Thanks, MG.

                          1. re: Gio

                            Let me know if you have a problem finding it, Gio. It may be out of print. I recently finished rereading it and I'll gladly send you my copy if you can't find it.

                            1. re: mucho gordo

                              Oh what a nice offer Mucho. Let me see what I come up with then I'll get back to you. This is just one of the many reasons I love coming here... Thank you so much.

                        2. re: Gio

                          If you like the Camilleri novels, and l love them, there is another similar series but not quite as gritty. Monsieur Pamplemousse by Michael Bond. He has a Bichon Frise dog named pommes frites. There are a bunch and all charming.

                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                            Many thanks for that recco Deluca. I'll look for Pamplemousse as well. Seems to me it's familiar.

                            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                              Is Bond English? Sounds like a lot of fun.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                If it's the same Michael Bond who wrote the Paddington Bear series, he's very English.

                                1. re: Glencora

                                  Aha, I didn't know that - and of course there's always The Pallisers...

                            2. re: Gio

                              I love the Donna Leon series. And I love how they eat.

                            3. I just finished Mediterranean Summer by David Shalleck (with Erol Munuz) about a chef on a private yacht belonging to fabulously rich Italians. It has food, travel, voyeurism... quite fun.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Glencora

                                Sounds like a beach read. That's one!
                                The Commissario Brunetti one also looks promising; I will have to check it out on the threads.

                                1. re: itryalot

                                  For those who are interested here are links to information regarding


                                  1. re: Gio

                                    I forgot to mention that last year a cookbook titled "Brunetti's Cookbook" was published by the best friend of author Donna Leon. There are excerpts from the series where the meals first originated. Leon's friend is a recipe writer/cook and was able to reconstruct the dishes. Naturally, I had to buy it and indeed have cooked a few of the recipes. They weren't exactly spectacular but fun to cook, tasty and well recieved.


                                2. re: Glencora

                                  I just finished reading "Mediterranean Summer"...I was torn between active drooling over the food and the descriptions of the places he was...and just plain sick at myself for being so envious of the lifestyle of the boat owners.

                                  Loved it...but now I want that life.

                                3. A non-fiction novel can be a narrative presented as a historical fiction or as a personal recount. Hence, the title.
                                  Even though it traditionally is defined as a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, some of the newer genres of memoirs and biographies have that feeling. I know the difference FWIW.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. Laurie Colwin's HOME COOKING is incredibly charming.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: mcgeary

                                      +1--and More Home Cooking equally so.

                                        1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                          Try her non-food stuff as well, especially 'Family Happiness'.

                                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                            I so love her books. I read them when I'm in need of comfort.

                                      1. "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver is a funny book about a family going locavore that will make you want to have a garden or join a CSA. The recipes got me back into making my own pizza.
                                        Another good back to the earth book is "The Dirty Life" by Kristin Kimball about her life changing over night from urban vegetarian princess to a woman who butchers her own food when when she falls in love a farmer. There aren't recipes but this will make you want to run to the Farmers Market and stop complaining about the prices!
                                        I just finished a Jane Green book that was sad and funny with some great looking recipes. It is called "Promises to Keep". I wish it hadn't been on hold at the library or I would have tried several of the recipes before returning it.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Berheenia

                                          Love AVM- changed the way I cook and eat. The 30 minute mozzarella is now a staple in our house.

                                          I will look for Kristin Kimball's, and Jane Green's.

                                          1. re: Luna2372

                                            Today's New York Times has an interesting article about Steven Hopp, co-author of AVM with Barbara Kingsolver. It appears they have continued with their quest for local food consumption by opening a restaurant and a general store in Meadowville VA and it is a hard sell in that community.

                                            1. re: Berheenia

                                              Restaurants are hard to get started at the best of times, must be doubley hard to stay true to theme.

                                          2. re: Berheenia


                                            I read Promises to Keep last summer and was just about to add it to the list here, with an enthusiastic endorsement. Great for summer :)

                                          3. If you have never read Calvin Trillin's books, now is the time. They pair travel with food. In fact, one of his books is where I first heard of Chowhound.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: mickie44

                                              Alice, Let's Eat is one of my favorite Trillin books. I think it's the one where, while in Italy, he refers to his wife as La Principessa to the hotel desk clerk. Love this book. I have to re-read it.

                                              1. re: roxlet

                                                I am going to look up Calvin too. Sounds like a perfect pairing.

                                            2. If it's non-ficiton, it's not a novel.

                                              1. I am surprised no one has mentioned Nero Wolfe. His cook, Fritz, is a recurring character. They even came out with a cookbook for the series. Yes...I have it. Yes...I am a nerd.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Westy

                                                  This reminds me of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings who is famous as the author of such literature as "The Yearling" and "Cross Creek". It was her love of cooking that led her to write "Cross Creek Cookery". The link below brings you to further information about her life and career and a few recipes from the book.

                                                  1. re: Gio

                                                    Hi Gio -

                                                    Maybe I am missing the link?

                                                    1. re: Westy

                                                      Well, of course you are cuz I forgot to post it... OOPS!

                                                2. During a recent power outage, I decided to re-read an old Amy Tan novel: The Kitchen God's Wife. Though the tale concentrates on family and culture, as her novels do, I had forgotten how much, and how well, she wrote of food in that one. And it is a lovely book.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: onceadaylily

                                                    If you like the novels of Joanne Harris..."Chocolat" "Blackberry Wine' and "Five Quarters of the Orange" you might also like "Blessed are the Cheesemaker's" by Sarah-Kate Lynch is a funny read about 2 grumpy Irishmen with a cheese factory.

                                                    1. re: onceadaylily

                                                      I think I've read ALL of Amy Tan's books...and whatever happened to her???Did she stop writing? LOVED her style....really loved it. EDIT: she's been battling Lyme Disease for quite a while...poor dear...she's a gifted writer, I think.

                                                      1. re: Val

                                                        Oh, that's sad to hear about Ms. Tan. I had the same thought when I picked the book up again, but failed to follow through.

                                                        And thanks for the recommendations, Luna (I really liked Five Quarters of the Orange). I've added two of those to my library list.

                                                    2. Canadian novel, Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor - wonderful kind of gritty book about a chef in Vancouver Canada with a passion for food whose nemesis is a coffee mogul who wants to buy his restaurant....loved this book.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Arcadiaseeker

                                                        Thanks for this, always have one eye out for good Canadian fiction.

                                                        1. re: Arcadiaseeker

                                                          Yes, I totally enjoyed that book and had forgotten about it.

                                                        2. I'm teaching a course on food and literature in the fall, and I rarely see the books below on these food reading threads. Some novels from my syllabus include:

                                                          Nervous Conditions--Tsetse Dangarembga
                                                          The Inheritance of Loss--Kiran Desai
                                                          My Year of Meats--Ruth Ozeki
                                                          Down and Out in Paris and London--George Orwell
                                                          The Book of Salt--Monique Truong

                                                          Some memoirs:
                                                          Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes--Shoba Narayan (a memoir of growing up in India)
                                                          Pigtails and Breadfruit--Austin Clarke (a memoir of growing up in Barbados)

                                                          FWIW, novels really and truly can't be nonfiction. There are certainly long nonfiction works, but they are not novels. A narrative presented as fiction is either fiction or memoir--a novel is, by definition, fiction, difficulties of classifying Truman Capote aside (and In Cold Blood is Most certainly a novel).

                                                          8 Replies
                                                          1. re: nc213

                                                            Thanks for mentioning the Toklas/Stein chef book, 'The Book of Salt'. A wonderful read. Author is a delight as well.

                                                            1. re: nc213

                                                              Thank you for that...I thought I was going to get drummed out if I pursued it. But I agree.

                                                              I have "The Book of Salt" On order from my library.
                                                              Read "Down and Out in Paris and London" every winter...along with "A Moveable Feast"...it helps pass the long nights.

                                                              And I wil look for the "Monsoon Diary"

                                                              Thank for the suggestions and good luck on your course it sounds wicked cool.

                                                              1. re: Luna2372

                                                                Ha--one of my syllabus decisions was between Down and Out and A Moveable Feast!

                                                                Another book I tried out but that didn't make the syllabus was Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent. it's set in a Iraqi-Lebanese Cafe in a Persian neighborhood of Los Angeles. The food descriptions are truly lovely.

                                                                I haven't read but am intrigued by Pomegranate Soup, a novel about Iranian immigrants who open a restaurant in a small town in Ireland. I can't remember the author, but it's easily google-able.

                                                                1. re: nc213

                                                                  I loved Abu-Jaber's memoir "The Language of Baklava". Didn't like "Crescent" nearly as well. She has a new book coming out in September, oh boy!

                                                                  1. re: nc213

                                                                    Marsha Mehan wrote "Pomegranate Soup" and "Rosewater and Soda Bread", I have read them both, and really liked them..."Pomegranate Soup" being my favorite of the two.

                                                                    I got a great feel for Iranian cooking and have adapted a few recipes since then.

                                                                    Thanks for the "Crescent" .

                                                                    1. re: nc213

                                                                      I have just started "Crescent", and I am savouring it. Slowly one chapter at a time.
                                                                      It is so rich.

                                                                      Thank-you for bringing it to my attention.

                                                                  2. re: nc213

                                                                    I just thought that I would add that, while I thought My Year of Meats really was an impressive book, it focuses on the meat industry in such a way that might dismay those with a weak stomach for such things (I was glad that I had read it though). All Over Creation, by the same author, focuses on agri-bus as well, but, if I'm remembering correctly, with details not nearly as graphic as her first book (but I felt that the first book really was better written).

                                                                    I'll definitely check out some of those other books, nc213. Thanks you.

                                                                    1. This thread made me revisit "The Omnivore's Dilemma" which I just finished and thoroughly enjoyed. It's not as cutting edge today as when it was first published but is still quite spell binding in a scary way!
                                                                      (I had started to read when it was first published and a best seller but I never got past the early chapters on corn it was on a long hold list so it went back to the library)

                                                                      1. Thank-you to everyone for these great suggestions. With the dog days of summer here it will be nice to read about food...while eating only cold fruit and bread and cheese and drinking the bubbly.

                                                                        Also thanks to all the library ppl in the world. You keep us civilized.

                                                                        1. **Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries by Bharti Kirchner

                                                                          Sunya, an independent young single entrepreneur with her own bakery in Seattle, battles the big yucky corporate bakery trying to edge her out of business. Entertaining. I read this last summer.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: twilight goddess

                                                                            Interesting - I didn't know Kirchner wrote novels, I loved her Bengali cookbook (lots of background info - was given it by my SIL, who's from Kolkata).

                                                                          2. Sorry, but novels are by long-standing definition fiction.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is a novel that I found interesting. i think I read it within a couple of days. I recommend.

                                                                              1 Reply