Wilmington’s literary community keeps gaining accolades (two National Book Awards nominees in 2015) and attention in the press. With multiple established publishers in the state (Algonquin, Blair) and new smaller presses gaining traction (Eno, Bull City), it is timely to shine a light on discussions around literature, publishing and the importance of communicating a truthful story in our present world.
Welcome to Carpe Librum, encore’s biweekly book column, wherein I will dissect a current title and/or an old book—because literature does not exist in a vacuum but emerges to participate in a larger, cultural conversation. I will feature many NC writers; however, the hope is to place the discussion in a larger context and therefore examine works around the world.
The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories with Recipes
Edited by Natalie Eva Garrett
Illustrations by Amy Jena Porter
PowerHouse Books, 2016; 171 pages
A few months ago one of my favorite artists, Mari de Moya, recommended “The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook.” I have to admit: I was intrigued just by the title. When we started putting together the Literary Bed and Breakfast, I started looking for books that combined food (especially recipes and menus) with literary themes. So it was natural when the book came in at the book store that Anthony just assumed it was for the B&B and put it aside for me.
I am so glad he did and Mari recommended it. (Generally speaking, if Mari recommends something, go with it.) Now, I have an eye that is drawn to writers. So I immediately scanned the table of contents to see both Alice Hoffman and Neil Gaiman listed. Mr. Gaiman’s piece is an excerpt from “Coraline,” followed by a recipe for cheese omelets (the food from the excerpt).
Alice Hoffman’s piece, “My Grandmother’s Recipe For Life,” is achingly beautiful. Written in the second person, it is a description of the immigrant and refugee experience. There are very few people writing today who have the ability to communicate human mystery (as in inner mysteries, not Agatha Christie’s milieu) like Hoffman.
My North Carolina writer-focused mind gravitated toward Daniel Wallace’s “Love and Eggplant,” a natural combination (or that might just be because I am currently nursing my first eggplant toward harvest—baba ghanoush, here I come!). In a spare few paragraphs, readers follow Wallace through early marriage, a newly re-single state, courtship and happily settled matrimonial life, as well as his breakout success “Big Fish.” The story, like most of his work, is absolutely delightful. The food portion of this however … well, the actual recipe sounds hideous. I’m just being honest.
James Franco included the most self-congratulatory essay about the power of PB&J for a struggling actor. Yep.
I am, for the most part, pretty conversant with most of the names in the table of contents. But the few I don’t recognize start to show a pattern:
They are visual artists. That’s a reality check. I had an incredible art history education in my childhood and early adult life, but it pretty much ends in the early 1980s. Like many facets of the modern world, I am tuned out to work appearing in the “now.” I thought I was more aware of it than pop music or television; however, I am not. That is something I need to remedy.
What I found most interesting per the visual artists included in the book: They are communicating via text, not imagery. The images in the book are all by the same person. Natalie Eve Garrett’s illustrations are lovely, whimsical, brightly and saturated with color. Visually, it is a very stimulating book. However, when including work by visual artists, why not ask them to communicate in their medium? It would be kind of like asking me to draw a picture of a meal instead of write about it. I’d have liked to see the artists express their recipe in the medium they use to participate in this cultural conversation.
Part of what I do like about the book is it isn’t another “food ways” or “cultural history” essay book about food. (I also like the writer from North Carolina, i.e. Mr. Wallace, wrote about eggplant and not barbecue, Moon Pies or biscuits.) The aim of many pieces is to share something personal and universal about cooking and eating. It is not intended to be a book honoring or paying tribute to the preservation of cultural life. It is about paying tribute to the actual preservation of life.
As a book about food, it is my favorite encounter. The writing is interesting and varied; it’s like having a little chat over drinks with friends like Joyce Caroll Oates and Aimee Bender. And they unburden their souls through food.
The recipes are approachable, too; though, they could use some proofreading. Daniel Wallace’s eggplant sandwich does not list eggplant in the ingredients, even though it discusses eggplant in the directions.
Regardless, as a gift, it might be a perfect book. I know I feel like it is a gift every time I open it.
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