C.S. Lewis once said, “Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” My book club takes this concept very seriously. We call it a book club, but really it is a food and book discussion extravaganza. With a cast of bakers extraordinaire, queens of paleo and global food warriors, we celebrate food, reading and companionship every month. Many of our chosen books have been the foundation for the dishes we bring. “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman inspired dishes common to the Nordic region, including pickled eggs, a smoked salmon appetizer and lingonberries. People often visit the library in search of suggestions for their next book club read. Why not try a book and food pairing theme?
“Still Life,” the first book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series, introduced readers to the world of Three Pines, a town located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. This series is not a police procedural in the classic sense; it is a thoughtful mystery series with a quiet and reflective male detective. Fleshing out the stories are the inhabitants of Three Pines, a cast of unique and often quirky characters, including Gabri and Oliver, the proprietors of a bed and breakfast and a bistro. The stories come to life through the sophisticated characters’ relationships and conversations, many of which take place during sumptuous, languid meals. Personally, I think the sugar pie from one of the series later titles, “The Cruelest Month,” sounds delicious!
“Sourdough” by Robin Sloan, this year’s One Read runner-up, tells the story of Lois, a disenchanted tech worker who is saved by nightly meals ordered from an underground restaurant in the neighborhood. When the owners are forced to leave, Lois is entrusted with a sourdough starter that begins a love affair with baking. “Sourdough” is ultimately a novel about finding a meaningful existence, but it may also make you hungry. This book could be the basis for a fall book club featuring buttered homemade bread accompanied by a fragrant clam chowder.
“Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” by Balli Kaur Jaswal is a delicious book (pun intended) about widows living in England who attend a creative writing class. For a variety of reasons, it quickly turns into a class where the widows imagine and share erotic stories. The novel weaves the experiences of these women who feel disenfranchised and forgotten into the story of Nikki, their teacher who is trying to straddle modern English culture and her family’s traditional values. There is even a mysterious death thrown in the mix. The perfect pairing for this book would be Punjabi beans, a North Indian dish of kidney beans simmered in spicy onion tomato gravy. Speaking from personal experience, Instant Pots work great for this.
Ultimately a love story, “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses the migratory experiences of Ifemelu and Obinze to tell a story of immigration, separation and the social strata of American and Nigerian societies. The difference between what the two characters expect and the reality of their immigration experience is particularly interesting. “Americanah” is at once a commentary on post 9/11 society and an exploration of the experiences of two people as they migrate to different countries. Adichie seasons the story with various meals that demonstrate how food is important to her characters’ sense of belonging. One such comforting dish, native to Nigeria, is jollof rice, a spiced curry stewed in a flavorful tomato broth and usually served with plantains and coleslaw.
Another recently popular book is Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians,” a hilarious look at the Asian jet set centered on a family’s response to meeting their son’s American girlfriend. This is the first book in a trilogy that shares Asian customs, finances and humor through exaggerated characters, outrageous antics and dramatic interfamily relations. Satay eaten at a famous food market and a “dumpling standoff” are memorably featured in this book.
These next books aren’t novels, but are fun-to-read cookbooks that celebrate famous books and literary feasts. feasts. “Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books” by Cara Nicoletti celebrates the author’s lifelong love of reading and cooking, providing recipes and essays relating to specific books. From breakfast sausage out of “Little House in the Big Woods” to black rye bread based on “Les Miserables,” Nicoletti shares her personal connection with each book and an easy to follow recipe. Kate Young, a popular food blog writer, serves up everything from Paddington Bear’s marmalade to the Queen of Hearts’ decadent tarts in “The Little Library Cookbook: 100 Recipes From Your Favorite Books.” Bon appetit!
Literary Links, compiled by library staff, appears monthly in the Ovation section of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Each article contains a short list of books on a timely topic.
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