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Voracious by Cara Nicoletti, Back Bay Books 2015, paper $16.99, 283 pages

I live on good soup, not on fine words.


Yes, but good soup is much tastier when accompanied by a good book.

In these essays just long enough to read while you’re stirring a risotto or waiting for the mac n cheese to bubble, Nicoletti explores the universality of food and humanity as the meet up in novels.

Books, like meals, can anchor themselves in our memories and stand in as markers for a time of life. I went through a Henry Miller phase in college but these days,  find him impossible. And it took me until after college to find my way to Jane Austen, but it is a fact, almost universally acknowledged, that she continues to delight.

In this book, Nicoletti works her way through childhood favorites. I would love to be in Homer Price’s predicament, eating my way through piles of donuts to find a bracelet. It’s funny how so many of the children’s books deal with uncontrolled abundance–Strega Nona’s magic pot cooking pasta that will devour the town instead of the other way around, Hansel and Gretel tempted by a house of sweets, or a mouse made manic by a chocolate chip cookie.

Books of adolescence offer a bit more tang. To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies use food to trace human perfidy and introduce us to conflict and grown-up choices, whether it is table behavior that reveals class and status or a more cut-throat reach for power.

If you are at all well-read, or even you’re not, Nicoletti’s brief and perceptive essays will give you a new perspective on classic and contemporary literature from Anna Karenina and  Les Miserables, to The Corrections and In Cold Blood. Nicoletti was raised in a family of butchers and worked as a cook; she was also an English major and notices things a more traditional academic might not. For example, Virginia Woolf, who it seems, had an eating disorder, famously wrote, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” But Woolf also used food to illustrate character and condition. After reading Nicoletti’s analysis of love and tea cakes, making her recipe for Mrs. Dalloway’s Chocolate Eclairs will be a feminist act.

By the way, Nicoletti is good company as well as a good cook. If you can’t join her in her book club, you can at least join her in this book.

About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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