I am willing to concede that there might be a food memoir more perfectly suited to the 2016 Reading Challenge than Voracious, by Cara Nicoletti, but you would really have to work hard to persuade me of that. Consider the subtitle of the book: “A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books,” a subtitle which explains precisely what the book is about.
Basically, the book is a collection of essays, each one ending with a recipe, talking about the author’s experiences with different books, ranging from the Little House books and Nancy Drew through Great Expectations and Moby Dick, to Gone Girl and The Secret History, and the foods she makes (the recipes provided, of course) that go along with the books. So here you have a food memoir in which the author is taking you on a guided tour of her life’s reading, which is bound to include books you haven’t read yourself (and some of them would almost certainly cover one of the categories in the challenge – the “read a book that’s longer than 500 pages” one, for instance). While she’s not exactly doing the Reading Challenge, you feel that she would be amenable to joining in, and would be a good companion on the challenge.
You may disagree with some of her opinions (how could anyone not love Pippi Longstocking? And how could you not love Emma despite its somewhat opinionated and difficult heroine?), and you may not be inspired to try all her recipes (though many of them sound really delicious), but you can’t help being pulled along by her enthusiasm, the way she relates her experiences as a butcher and a cook and a young woman growing up to the things she was reading and the things she’s cooking. The author comes across as a very real, lively person, with extremely strong opinions on a lot of topics, and she sounds like the sort of person you would enjoy meeting for a meal – home cooked or at a restaurant.
What about the food, you may ask. Well, some of the pairings are inspired (if easy): clam chowder for Moby Dick, for instance, or crostini with fava bean and chicken liver mousses for (what else?) The Silence of the Lambs. Some of them are a little less obvious but really appropriate when you think about them: white (garlic) soup for Pride and Prejudice (she explains why and in so doing illuminates a detail of the book that I hadn’t noticed before, and I’m a HUGE Pride and Prejudice fan), or black rye bread for Les Miserables, or a cherry pie (which the victim was making before she was killed) for In Cold Blood. And some of them, where I haven’t read the book (I know, it’s shocking to imagine there are books I haven’t read, but really, there are tons of those), I am just willing to take on faith.
The book is short, too – 267 pages, including recipes – which is also an advantage when you’re talking about the Reading Challenge (there are a lot of categories to cover, you know). I know I devoured it in an afternoon and am only keeping it out of the library longer to try some of the recipes.
There are plenty of food memoirs, and those of you who are doing the Reading Challenge with me can rest assured that I’ll be providing lists of the books that qualify for this category later in the year. However, as far as I’m concerned, Voracious is such a fun read and so apropos that you could hardly do better than to take this one out and give it a whirl.