As I write this, I'm about to start a memoir by Donia Bijan called Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen. And, I'm starting to see a pattern here. On my blog, Lesa's Book Critiques, I say I specialize in mysteries. However, in the last year alone, I've reviewed three "novels with food," as author Brian O'Reilly calls them, three food memoirs, and eight mysteries involving food. I've hosted quarterly brown bag luncheons in which I talk about books and the attendees bring their lunch. We do monthly brown bag luncheons and an annual potluck for the library staff, in which we bring our lunches and talk about books. Next week, I'm hosting a tea for Jacqueline Winspear to celebrate the release of her new book, Elegy for Eddie. And, I'm even attending a release party for Kevin Hearne's new book, Tricked, at an Irish pub where dinner will be served. Atticus, the Iron Druid, hangs out at a pub called Rula Bula in Tempe, Arizona. So, the release party for Tricked will be held at Rula Bula.
Do you find that food and books go hand-in-hand? I could say it's all about comfort food. But, I think it's not just comfort food. I think it's memory food. I think food brings back memories. And, sharing food, just like sharing good books, is a way of sharing memories. A couple of my favorite authors, Sarah Addison Allen and Barbara O'Neal, write magical realism novels that involve food. Their books, along with books I read in the last year, Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly and The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry, involve loss and memory and food.
These books all evoke memories for me, even if I've never eaten the foods discussed in the stories. But, they take me home to my grandmother and my mother, to shared laughter with my sisters. Food, whether it's preparation or meals, gives us the opportunity to spend time with people we love. When I first went to my doctor after Jim died two years ago, I'd put on a few pounds. My doctor is younger than me, but very wise in some ways. He said he'd rather see that I had put on weight than lost it. He said people who lose weight after a death are often isolating themselves. Those who put on weight are spending time with people, eating with them, talking with them, moving on. (Maybe I've been spending TOO much time with people.)
I could probably write my own story about food and family. In fact, I've shared family recipes on Janet Rudolph's Dying for Chocolate and Mystery Lover's Kitchen. I could tell you about my grandmother's simple sloppy joe recipe. There's a certain way to eat the gumdrop bars my mother sends me every Christmas. I close my eyes when I take the first bite, to savor the smell and taste. Those gumdrop bars are the smell of Christmas for me. There's the frozen lemon pudding that has induced family rivalry over the years. I'm the oldest of three, and my sisters used to complain my mother only made frozen lemon pudding when I came home from college. Now, at holiday time, my youngest sister will still tease, guess what we had for dessert, and you weren't here. When I went home this last Christmas, one sister brought wine and her husband's quiche at the start of the visit, and my youngest sister brought springerles to bake at the house, a recipe she learned from her mother-in-law. Food is so connected with memories in my family that we even have a recipe known only as Funeral Rice because someone brought it to the house after my grandfather died.
There's something magical about food books, something that makes me nostalgic for those foods and people I love. The book might be Barbara O'Neal's The Secret of Everything or Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells. I don't read these books just because the recipes are enticing and they make me drool. Food brings us together, gives us a chance to share. And, the books take me back to the people I love, memories and times I want to share.
So, do you want to share? What food takes you home? What book evokes memories for you?