March Reads

This month I’ve been slowly but surely chipping away at the non-fiction beast that is Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind but I also managed to finish off two slightly more compact books, both of which happen to be rooted in the kitchen.

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Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh

I’m a big fan of Ruby Tandoh and I was really excited about this book coming out. So weirdly, when I got started, I found myself a little unsatisfied. Something felt off.

Tandoh has so much to say, and I’m so keen to hear it all, but the book jumps so quickly from childhood memories of eating to political theories about fast food to the emotional solace to be found at the bottom of a bowl of stew that it feels a little like bouncing from one mouthful at the buffet table to another before you’ve actually finished chewing.

The bitesize scrutiny of dieting myths and faux food theories is great but it was frustrating to get into something only to find yourself moving on to something else. Because there are so many interesting things in this book, it’s just a shame that’s it doesn’t feel properly edited.

That said, I really did enjoy this book. I folded down pretty much every other page because there was something about a study I want to read more about, or a beautiful quote about the seasons, or an interesting thought about conscious consumerism, or a delicious recipe I need to try out. While Tandoh might hop from thought to thought with every other page, she does leave you intrigued at every juncture. I’ve come away from Eat Up with a whole list of further reading and a head brimming with ideas. And actually it does sit exactly in Tandoh’s political landscape – here are some ideas I’ve had, here are some ideas that some other people have had, some of them are good, others aren’t so much, but you know what, you should make your own mind up. Tandoh’s bottom line is one everyone should adopt – eating is something uniquely personal to you, it’s entirely dependent on your chemical make up, your metabolism, your emotional relationship with potatoes.

That’s why I’ve avoided telling you what to do here – not because I don’t have a set of private moral convictions, or even because I don’t think there are things we could all do to be a little better, but because I want you to read those authors who know all about the ins and outs of food, inform yourself, and make decisions that will help those around you.”

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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

An unusual read for me. From memory I think I’ve only read perhaps one other book by a Japanese author – this last year has really made me conscious of how unvaried my reading habits are.

This book was a gift from a very good pal who surprised me with a belated birthday present and came highly tipped by several trusted readerly friends, and thank goodness for the recommendations of more diverse readers than myself!

I found this book so interesting and it’s so beautifully written – the delicacy with which Yoshimoto paints a scene like the light coming through a window and reflecting on the porcelain of a kitchen sink, it’s magical. It’s the kind of writing that makes you feel still, that silences the drone of everyday life. Perhaps Yoshimoto is right – perhaps it is the kitchen that brings the calm, although they can be rather chaotic places (particularly in my experience) but generally I do agree, there’s a sense of comfort to be found in the kitchen.

The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if  it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tiles catching the light (ting! ting!)”

It’s a place of self care where you nourish yourself and your loved ones, you can be creative with ingredients and produce a culinary masterpiece or follow the well-worn path of habit to fill a bowl of warm, comforting stew, or a teapot with a restorative, steaming brew. The kitchen is the centre of every home, the life of every party and a place where hearts are most open – whether perched on a sideboard or busy at a chopping board, the way you talk with loved ones in the kitchen is different to how you talk on the sofa, at the dining table or even in bed. Conversations that unwind over busy hands, stirring, chopping, peeling, are often the most important.

Both the stories in this collection are at their essence love stories, and for me, a little contrived, but also lovely in their simplicity. The yearning in Kitchen and the heartbreaking sense of loss in Moonlight Shadow make this book a rather doleful read but there is also a touch of magic which sings high and clear in support of love. A sucker punch for every old romantic at heart, yours truly included.

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