What's a Common Reader -- and what is Uncommon Reading?
Virginia Woolf defined a common reader as someone who is not a scholar; not a critic. A common reader "reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole." By that definition, I'm definitely a common reader -- reading an uncommonly large and diverse collection of books.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Laurie Colwin -- In the Kitchen?
What happens when one of your favorite novelists/short story writers, with a wicked ability to observe and comment wryly on human foibles, takes up her pen to write about food and cooking? If you're me, you reluctantly confess that you have been lazy for far too long, and make a firm and binding resolution to get back in the kitchen, pronto, and to stop relying on cheeses and crackers and takeout.
And when I'm there, I'm going to be relying on the recipes in this book for feel-good, straightforward meals ranging from baked eggs and shepherd's pie to myriad creative ways to tackle vegetables and what to do with chicken even when you think you're about to grow feathers and start to cluck, you're so bored by the bird. I may even waive my no-chocolate mantra to try out the chocolate pudding recipe...
In short, essay-like chapters, Colwin (who died suddenly in 1992 from a heart attack) rejoices in tastes and textures, flavors and the very experience of putting together a delicious meal. This isn't a fancy cookbook, but rather a series of encounters between one woman and the food she prepares for herself, her friends and her loved ones. Colwin is often deadpan funny, lurking in the background instead is one woman's encounters with preparing food for herself and those she loves. Her observations are sometimes deadpan funny, such as her discussions about the wide array of vegetarians she has encountered. Some, she reports, describe themselves as vegetarians when "they mean they do not eat red meat, leading you to realize that for some people, chicken is a vegetable." She writes about feeding picky people, dinner party guests, vast quantities of homeless people, and trying to impress boyfriends; even something as simple as scrambled eggs gets its moment in the sun here. (Of these, she reports, "almost anyone can turn out fairly decent ones, and with a little work, really disgusting ones can be provided.")
This isn't going back to the library until I've combed through it and copied out the recipes; meanwhile, I'm going to order up the sequel, published posthumously. (More Home Cooking) Onto my favorite books of the year list this goes; I wouldn't have thought I'd be sticking a book about food there, but then this is a book about food by LAURIE COLWIN, for heaven's sake, and I should have realized I'd end up awarding it 4.7 stars; her short story collections are unequivocally 5-star books.