Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

This was an audiobook, read by Bernadette Dunne. I like listening to this kind of book because it’s more a series of sketches than a story with a narrative arc. Since it took me a long time to listen to this, it was better that I didn't have to keep track of too much action. Though of course it has a story: Reichl’s evolution as a restaurant critic at the New York Times. But if you don’t like long, poetic descriptions of food, you will be bored by this book. Me, I like that kind of thing. I guess if you are reading (instead of listening) you could skim those parts.

Reichl learned not long after she began her stint at the New York Times that all the big name restaurants had her photo posted in the kitchen. Rewards were offered by restaurant managers to staff who successfully identified her. The point of this was to serve her the best meal possible, so as to obtain a laudatory review. In order to circumvent this, Reichl adopted a series of disguises, complete with body padding, wigs and elaborate back stories for each character. In disguise, Reichl would be able to experience the same kind of restaurant meal and service that would be available to the general public, rather than the rarified meal offered to the restaurant critic. Her efforts were successful, and her descriptions of condescending waiters and terrible food are very funny. The bad (and sometimes good) reviews that resulted from these adventures are also included in the book.

Her disguises were a form of self-discovery for Reichl. Dressed as the blowsy hippy Brenda, she discovered her earth mother personality; as the repressed and humorless Emily she felt herself grow mean and critical. I enjoyed reading these sections as much, or more than, the descriptions of the food and restaurants. There’s more to this book than just food.

As I said, it took me a long time to finish listening to this. The weather here has been brutal (first terribly cold, then all this snow) so I’ve been riding the bus to work instead of walking. The bus ride just isn’t long enough to get much listening done. I'm hoping that spring comes soon.

(Book 9, 2007)


Anonymous said...

Hm, audio book. Maybe that'll be the way I have to try Reichl. I always feel like a bit of a freak because I'm the only person I know who was annoyed by "Tender at the Bone." Too much Ruth Reichl, not enough food. Maybe this book would be a better choice for me.

Becky Holmes said...

No, you are not alone! I also found Tender at the Bone annoying to read, but I tried it again as an audiobook, and I liked listening to it. Though I would agree that that is an accurate comment, about too much Reichl. This book was better, more balanced.

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