This feature (for now in the custody of sarah.of.a.lesser.god) is our way of sharing those book titles, both fiction and nonfiction, that have been standouts in recent reading, and hopefully getting some from our readers in return. The focus is primarily, but not necessarily exclusively, on books concerning women and feminism, and/or written by female authors.
My Pick: The newly published The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky. As noted above, the book club isn’t exclusively centered around books written about or by women, and this book really struck me as being special. It’s mainly a collection of essays about food in America written during the Great Depression by members of the Federal Writers Project (FWP). The essays have never been published before, and while Kurlansky adds some of his own notes, the book is by and large devoted to the printing of the FWP writings. It’s a fascinating glimpse at how food influences a society’s social fabric, and also takes the reader back to a time when American food was not the same everywhere you went — there no McDonalds, no Starbucks, no Trader Joe’s, no takeout Chinese food or pizzerias in every city.
In an age when prepackaged meals at a grocery store were a convenience not yet available, it’s unsurprising that a number of the essays include recipes. So if you want to learn how to make Long Island clam chowder or okra gumbo or Kentucky eggnog or Minnesota-style Norwegian meatballs, all you have to do is flip through the pages. But most of the essays revolve more around the social customs relating to food, things such as communities gathering for possum cook-outs and maple sugar tapping. Looking through the essays provides a window into how societies build secular rituals devoted to food.
It would be easy to get nostalgic about all this were it not for the fact that the essays are almost exclusively about white people. While the writers may focus on the difference between Norwegian-american cuisine and Cajun cuisine, there is minimal mention of the recipes of, say, Mexican-Americans or Chinese-Americans. And almost all of the FWP writers were white, although the most notable exception to that was surely Zora Neale Hurston, who took on an assignment from the FWP to make ends meet. Kurlansky does a good job of detailing the challenges she faced as a Black woman trying to do her assignment in Florida.
For anyone who’s interested in the book, I’d also recommend Kurlansky’s awesome book Salt, which is about (yup, you guessed it) salt and how it influenced history. Seriously. It’s a terrific read.
What say you? Have any titles to share with the Harpies and your fellow readers? Note: while I tend to focus on books, your input does not strictly have to be a literary recommendation if you have something extraordinary that is in another medium such as music or film that you would love to let us know about.