An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

THE COOKING GENE

A JOURNEY THROUGH AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULINARY HISTORY IN THE OLD SOUTH

Food historian Twitty, creator of the Afroculinaria blog, serves up a splendid hearth-based history, at once personal and universal, of the African-American experience.

The author accounts himself a citizen of the Old South, “a place where people use food to tell themselves who they are.” It is also, he continues, a fraught place where food controversies—whether to put sugar and not molasses in cornbread, say—pile atop controversies of history, all pointing to the terrible fact of slavery. Twitty’s book is not just about food, though it certainly covers the broad expanse of African-American cooking over the centuries and how it shaped the larger Southern American culinary tradition. The author delights in the “world of edible antiques” that his researches take him into, a world requiring him to think in terms of gills, drams, and pecks. Twitty also traces his own family history, beyond the eight or so generations that carry documents, to places all over the world: a white ancestor here, an Indonesian by way of Madagascar forebear there, Native Americans and West Africans and Anglos meeting in bloodstreams and at table. On all these matters, the author writes with elegant urgency, moving swiftly from topic to topic: on one page, he may write of the tobacco economy of the Confederacy, on another of the ways in which “the food of the Chesapeake grew legs as the culture of the Upper South was forced to branch out” beyond the Appalachians and Mississippi into new territories, such that “turkey with oyster dressing on a Maryland plantation became turkey with freshwater clam and mussel sauce on a slaveholding Missouri farmstead.” Drawing on a wealth of documentary digging, personal interviews, and plenty of time in the kitchen, Twitty ably joins past and present, puzzling out culinary mysteries along the way—e.g., “chickens got served to preachers because chickens had always flounced in the hands of African priests, and nobody remembered why.”

An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-237929-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Naughty good fun from an impossibly sardonic rogue, quickly rising to Twainian stature.

ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY

The undisputed champion of the self-conscious and the self-deprecating returns with yet more autobiographical gems from his apparently inexhaustible cache (Naked, 1997, etc.).

Sedaris at first mines what may be the most idiosyncratic, if innocuous, childhood since the McCourt clan. Here is father Lou, who’s propositioned, via phone, by married family friend Mrs. Midland (“Oh, Lou. It just feels so good to . . . talk to someone who really . . . understands”). Only years later is it divulged that “Mrs. Midland” was impersonated by Lou’s 12-year-old daughter Amy. (Lou, to the prankster’s relief, always politely declined Mrs. Midland’s overtures.) Meanwhile, Mrs. Sedaris—soon after she’s put a beloved sick cat to sleep—is terrorized by bogus reports of a “miraculous new cure for feline leukemia,” all orchestrated by her bitter children. Brilliant evildoing in this family is not unique to the author. Sedaris (also an essayist on National Public Radio) approaches comic preeminence as he details his futile attempts, as an adult, to learn the French language. Having moved to Paris, he enrolls in French class and struggles endlessly with the logic in assigning inanimate objects a gender (“Why refer to Lady Flesh Wound or Good Sir Dishrag when these things could never live up to all that their sex implied?”). After months of this, Sedaris finds that the first French-spoken sentiment he’s fully understood has been directed to him by his sadistic teacher: “Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section.” Among these misadventures, Sedaris catalogs his many bugaboos: the cigarette ban in New York restaurants (“I’m always searching the menu in hope that some courageous young chef has finally recognized tobacco as a vegetable”); the appending of company Web addresses to television commercials (“Who really wants to know more about Procter & Gamble?”); and a scatological dilemma that would likely remain taboo in most households.

Naughty good fun from an impossibly sardonic rogue, quickly rising to Twainian stature.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-316-77772-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Startling, at times pretentious in its self-regard, but ultimately breathtaking: The Lost Weekend for the under-25 set.

A MILLION LITTLE PIECES

Frey’s lacerating, intimate debut chronicles his recovery from multiple addictions with adrenal rage and sprawling prose.

After ten years of alcoholism and three years of crack addiction, the 23-year-old author awakens from a blackout aboard a Chicago-bound airplane, “covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood.” While intoxicated, he learns, he had fallen from a fire escape and damaged his teeth and face. His family persuades him to enter a Minnesota clinic, described as “the oldest Residential Drug and Alcohol Facility in the World.” Frey’s enormous alcohol habit, combined with his use of “Cocaine . . . Pills, acid, mushrooms, meth, PCP and glue,” make this a very rough ride, with the DTs quickly setting in: “The bugs crawl onto my skin and they start biting me and I try to kill them.” Frey captures with often discomforting acuity the daily grind and painful reacquaintance with human sensation that occur in long-term detox; for example, he must undergo reconstructive dental surgery without anesthetic, an ordeal rendered in excruciating detail. Very gradually, he confronts the “demons” that compelled him towards epic chemical abuse, although it takes him longer to recognize his own culpability in self-destructive acts. He effectively portrays the volatile yet loyal relationships of people in recovery as he forms bonds with a damaged young woman, an addicted mobster, and an alcoholic judge. Although he rejects the familiar 12-step program of AA, he finds strength in the principles of Taoism and (somewhat to his surprise) in the unflinching support of family, friends, and therapists, who help him avoid a relapse. Our acerbic narrator conveys urgency and youthful spirit with an angry, clinical tone and some initially off-putting prose tics—irregular paragraph breaks, unpunctuated dialogue, scattered capitalization, few commas—that ultimately create striking accruals of verisimilitude and plausible human portraits.

Startling, at times pretentious in its self-regard, but ultimately breathtaking: The Lost Weekend for the under-25 set.

Pub Date: April 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50775-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

more