It was nice to see our Shared Kitchen book in such good company at the Marlborough Book Festival. Thinking about reading, I’ve been ploughing through a stack of books and have a couple of recommendations. There is only one food book among them, and it is The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs, (Simon & Schuster), a fictionalised account of the life of poet and pioneering cookery writer Eliza Acton, and her assistant, Ann Kirby, who together wrote the esteemed book Modern Cookery published in 1845. It was the first cookery book to list ingredients for a recipe and to give precise cooking times. It’s likely that the more well-known writer Mrs Beeton plagiarised work from Modern Cookery (it’s believed she filched about a third of the recipes). In the Historical Note at the end of the book, Abbs quotes Kathryn Hughes, from her book The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton,“It’s now known that Mrs Beeton plagiarised Eliza shamelessly, cutting and pasting hundreds of her recipes and claiming them as her own, going ‘out of her way’ to alter the formulations so that no one – and especially not the hawk-eyed Miss Acton had she lived – could point an accusing finger.” She goes on to say, “Mrs Beeton, however, cleverly moved the ingredients list from the bottom to the top – where it has remained to this day.” Although the book mixes fact and fiction, it does offer a fascinating glimpse by way of the factual accounts into the life of one of the greatest English food writers. Move over Beeton!
In prep for author Lloyd Jones appearing as a featured artist at our Song & Poetry Thing on Waiheke, I reread Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance. Lloyd draws on history, human conflict, issues of race and faith, and has the ability to get you invested in the characters in a story, so you feel the emotions when they come to grief, or the elation when good luck comes their way. You‘re carried along in the story and you hope it will never end. But it does end, although it lives on in your mind for days and weeks after. Brilliant story writing. He was also a guest at the Marlborough Book Festival talking about his new book The Fish, (Penguin), which I haven’t got to yet.
Empire of Pain (Picador) by Patrick Radden Keefe, is a shocking exposé of the avaricious Sackler family in America, owners of the company Purdue Pharma, the developers of OxyContin, ‘the drug that has underlain the opioid epidemic in which more Americans have perished than in all the wars since World War 11.’ How three generations of one family through greed, vanity, elitism, power and point blank denial of the truth could go on to destroy so many lives is incredible, but 69-pages of references at the back of the 441-page book makes it totally credible. A MUST–READ!
I’ve been reading memoirs, too. Charlotte Grimshaw’s slow but ultimately destructive account of her life as the daughter of one of New Zealand’s literary giants, The Mirror Book, (Penguin), and Noelle McCarthy’s pacey battle with the bottle, Grand, (Penguin), and poet Kate Camp’s series of essays You Probably Think This Song Is About You, (Te Herenga Waka University Press), all illuminating, disturbing in parts, fascinating reads, particularly the latter. I am yet to start on The Bookseller At The End Of The World (A&E) by Ruth Shaw, and I know this will be a harrowing read as I attended one of her sessions at the Marlborough Book Festival. What an amazingly strong, yet peaceful, woman (probably how I would also describe Patricia Grace). I look forward to this.
I also picked up Dave Lowe’s The Alarmist (VUP; Ockham Book Awards Winner), while at the festival. The subtitle is ‘Fifty years measuring climate change’, so a timely publication given the current heatwave and fires in Europe and floods in Australia and New Zealand.
And, finally, Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart (Picador). I cried myself stupid reading his Booker Prize winning novel Shuggie Bain, so I am approaching this one with trepidation and might need something lighter before starting it. I mean, I just got through At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop (MacMillan; Booker Prize winner 2021). This is a short read, but a very disturbing one about a Senegalese soldier’s war experience. He seeks revenge for the death of his closest friend but what follows is macabre and leads to his eventual madness. Not for the faint-hearted!