30 December 2010

The Gastronomical Me, by MFK Fisher

I'd heard that Fisher was one of the all-time greats of food writing, so I was really excited to receive this book from Santa (and my parents). I had extremely high hopes for it, and I wasn't let down - the book was every bit as wonderful as I'd expected. Fisher's prose reminded me somewhat of August Kleinzahler's (Cutty, One Rock is still one of my favorite books) - there's this lyrical, simple beuty to her writing that is just so wonderful. Here's a bit from the foreword, for example:

People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mingled and mixed and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it... and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied... and it is all one.
I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.
I am stopping myself, because otherwise I'd just type out the rest of the foreword, and maybe the rest of the book too. It's such a wonderful, beautiful work. There is such passion in it, but also a sense of privacy and restraint, where you don't get every sordid detail, but a really elegant contouring of the world. The descriptions of food are not especially flowery, but they're tremendously evocative ("The solid honesty" of a borscht, for instance - can't you just taste it?), and there's such feeling in the book, a kind of intensity that hums through the pages, with a touch of wistfulness as well. I can't wait to read more of her books.

1 comment:

Marthine said...

I love her so much. She'd been recommended to me by the bookshop owner who I worked for in high school, but I only got around to buying her collected works a few years back. I couldn't sleep one night so just sat and read her hilarious, unpretentious, fabulous essays. Fantastic stuff. The only good thing about sleepless nights is the excuse to settle down with that huge book.