So we just finished month two of the Foodie Book Club, organized by (Never home)maker’s Ashley. Last month we read through Anthony Bourdain’s The Nasty Bits, and this month we chose to review A Homemade Life by Molly Winzenberg. If you are a foodie or avid blog reader, that name may sound familiar. She is author of the very popular Orangette, and has a regular radio spot on NPR.
Before reading this book I’d heard of her blog, probably glanced at it a few times when directed to specific recipes, but had not read it at all in-depth (I know, what was I thinking!). So I did the unthinkable, I opted not to look at her blog and instead get to know her solely through her book. Crazy? Yes. It was hard not to jump online to read more about certain narratives I was reading in her book, especially when she meets her husband. But I wanted to begin with a neutral perspective. I wanted to evaluate the book without knowing any more than what she was giving me in the book. I know this probably sounds strange, but in my mind at the time it made sense, …so I stuck with it.
I found this book to be enjoyable — blah that sounds pretty non-descriptive doesn’t it? I love that each of her recipes has a history, and are uniquely woven into her life through stories of family and friends, particularly her father. I related to those chapters/recipes expecially because of the bond I’ve always felt with my own dad. I like when bloggers have a narrative with their recipes. Not just feelings derived from a recipe they saw and decided to make, but an actual piece of their history, remembered through recipes and food. We all have those don’t we? Many of them might not be glamorous. Tator-Tot Hot Dish was a staple in my house and a recipe I still swoon over on cold Minnesota-like winter nights. My grandmother made the most amazing sugar cookies, which I ate by the pound until I found out they were made with lard (was a full-on vegetarian at the time). Haven’t eaten one since. Many of these recipes may be out-of-fashion or unglamorous, but nonetheless still have history and meaning to us and our families.
Wizenberg’s writing style is beyond admirable, in fact I downright hate her for it. I know of few writers who can make a foodie like me salivate without using pictures. I didn’t even take notice that I was essentially reading recipes without pictures until halfway through the book. She not only does this in describing the food, but creating encompassing narrative in the relationships and trips to France. The short chapters were concise and well connected and chronological, making them easy to follow and connect without it feeling abbreviated or choppy.
The only thing that didn’t sit well with me was this nagging feeling in the back of my head of how entitled and privileged Molly came across. I don’t mean that in an insulting or resentful way, but compared with Anthony Bourdain, who when you read his books gives you the sense he’d shoot the shit with you anytime, she just came across as unapproachable to me. I hate to be blunt but she came across as kind of entitled and spoiled. As someone who made it through college on my own with whatever pennies I could rub together, the jaunts to Europe and the dreamy wishy-washy tone just kind of annoyed me. I loved the food, I loved the stories, but it all had this cloak of yuppie and a pseudo pre-hipster vibe I just couldn’t shake. I believe Erin at Finding Foodie mentioned something similar in her review.
Look how beat up my copy is!
So there you have it. A decent book, one I will use often and it will probably get more tattered and torn than it already is from having been carried around so much. I liked the food and recipes, and that they each had a story, but if you’re like me and like a bit more grit, sarcasm, and humor, you might be a little bored and quit reading the narrative about 3/4 of the way through.