Ten Memoirs by Women in the Culinary World

The long-awaited memoir from culinary icon and food activist Alice Waters, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, hit stands in September. To celebrate, I’ve collected ten memoirs written by remarkable women in the culinary world, from chefs and restaurateurs to food writers, cookbook authors, and more!

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters—In this hotly anticipated memoir, Alice Waters reveals the beginnings of the legendary Chez Panisse.

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey—Madhur Jaffrey is without a doubt one of the most well-respected experts on Indian food and cooking. This delightful memoir of her childhood is a “testament to the power of food to evoke memory.”

Out of Line: A Life of Playing with Fire by Barbara Lynch—Barbara Lynch recounts her rise from her tough South Boston “Southie” childhood to her culinary empire today.  

My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir by Jessica B. Harris—Jessica B. Harris is the author of numerous critically acclaimed cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. In My Soul Looks Back she looks back at “the vibrant New York City of her youth, where her social circle included Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and other members of the Black intelligentsia.” Although it’s not strictly a food memoir, it’s a definite must-read.

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop—An extraordinary memoir of eating and cooking in China by celebrated British food writer Fuchsia Dunlop. (Note: With its scenes of Sichuanese food markets and elite Chinese culinary schools, and Dunlop’s honest look at the greed, corruption, and environmental impact of the industry, this memoir might be my favorite on the list.) 

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen—Food writer Anya Von Bremzen eats and cooks her way through seven decades (and three generations) of the Soviet experience, “brilliantly illuminat[ing] the history and culture of a vanished empire.”

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton—One of the most popular and bestselling chef memoirs, Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter is a raw and intimate account of Hamilton’s life and the unconventional journey that led to the opening of her restaurant Prune.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoirby Padma Lakshmi—“A vivid memoir of food and family, survival and triumph, Love, Loss, and What We Ate traces the arc of Padma Lakshmi’s unlikely path from an immigrant childhood to a complicated life in front of the camera.”

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl—In my notes I’ve written “Pick one Ruth Reichl memoir (How??!!). I picked Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl’s coming-of-age story about her family and her passion for food, but I’d recommend all of her beautiful memoirs.

I Hear She’s a Real Bitch by Jen Agg—Toronto-based restaurateur Jen Agg is a force to be reckoned with and her memoir is an equally compelling story of food, business, and the need for change in the restaurant industry. It’s “more than just a story about starting a restaurant: it is a rallying cry for a feminist revolution in the culinary world.”

Check out the full post on Book Riot.

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Three Books in Translation for Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale

Love The Handmaid’s Tale? Check out these great works of international literature, complete with political unrest, elements of dystopian and speculative fiction, and unusual narrative structures.

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. The Queue is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern city under authoritarian rule. The centralized authority the Gate has risen to power after the “Disgraceful Events,” a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate for the most basic of their daily affairs but the Gate never opens and the queue grows longer, until it becomes a permanent and never-ending facet of the city. It’s a powerful and startling novel. Basma Abdel Aziz is also an important activist and figure in Egypt right now (nicknamed “The Rebel”) and this is her first novel.

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers. Probably the closest in subject matter to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Core of the Sun is a wildly inventive, smart, and wickedly funny dystopian novel set in an alternate Republic of Finland. This alternate state has bred a subspecies of women, known as eloi, for sex and procreation. The eloi are receptive and submissive, beloved for their blonde hair and perfect bodies. Smart and independent women are sterilized. Our protagonist Vanna passes as an eloi with her blonde locks and good looks but is fiercely intelligent. She is desperately looking for her missing sister while also keeping at bay her growing addiction to a powerful, illegal stimulant—the chili pepper. If that’s not enough to tempt you, there’s also a crazy religious cult, chili pepper induced hallucinations, and one of the most jaw dropping opening scenes I’ve ever read.

Human Acts: A Novel by Han Kang

Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. In the midst of a student uprising a young boy is killed. His story and the events following the uprising are told in a series of narratives—each chapter from a different perspective: his best friend, his heartbroken mother, a factory worker, an editor facing down government censorship. Together these narratives form a fictionalized account of the South Korean Gwangju Uprising in 1980. Horrific and brutal, Human Acts is not for the faint of heart but it is so beautifully written. If Han Kang and Deborah Smith sound familiar, they’re also the author/translator team of the Man Booker International Prize winner The Vegetarian.

 

Check out the full article on Book Riot.

#WITMonth Stats

Earlier in the month I posted about the dismal percentage of published works in translation that are written by women and I promised more specifics for all of you data junkies. According to Chad Post, Publisher at Open Letter Books and keeper of the largest translation database in publishing, here are the numbers:

First off, the big one: For the data I’ve collected between 2008-20181only 28.7% of the translations in the database were written by women. That’s 1,394 titles out of a grand total of 4,849. That’s not great . . .

Here’s a list of the ten countries that have produced the most total titles written by women:

France 155
Germany 145
Sweden 84
Italy 64
Spain 64
Japan 62
Argentina 49
Russia 43
South Korea 39
Canada [Quebec] 38

Obviously, certain languages are at a disadvantage when you look at their authors by country of origin, so here’s the top ten by language.

French 236
Spanish 186
German 185
Swedish 88
Italian 67
Japanese 60
Russian 46
Arabic 44
Korean 39
Norwegian 37

And, here are the top ten publishers.

AmazonCrossing 194
Dalkey Archive 58
Europa Editions 47
Seagull Books 37
Other Press 28
New Directions 26
Open Letter 24
Atria 19
Feminist Press 17
Penguin 17

Check out the full post on Three Percent.

 

#WITMonth Recommendations!

August is Women in Translation Month, something that’s very near and dear to my heart. Why do we need a specific month dedicated to reading women in translation? The numbers alone are pretty bleak. The publishing industry as a whole publishes very few works of translation to begin with—the number that’s often cited is three percent, although it’s probably lower than that. But let’s stick with three percent—so only three percent of titles published in English are international titles written originally in a language other than English. Of that small percentage of books, 28.7% of translations published in 2008–2018 were written by women. I’ll post more specifics later but those numbers* are dismal, especially when considering some of the exciting and award-winning translations currently beloved by English reading audiences (think Elena Ferrante, Man Booker International Prize winner Han Kang, and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexeievich.)

Want to add more works in translation to your #TBR pile? I recommend the following titles and authors to celebrate (and support!) women in translation: 

Recitation by Bae Suah

Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, Bae Suah’s Recitation is a wandering and lyrical meditation on memory and language reminiscent of Sebald. Suah is one of the most fascinating writers in South Korea right now and her books are coming out at a rapid pace.

Her other titles currently available in English include A Greater Music and Nowhere To Be Found and North Station comes out from Open Letter Books in October!

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

“A very real vision of life after the Arab Spring written with dark, subtle intelligence, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism, and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it.” (back cover)

Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. The Queue is this terrifying dystopian novel set in a non-specific Middle Eastern city under authoritarian rule. It’s powerful and startling. The author, Basma Abdel Aziz, is also an important activist and figure in Egypt right now and this is her first book translated into English.

Umami by Laia Jufresa

Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes. I haven’t read this yet but Umami is at the top of my list! The novel is set in Mexico City in a neighborhood with a cluster of five house named after tastes: Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Sour, and Umami. It sounds like an inventive and poignant novel about grief.

“A thoughtful, eccentric, and heart-wrenching interwoven story told from the Umami tells the stories of characters who are dealing with mortality, abandonment, and loss.” —World Literature Today

 

Looking for more? Check these authors out!

Clarice Lispector (Lispector’s been called Brazil’s greatest modern writer and the most important Jewish writer since Kafka.)

Josefine Klougart (Klougart has been hailed as one of Denmark’s greatest contemporary writers.)

Can Xue (A Chinese avant-garde fiction writer and literary critic. I’d recommend Frontier and The Last Lover.)

Dubravka Ugresic (Ugresic, a Croatian native now living in Amsterdam, was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2016.)

Fun Jane Reads!

Fun Jane Austen related reads that are on my #TBR list for this summer! Any and all recommendations are always welcome.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

 

I’ve had Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff on the very top of my TBR pile for a solid year (or more!) and after just finishing it I’m very angry with myself for letting it languish there for so long. It left me gasping. An utterly fascinating, beautiful, and dark portrait of a marriage. I know she has other novels—what should I read next? (Not my picture but isn’t it gorgeous?)