Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires

Garlic and Sapphires : The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
By Ruth Reichl

I bought this as an audio book and listened to it on my flights to and from England last week. Believe me, it helped drown out the five hours of incessant howling from the toddler three rows in front, for which I will be ever grateful. Audible.com offers an unabridged version read engagingly by Bernadette Dunne. I've not read Reichl's other books, and am only passingly familiar with her as the editor of Gourmet Magazine (I don't often stop for the editorials, but go straight for the recipes). I expected the book to be entertaining as it's right up my alley in subject matter, but what I found was a book that was engaging on several levels.

Reichl describes her life and the decisions that lead her to the job as restaurant critic at the New York Times; she doesn't shy away from her own insecurities, her anxiety as she waits for the response to her first review, her naivete in the face of the cut-throat world of both the New York dining establishments and the New York Times editorial mean-spiritedness and back-biting. Before even embarking on her first assignment for the paper, she discovers that her picture has been circulated, her personal information disseminated, and a reward offered to any restaurant worker who can spot her (presumably so that she can be lavished with attention and the finest of the fine food). Dismayed, she hatches the idea to go in disguise and begins a game of "fool 'em all" that last five years.

Interesting as her experiences in the restaurants themselves are, there is more to the book that I found equally pleasing. Her husband and son, her friend Carol, the other people who are in on the game and participate in her charade by dining with "Brenda" or "Miriam", and those who she dupes (sometimes rather unkindly) are all compelling characters. Many of them don't shy from bursting her bubble by finding some of her "costumes" attractive (moreso than her own persona) or repugnant (bursting her bubble as she realizes she was more into playing the role than was necessary). The writing seems genuine, as Reichl wavers, struggles, comes to understand just how much of herself (good and bad) comes to the surface with each disguise. I got goosebumps when she describes her trip to Windows on the World, the name of which I only knew because of its destruction with the rest of the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. In addition to all the glorious food, the catty commentary, and the gossipy insider view of the New York Times Food Section, Reichl also weaves the reader through the New York of her childhood and references but doesn't ghoulishly dwell on the events that loom in New York's (then)future.

I very much enjoyed this book; thanks to Chelane for recommending it!


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Blogger Ramsey Says:

Happy birthday!


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