Rick's Reviews > The Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary Edition
The Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary Edition
by M.F.K. Fisher
by M.F.K. Fisher
M.F.K. Fisher is many people's idea of a writer's writer, with admirers across the literary world. And she is that good. How else could I read 700 plus pages of an anthology of five of her classic works on the gastronomic arts of cooking and eating, including one volume entitled Consider the Oyster, its singular topic? Fisher is so good I'm forever forward tempted to try an oyster, though other foods she discusses, say calf head, she made fascinating without making enticing. Years ago I read Fisher's perfect memoir Among Friends and this belated follow-up read was very pleasurable, though a bit too much in one periodically interrupted reading feast. Browsing in a local bookstore recently I saw two of the volumes included here in individual volumes and that is the best way to read these, not as a single massive work but as they were written and published. The best to start with is the middle book, a five star read, The Gastronomical Me. Fisher's prose is precise and idiosyncratic. She can out-Hemingway Hemingway in the lucidity of her descriptions and in the power of her omissions, adroitly demonstrating how less can build a fuller understanding when more seems to subtract understanding with each additional detail or explanation. She has the dramatic internal tension of a fussy, conservative sensibility coupled with an independent, rebellious spirit with tastes not limited by conventional boundaries. And, as gastronomy is a sensual art, there is something always at least mildly erotic in her writing, without being the least bit salacious. The most disappointing of the five books was the wonderfully titled How to Cook a Wolf, which is never literally about cooking a wolf but how to keep the wolf from the door in times of scarcity (originally published during the Second World War as a guide to coping with rationing and shortages without sacrifice to taste and interest). What hurts the book is an intrusive author commentary interjected into the original text when this anthology was put together. Some of the commentary is funny or charming or clarifying but on the whole it is like having the writer standing over your shoulder as you read, which is exactly how you imagine it would be be: initially and briefly magical but quickly and permanently irritating. Serve If Forth, Consider the Oyster, and An Alphabet for Gourmets are each solidly entertaining reads and would, particularly the last one, have been better enjoyed if I hadn't made the poor reading decision to ruin gastronomy with gluttony. There is much more Fisher out there in the world, and she does memoir very well, so I look forward to letting this meal settle but will be back for Map of Another Town, A Considerable Town, and others.
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