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A Perfect Series To End The Summer With

August 9, 2010

It is rare to find a writer whose whole collection of books touches you so deeply as Ruth Reichl. Even with my (other) favorite writers, I have a strictly defined hierarchy with how I feel about their books, but it’s so difficult to choose from Reichl’s series of memoirs, Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic and Sapphires:The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. (Note: I haven’t read For You, Mom. Finally but I don’t think it would be included in this lineup anyway.)

Ruth Reichl, for those of you who don’t know, was the restaurant critic at The New York Times from ’93-’99 and the editor of beloved Gourmet from ’99 to its folding, last Fall. Her stint as a critic is chronicled in Garlic and Sapphires, where she talks about the numerous disguises she creates to avoid being spotted by the owners of the restaurants she’s reviewing. It is an incredibly entertaining read that’s often laugh-out-loud funny with perfectly drawn characters and interesting tidbits about both the restaurant and newspaper industries.

But if you thought Reichl’s life didn’t get interesting until she was one of the most famous, feared, respected and loathed people in New York (slash the country), think again. Her life was rich in adventure with envy-inducing travels, gossip-column worthy love affairs, heartbreaking struggles and, of course, dishes upon dishes of delicious food. Tender at the Bone starts in her childhood. She was raised in Greenwhich village by a German-Jewish bookmaker father and a yet-to-be-diagnosed bipolar mother. She was sent to boarding school in France, married young, and moved to Berkeley where she was thrown into the eco-political movement.

Her stories continue in Comfort Me With Apples where she struggles with her marriage, engages in a few affairs, remarries and finds herself in the center of a news storm when she tries to adopt a baby. All along she’s establishing herself as a cook while working in a food co-op, feeding her friends in the commune she lives in, and teaching cooking lessons.

Each of these stories (and everything that happened in between) is set against the food she’s making and eating while it’s all happening. She seamlessly weaves her personal history with what’s going on in the rest of the country in the tumultuous times she grows up in. What stands out the most about Reichl’s books, though, is her voice. It’s so perfectly approachable that every time I picked up one of her books it felt like I was checking back in with an old friend. She describes everything so clearly and honestly that I really felt that I got to know her and genuinely cared about her and most of the characters around her.

The next logical step would be a book about Reichl’s time at Gourmet, which I would absolutely love to read. I personally feel offended and deprived that she hasn’t thought to do this yet. I haven’t heard anything about it, but here’s hoping! In the meantime, amuse yourself by watching her series of food shows that she did for Gourmet on their website. It’s a lot of fun, and almost as comforting as reading one of her books!

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