Today, I’m sharing another book club read — and this time, it’s nonfiction. Well, it’s creative nonfiction. Let’s not get crazy.
October’s read was Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl. I am delighted to say that I enjoyed this book. In fact, I liked it more than most Goodreads reviewers, who gave Garlic and Sapphires an average of 3.91 stars.
If you haven’t read this book, Goodreads has you covered with a brief synopsis:
Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world–a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl reveals the comic absurdity, artifice, and excellence to be found in the sumptuously appointed stages of the epicurean world and gives us–along with some of her favorite recipes and reviews–her remarkable reflections on how one’s outer appearance can influence one’s inner character, expectations, and appetites, not to mention the quality of service one receives.
All in all, I’m giving Garlic and Sapphires four out of five stars.
From the get-go, I should point out that I love to cook, and I love to eat at restaurants. I was predisposed to like this book, to relate to its author. Reichl blends personal narrative, published reviews, and her own recipes to create a unique book that charts the years she spent as The New York Times’ restaurant critic. We explore her finding her way around the New York restaurant scene, and go along for the ride as she comes into her own, and as she bottoms out. This book is largely factual, and largely about food, but is also about Reichl redefining herself as an adult and as a professional.
It’s hard to be critical of nonfiction beyond craft; after all, Reichl couldn’t necessarily change her story. I sincerely enjoyed her grappling with her role, and the snarky humor that revealed itself in her roles. Furthermore, I loved learning about different parts of Reichl through her disguises. On to being critical (as she, fittingly, would appreciate): her development isn’t well-framed. I read this book over a thirty-hour period, so I’m confident that I got an impression of Garlic and Sapphires as a whole. Reichl’s personal development, and realization that her personae reveal a great deal about herself, is abrupt. As in, late fifteen pages abrupt. The inclusion of these revelations was clumsy, yet endearing.
Finally, my perennial complain: the book ended too quickly. If the restaurant reviews sampled in the book are any indication, then this is indicative of her writing style, but I didn’t like it. More than five years separate the end of the book and its publishing date, and I wanted to know more. Tell me more, Ruth!