Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Serious Reads: 5 Books We're Loving

1. Cooked, by Michael Pollan

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The newest book by prolific author and journalist Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) details Pollan's cooking education. The book makes a strong argument that Americans should cook more, and takes the reader through techniques using fire (barbecue), water (stews), and air (bread baking) to demonstrate the variety of ways that cooks are preparing food across the country. Cooked isn't as revolutionary as Pollan's prior books; many of the principles and arguments he makes have been thoroughly explored by other authors. But Pollan maintains his familiar and accessible tone, making Cooked a fun, if lengthy, read.

2. VB6, by Mark Bittman

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VB6 is primarily a diet book, whose philosophy of eating vegan before 6 o'clock makes low-carb and low-fat dieting easier to manage. Bittman is humble in discussing his own dieting process—he's maintained the VB6 lifestyle for about six years, and sees the diet as a long-term weight maintenance program. He is understanding of the "cheating" that comes along with many diets, and provides ample weekly meal plans to help the reader easily transition to the VB6 lifestyle. Bittman is a great recipe writer, and the few dozen recipes accompanying this diet book are simple and delicious. This's an easy-to-understand and hopeful diet guide for those hoping to move to a more plant-based diet.

3. Homeward Bound, by Emily Matchar

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Matchar has provoked contentious dialogue around the blogosphere by taking on established food writers like Michael Pollan and challenging their affinity for what she terms "New Domesticity." In Homeward Bound, Matchar explores how DIY and foodie culture have affected and engaged with feminist dialogue in the past two decades. She looks at how foodie culture has drawn women into the kitchen and whether this trend constitutes progress. Despite the high-stakes nature of her topic area, Matchar writes with an open voice and lets the reader interpret her findings as they wish.

4. Nine Lives, by Brandon Baltzley

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Baltzley reached the apex of his cooking career at the ripe age of 26. Presented with the opportunity to run his own kitchen after years of working at Michelin-starred restaurants, he panicked under media scrutiny and relapsed into his worst vices: alcohol and cocaine. In Nine Lives, Baltzley shares his tale of addiction, recovery, and abuse over the span of his early twenties. The book is refreshingly honest, full of curses and explicit details of Baltzley's lowest moments before he turned his life around. Inspiring and challenging, Nine Lives takes a hard look at kitchen culture and the difficulties of recovering in a high-pressure environment.

5. On the Noodle Road, by Jen Liu-Liu

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After living in China for nearly a decade, Jen Liu-Liu still felt conflicted between her Chinese and American identities. She decided to follow the Silk Road through China, central Asia, Turkey, and to the Mediterranean to explore her culinary roots and heritage. Along the way, she was challenged to explore new cuisines and ways of cooking. In On the Noodle Road Liu-Liu describes her travels through the lens of her relationship with her husband, and through the dozens of dishes she learns across the world.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website.

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