By January 30, 2008 3 Comments Read More →

A Bibliophile’s Dilemma

Food is a contentious issue in book groups. There are books and chapters of books devoted to enhancing book discussion through food. Dinner parties have, like book groups, become the in thing. But food can really distract from discussion. (Please correct me if I am wrong—I would love to hear stories from groups who have successfully combined books and food!)

Seeing as I have facilitated book groups at a public library for the last several years, food hasn’t come up all that often. When I have tried food, I found that it attracted our homeless population rather than avid readers (don’t get me wrong, I would welcome a homeless reader anyday), so I stopped. But I just read a book that made me wish my group met around some shared meals.

Nicole Mones’ The Last Chinese Chef is a foodie’s delight. For one, it debunks the largely held notion that American Chinese food is what you’ll find in China. China’s history and relationship with food is infinitely more varied and complex than garlic tofu and moo shu pork. While telling a story, Mones manages to educate the reader step by step about Chinese cuisine and history and how irrevocably intertwined they are.

Mones also tells the story of an American food writer, Maggie McElroy, who was recently widowed when her husband was struck down by a car. A year after her husband’s death, Maggie is pulled to China when a surprising paternity suit arises. She also travels to China to interview Sam Liang, an American born man of Chinese-Jewish-American heritage who is the grandson of a famous Chinese chef. Sam intends to bring back traditional cuisine and also signs up to compete in the Chinese national cooking team for the 2008 Olympics. Not surprisingly, a relationship between Maggie and Sam develops out of their mutual appreciation for food. This is a love story, but a love story of a different sort—it is as much about the characters as it is about China’s long-lasting love affair with food.

Now it’s your chance to dish! Tell me about other great foodie book group books!

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

3 Comments on "A Bibliophile’s Dilemma"

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  1. lisamunley@ca.rr.com' Lisa says:

    I read a foodie book for an online book club, so I didn’t get to partake in any great food to go along with it because our meeting was of the virtual sort. The book was Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, who is currently the editor at Gourmet Magazine. It’s about her time as the restaurant critic for the NY Times. There are recipes at the end of each chapter.

  2. mishamstone@yahoo.com' misha says:

    Thanks for the tip! I read “Tender at the Bone” which I enjoyed. I am also a huge fan of Laurie Colwin’s essays–“Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking”–although I am not so sure they’d be discussable.

  3. rbeerbower@cityofsalem.net' Robin B. says:

    Also try EATING HEAVEN by Jennie Shortridge and CRESCENT by Diana Abu-Jaber (both authors are from Oregon, as is Nicole Mones), and also FEASTING SEASON by Nancy Coons.

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