Comfort reading complements comfort eating

Last year Americans were hungry for change. Now apparently we're just hungry. In hard economic times, who couldn't use a little comfort? And there's nothing more comforting than a satisfying meal -- except perhaps a good book describing a satisfying meal.

No wonder "Julie and Julia" has been so popular: It's a mouth-watering book about food inspired by another delectable book about food.

Julia Powell challenged herself to re-create in one year all 524 recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" out of her tiny outer borough apartment kitchen.

Now the movie version of Powell's blog-turned-best-seller about her Julie and Julia experience is sending people back to the source (and into the kitchen).

"Mastering the Art of French Cooking" reached No. 1 on the New York Times Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous best-seller list Aug. 30 for the first time since its appearance 48 years ago.

Child's "Kitchen Wisdom" topped the paperback version of that list and her memoir, "My Life in France," in which she describes her life-long love affair with food, debuted at No. 3 on the paperback nonfiction list.

There's nothing like a movie version of a food-filled book to set the salivary glands in motion. When Isak Dinesan's "Babette's Feast" hit America's movie theaters in 1988, restaurants began offering up the menu:

Turtle soup, Blinis Demidoff and quail, washed down by Veuve Clicquot and Clos de Vougeot.

Likewise for Laura Esquival's "Water for Chocolate," a popular book-club selection favored by those who like to serve a meal that reflects the book under discussion because her sensual tale comes with its own recipes.

Book-club members, of course, have long been matching books and food, and there's a whole menu of books catering to their needs, including:

"The Jane Austen Cookbook" by Maggie Black (McClelland & Stewart).

"The Book Club Cookbook" by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp (Tarcher).

"The Book Lover's Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature and the Passages That Feature Them" by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Jensen (Ballantine).

"Literary Feasts: Inspired Eating From Classic Fiction" by Sean Brand (Atri).

And the deliciously titled "Plots and Pans" by the Swivel Collective, published by the Toronto-based Sumach Press.

Here are a few recently published or soon-to-be-published food-themed books.

"The Various Flavors of Coffee: A Novel" by Anthony Capella (Bantam).

Set in 19th-century London, this love story about a poet who is hired to describe coffee explores our relationship to that drink as a crop, a commodity, an obsession, a brand, a drug, a family business, but, above all, as a pleasure. Now out in paperback.

"Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman's Sweet Journey From Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker" by Gesine Bullock-Prado (Broadway).

Chock full of recipes for such delights as maple pecan sticky buns and raspberry meringues, this inspiring memoir reminds us that the dreams of our sugar-obsessed childhoods don't always have to be left behind.

"Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel" by Gaile Parkin (Delacorte).

Like Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana-based books, this first novel, written by a Zambian-born teacher, takes place in Africa. The setting is not in peaceful Botswana, though, but in war-torn Rwanda where a woman running a thriving bakery finds a way to heal lives. Due out in paperback.

"Why Italians Love to Talk About Food" by Elena Kostioukovitch," forewords by Umberto Eco and Carol Field (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

Scheduled to be published this month, this region-by-region tribute to the Italian obsession with food doesn't include recipes, but it offers plenty of menu ideas.

"Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York," by William Grimes (North Point).

Who can imagine New York without restaurants? Former New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes does, beginning this fascinating history of New York and food with the image of the city as a culinary desert. Due this month.

Margo Hammond is former book editor of the St. Petersburg Times and co-editor of The Book Babes, a blog about books.


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