Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl (the Brookner Edition)


The Reichl Challenge: Do a Google image search and try
to find a picture of her without the infectious smile.
She makes me happy.

A few weeks ago I was a little restless and didn’t really feel like reading any of the books I had going at the time. Actually I didn’t really feel like reading at all, but it was too early to go to bed. As I sat in the library pondering what to do I pulled my copy of Garlic and Sapphires off the shelf and thought I would just read a bit here and there. But as with all of Ruth Reichl’s writing, once I started I couldn’t stop even though I had read it before.

Reichl seamlessly and wonderfully interwines food writing with stories from her life. Her three major books: Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires, are all really the story of her fascinating life, her relationships, and her career in food. In Garlic and Sapphires Reichl recounts moving from LA to New York to be the restaurant critic for the New York Times. And the restaurant critic at the New York Times is indeed a powerful and important personage to the people of the city that never sleeps.

Despite growing up in New York, over the years Reichl had developed a west coast spirit, first in northern California and then Los Angeles, that had the New York establishment a bit scandalized that this outsider should have such an important position. But Reichl shaking things up in the New York restaurant scene is only part of the story. In order to remain incognito, the distinctive looking Reichl needs to resort to all kinds of disguises which turn out to be psyhologically therapuetic in many cases. That is until she begins to forget who she is. And finally, and most importantly, Reichl writes about food. And she does it so well it is hard not to feel the joy. In fact, although her life story is not just wine and roses, Reichl has such a joy for life that she is one of those celebrities I would most love to hang out with.

Which brings me to the Brookner connection. Reichl is the anti-Brookner in so many ways you could wonder at the cognitive dissonence caused by my love for both. Reichl squeezes every drop out of life in a way that it is hard to imagine a Brookner character doing. And on the food front, Reichl’s writing is the antidote to all of the bad, sad food portrayed in Brookner’s novels.  As Peta Mayer notes in her brilliant 10 Things to Expect list, Brookner’s characters tend to be mildly anorexic. And given the type of fare they eat, I don’t blame them.

So if you are looking for something sunny and joyous yet still entirely grounded in the trials and tribulations of the real world and at the same time being smart and well written and full of gloriouos food, then you must check out Ruth Reichl. But if you can, starte with her first book Tender at the Bone. You are going to want to read them all…and in order.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl (the Brookner Edition)

  1. Cath July 13, 2011 / 8:34 am

    I read this several months ago and absolutely adored it. I've not read any of her others though, so clearly I need to go back to the beginning and do so.


  2. Susan in TX July 13, 2011 / 9:45 am

    You crack me up with your “Brookner editions” – but I am appreciating how you are tying them together. This book sounds like a great read and one I'll look out for.
    I, too, noticed the lack of eating by the characters in Hotel du Lac. I'm moving on to Family and Friends, and will be interested to see if the pattern holds.
    A food critic…that has to be on my list of dream jobs. ;)


  3. Steph July 13, 2011 / 11:57 am

    I haven't read anything by Reichl, but as someone who loves good writing and good food, she sounds like someone I need to read!


  4. Care July 13, 2011 / 5:19 pm

    I very much enjoyed this book. I might have to buy it again since I loaned it out to someone. Someone who has not given it back. Someone I don't remember so I can't ask for it back.


  5. whisperinggums July 14, 2011 / 8:44 pm

    LOL nice segue Thomas. I've read the first two Reichls and the one about her mother (whose title escapes me – and it was before I started my blog). I agree that she's a good writer – particularly when you are a reader but in a little slump.


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