Sunday, July 2, 2017

Tender at the Bone - Ruth Reichl

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
I live in a magic neighborhood where people leave books out on their yard walls for passerby to take.  While heading to the convenience store for a sugar fix this weekend, I stumbled across a house that had so many books out!  Among them were a bunch of food memoirs, including this one.  I love books, I love food, I love books about food, so of course it found its way into my bag, along with about fifteen other ones.  How lucky that I took the bag with me!

I've come to the decision that I really like Ruth Reichl.  While her memoir about her time as a food critic at the New York Times, Garlic and Sapphires, wasn't a home run, it was still good, and her novel Delicious! was, in fact, delicious.  Now, I've moved on to Tender at the Bone, which is basically a memoir (albeit an embroidered one) about how Reichl grew up to love food and managed her crazy family.  Born in New York City, Reichl's mother suffered from bipolar disorder (though they didn't know this when Reichl was young) and went through manic stages that turned Reichl's life upside down.  Her mother was also a terrible cook.  However, Reichl loved food and found good food in plenty of other places, and came to learn to cook first as a necessity and then as a passion.  Watching this journey as she grows was fascinating, and I would have never thought that Reichl had such a tumultuous past!  From being shipped off to a boarding school in Montreal because of a passing comment about how she wished she spoke French to essentially living on her own when she was in high school to living in what was basically a hippie commune, it was all fascinating.

Was it all true?  Well... Reichl states in the preface to the book that embroidering, reordering, and sometimes just making up stories is a family tradition, and that she's done some altering to this memoir in order to make it flow better as a solid narrative.  I do appreciate that this one was in chronological order; if I recall correctly, Garlic and Sapphires jumped around a bit, which was disorientating.  But embroidered or not, I think this is a good memoir that makes the author more of a real person.  She suffered from imposter syndrome at various points, feeling like she was a fake, which is something I think we all struggle with sometimes.  And while I appreciated that her mother had a mental illness, I could also empathize with Reichl's yearning to sometimes just slap her mother upside the head and tell her to get over it; no matter how much you tell yourself it's not their fault, sometimes it just grates on your nerves.  The memoir is also interspersed with recipes that Reichl encountered for developed throughout her life.  These are at the beginnings of chapters, which is a little weird and led to some whacky formatting in the book, but I still appreciated them.  I might even try my hand at a lemon souffle someday.

Overall, this was a poignant and mouth-watering memoir, even embroidered as it is--and honestly, I don't mind a little embroidering as long as the author owns up to it, which Reichl did before she even got started.  I can't wait to read her other memoir, Comfort Me With Apples.

4 stars out of 5.

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