Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

It's sometimes fortuitous that things find their way to us.  A few weeks ago, when I was preparing for a program for January 24th, a co-worker handed me a book. The program is in celebration of the recent 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's Emma.   The book brought to my attention by the co-worker was Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books.  It contains a collection of anecdotes combining the author's love of two things: books and food.  Each chapter is dedicated to a particular book that has a relevance to Cara Nicoletti's life-long love of reading.  Among those chapters was a story relating to Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse and his delicate constitution.

There are so many references to food in the book Emma, usually by way of Mr. Woodhouse's protestations.  If you are a Janeite, you will no doubt remember his abhorrence to anyone eating the cake after the wedding celebration of their beloved governess, Miss Taylor to Mr. Weston. In Voracious, Nicoletti references that fact.  She also relates that in Austen's book, Mr. Woodhouse suggests his guests enjoy a bowl of gruel instead of the minced chicken and scallops at one of Hartfield's dinner parties. When no one seems to find that option of interest, he then turns to the elder Mrs. Bates and tries to tempt her with the prospect of enjoying a perfectly cooked, soft-boiled egg prepared by his cook Serle, instead of the heavy meal.

Nicoletti may have sought to re-read Emma when she was looking for instruction on preparing a traditional English country ham, but her introduction to Jane Austen's book happened during her high school years.  She recalled from her earlier reading experience, how odd Mr. Woodhouse's affirmation was that only Serle had the talent for producing such a perfectly cooked specimen.  She considered it such a simple culinary task at the time.  Her experiences a few years later would provide her a valuable lesson regarding the variables you need to consider to do the task.  During a job interview for an upscale restaurant, she was asked to produce just the same standard - a perfectly cooked, soft-boiled egg. The results of her attempt and the instructions for a perfectly cooked, soft-boiled egg are provided following her story.  I might have begun my experience reading Voracious, more than half way through the book, simply to read the story about Emma and the egg on page 216, but was hooked by Nicoletti's approach to literature and food and started over from the beginning.

If you are a lover of books or a lover of food traditions, you will love this book. Voracious is broken down into three distinct parts:  Childhood, Adolescence and College Years, and finally, Adulthood. It was a delight watching her reminisce about favorite books and construct each chapter dedicated to the fifty different titles she's chosen to included in its pages.  Her pairing of just the perfect recipe to try, inspired by it's relevance to each book, is impeccable. Nicoletti employs a balance of classics and popular fiction and hopefully you will be enticed to try some of the recipes as well.  She also includes insights into the histories of some of the books and the author's that penned them.  If you haven't read the book featured in each chapter, Nicoletti's narrative will make you want to add it to your reading list.  While this book is a quick read, you can also enjoy it a chapter or so at a time when life gets too busy.

I heard echos of an ideal the Virginia Beach Library System strives for while reading Voracious celebrating the pleasure of life-long learning and the importance reading plays in that equation. How lucky Nicoletti was to have always been surrounded by good books!  And in this books case... she helps them nourish the soul.

If you are a lover of Jane Austen, come visit us at the Princess Anne Library on Sunday afternoon, January 24th from 2-3:30 and celebrate Emma's Anniversary.  Registration begins, online, on January 10th.
By Phyllis

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