One Week They’re Literati,The Next They’re Foodies

By Neal Comment

So the NYTBR decided to publish an all-food issue over the Memorial Day weekend—its second themed edition in two weeks (following last week’s all-fiction issue) and its third (you remember January’s “Literary Lives,” right?) of 2006. Setting aside the question of whether we can look forward to more of this kind of stunt publishing from the Review in the future, how does the food issue stack up?

Well, I won’t spend too much time directly arguing about whether this issue really came about because “we saw the remarkable range and depth of the food-related books being published this season—more and better than in any single season we can remember,” even though it seems to me that you could point to plenty of recent seasons with an equally impressive lineup of food books. And I won’t even question the kid-glove treatment regular Review contributors Jane and Michael Stern get from Nora Ephron. Instead, we could talk about how the “food issue” is almost entirely “the food memoir issue,” as the actual cookbooks get lumped together into one Amanda Hesser roundup. On a more serious note, it’s worth pointing out that the experts called upon in the “Save These Books!” feature include three authors who had just received glowing reviews a few pages earlier (the Sterns and Anthony Bourdain), as well as the subject of another lavishly praised book (Mario Batali, who figures prominently in Bill Buford’s Heat). It seems a little cozier than I expect from the Times, but maybe that’s just me. What did you think?

Of course, lest I be judged a kneejerk NYTBR-hater, I should point out that much of the actual writing in this issue is fairly commendable. It’s not the content that rings my alarms so much as the gimmicks surrounding it…but then again, too, we should perhaps at least give the Review credit for chasing after “news about the culture.”