The last two books I read are quite different from each other, but I can’t recall liking two books more in quite a while.
In full disclosure, I’m the kind of person who reads cookbooks. I love them. I also love books about culture. That’s where my first book intersects. One of the best thing about Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham is that, while there are recipes, the book is so much more than cookbook. Collingham does an amazing job of tracing some of the culinary history of an amazingly complex culture and society. Her discussion of the post-Raj diaspora and the culinary and cultural ramifications of that experience are fascinating. The Indian experience through a culinary lens in Britain and the United States are certainly discussed. The history of the British experience through colonial imperialism, the subsequent reality of “empire coming home” is discussed with care and scholarship. It is an important, and a fascinating exploration. That said, curry in Mexico? Curry in Uganda? Curry in Fiji? These, and other instances, are also discussed. Collingham has a remarkably approachable style that allows the reader to really get into what she is uncovering, while maintaining a scholarship and care that should be applauded. The book is broken into chapters that each deal with a particular culinary experience, be it a particular kind of dish, or even tea and the Indian experience with the British obsession with that beverage. At the end of each chapter, the book does contain recipes that deal with the preceding material. (In fact, this book inspired me to branch out from the recipes listed and make a cracking brown rice biryani.) I have to say, I was absolutely floored by how great this book was. I cannot recommend it enough!
The second book I recently finished that I am really excited about is China Mieville’s Kraken: An Anatomy. Mieville is part of the so-called New Weird school of authors who deal in a fantasy-horror-alt-reality. The subject matter of Mieville’s work is always a bit off kilter and makes for a very interesting read. As an example, please check out his tumblr. This book is at once gripping, engrossing, strange, funny, weird and fantastic. I savored this book. I didn’t read it quickly (partially because I was reading a bunch of other stuff at the same time), but also because I wanted to make it last. The story is a winding, weird romp through an apocalyptic London that features a group of people who can “read” the feel of the city called Londonmancers, a giant squid cult, a special para-normal wing of the London police, and an industrial action with a disembodied labor leader who jumps from statue to statue organizing the familiars and other magical animals of London to go on strike. These FANTASTIC elements of the story only scratch the surface. There are many other twists of plot that make the reading interesting, entertaining and engaging. I loved it. Check it out.
There you have it, dear Eleventh Stack reader! Two very different, but excellent books to get you into the winter months. Curl up with a Kraken and a Curry!
-Eric (who is currently navigating the worlds of giant squid, and lower sodium vegan curry)