Now that I don’t teach high school English anymore and am no longer required to read a book fifteen times (I’m looking at you, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn!), the book world is my proverbial oyster. With a backlog of intriguing new titles stacked up next to my bed and on various bookshelves and tables around the house, re-reading a book even once would seem like a waste of precious time.
So it says something about Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, that I wanted to re-read it yesterday. In fact, the craving (if you’ll forgive the pun) started several weeks ago when I was in a bookstore (where else?) and saw the familiar cover: Reichl’s face blocked by a plate of pasta. I’d read the book in 2005 (when it first came out in paperback) probably in one or two sittings. It is simply delicious. Of course I lent it to someone who liked it too and never gave it back. Last night, a few days after a new copy arrived, I read it again from cover to cover.
The book tells the story of how Reichl came to New York as the newly-hired food critic for the New York Times and immediately (in fact, on the plane from L.A.) realized that every high-profile restaurant in the city hoping for a positive review was poised to treat her like a queen. They had posters, dossiers, the works. So in order to see how restaurants would treat normal citizens, she decided to adopt disguises.
In the course of dining out as various personas—including a hippie, an old lady, and her own mother, to name a few—Reichl learns some things about society and about herself. The book is funny, moving, and beautifully written.
I also highly recommend her previous two memoirs, Tender at the Bone (which begins by describing what a dangerous cook her mother was) and Comfort Me with Apples. Glancing at my shelves, it looks like I will have to buy those again, too.