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‘Out of Line’ by Barbara Lynch Is the Best Chef Memoir in Years

Plus reviews of ‘The Vegetarian,’ ‘Give a Girl a Knife,’ and more

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Welcome to Eater’s Book Club, a column where we share the books — old or new — that we’ve read this month. (Yes, there’s a focus on food, eating, and dining out.)

Cork Dork

Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste
by Bianca Bosker
Penguin Books

Cork Dork, by journalist and aspiring wine nerd Bianca Bosker, follows her journey learning about the quirky, intense, and oftentimes bizarre world of professional sommeliers, wine collectors, and fat cat restaurant-goers. It is incredibly well-written, intelligent, witty, and highly entertaining.

As Jennifer Senior mentioned in the Times, this book is more akin to Bill Buford's Heat than Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. An admitted neophyte, Bosker joins wine tasting groups, trails sommeliers on the floor, hangs around Master Sommeliers in a competition, works as a cellar rat, and also spends time with perfumers, scientists, researchers, and taste, flavor, and olfaction experts to explore the scientific and cultural forces behind wine appreciation and obsession. (And she of course gets groped and hit on by drunks in the process.)

My caveat is that readers shouldn't take this book and the characters within it to represent the entirety of the wine world, and I know many wine pros will take issue with her portrayal of their community once they start to read it (as Eater contributor Levi Dalton has already done on Twitter). — Amanda Kludt

Give a Girl a Knife

Give a Girl a Knife: A Memoir
by Amy Thielen
Clarkson Potter

Amy Thielen's writing in her new memoir Give a Girl a Knife is immediate. Whether hauling buckets of water to an unplumbed shack in the north woods of Minnesota or inhaling the particular piquant musk of NYC rat urine: every experience is visceral. Now I know what it's like to hear NYC-based chef David Bouley whisper ingredient requests in my ear while rummaging through my mise. With every turn of the page I felt the tides that pull from country to city: familial love and the consuming desire of an impossibly possible career; the simple pleasures of a freshly-picked kohlrabi and the smell of shaved black truffles. — Joy Summers

The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian
by Han Kang

This is not a book about eating (or not eating meat); yet it’s inevitably about what it means to take (or renounce) ownership over flesh. Han Kang’s much-celebrated novella — essentially a collection of three interconnected vignettes — follows a young Korean woman, Yeong-hye, who decides to adopt a vegetarian diet. But this seemingly innocuous decision turns Yeong-hye’s mind and body into a literal battleground, as members of her family (often grotesquely, sometimes violently) use her unorthodox diet choice as an excuse to exert their own forms of control over her.

Yeong-hye remains the central focus, but each section is narrated by a different person in her life: her husband, brother-in-law, and in the quietest and most effective segment, her sister. It’s visceral; consider this book on a hot summer day for when you need something to literally give you chills. — Erin DeJesus

Out of Line

Out of Line: A Life of Playing with Fire
by Barbara Lynch
Atria Books

We have entered what may be the golden age of the chef memoir, and though I certainly haven’t read every chef memoir that’s ever been published, this one has stuck in my mind for the past month. It is easily on par with Comfort Me With Apples, Kitchen Confidential, and Blood, Bones, and Butter. When I heard it was coming out this spring, I was delighted because not enough people know the name Barbara Lynch — Boston’s most-acclaimed chef — and fewer know how hard she’s worked to get to the top.

For a taste, the Boston Globe excerpted a particularly colorful section last month from a time period when Lynch had just started out in professional kitchens and was being cussed out by (the now-lesser chef) Todd English. Maybe this is why I was drawn to the book: It reminded me of working in restaurants and almost made me miss that adrenaline rush and hard-won pride. Maybe those fast scenes will hook you in too, but it’s everything else: the hard-knock childhood and awkward and scary coming of age; the mentors, heroes, and villains; the birth of her daughter; the death of her mother; and the surprising solace she takes in building a restaurant empire that turn this into an inspiring story that reminds the reader that life is messy, inconvenient, harsh, raw, and real. — Daniela Galarza

Super Sushi Ramen Express

Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey Through the Belly of Japan
by Michael Booth

Believe it or not, this is the second fish-out-of-water Japanese food and travel memoir I've read in the past year or two (the first was Pretty Good Number One, on the recommendation from a friend before my husband and I visited Tokyo). Of the two, I found myself more immersed in Pretty Good Number One, which offered up amusing anecdotes and influenced me to visit Piss Alley for yakitori, grab a katsu sando on the train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, and to wander the food floors of the city's epic basement department stores (depachika). Super Sushi was less consuming, but still served as an interesting educational experience — it was fascinating to hear of the author’s adventures with fugu and vicariously experience his high-end meal at the mysterious Mibu. — Missy Frederick


Delicious: A Novel
by Ruth Reichl
Random House

Ruth Reichl's novel Delicious wasn't billed as a YA book, but it should have been. The story is light and fun, with a mystery element, a protagonist who has her Cinderella moment, and plenty of dreamy food descriptions: spice-laden gingerbread and sky-high cakes, a fantastical Italian grocery store, and plenty of romanticizing (or, the harsher read: exoticizing) food from other places.

Though it’s really something you’d buy for the cute kid you used to babysit who all of a sudden is a precocious 14-year-old, it’s also home to a few Easter eggs that will excite adult New Yorkers, like an oyster-shell plotline I won’t spoil here and the existence of popular restaurant the Pig, a thinly veiled fictional version of April Bloomfield’s West Village institution the Spotted Pig. As in real life, Reichl’s Pig is known for its gnocchi; its chef’s name is Thursday, clearly a play on April.

The novel is as flowery-descriptive as Reichl’s memoirs, reviews, and tweets. But it works better in Delicious, where our meek protagonist Billie Breslin seeks solace from a tragedy in a new home while she’s sussing out a new career in food journalism — she’s finding herself for the first time with the help of friends and mentors who all work in the enchanting world of restaurants. It’s a coming-of-age story, even if it isn’t, tinged with magic and full of hope. — Sonia Chopra

All Book Coverage [E]

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