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‘Apples of Uncommon Character’ Is Food Writing at Its Most Magical

Plus reviews of ‘Relish,’ ‘Arbitrary Stupid Goal,’ 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.)

Apples of Uncommon Character: Heirlooms, Modern Classics, and Little-Known Wonders
by Rowan Jacobsen
Bloomsbury USA

Apples of Uncommon Character does what it says on the box: The book is a guide to varieties of apple, listing off their geographic origins, the time of their development, and what makes them unique. A few months ago, when Eater’s national critic Bill Addison pretty much commanded me to read it cover to cover, I was skeptical of his promise that it was no ordinary reference volume. I should have believed him; now, you need to believe me: This book is magical. Rowan Jacobsen’s research is exhaustive, his discoveries are beautiful, and his prose verges on poetry, whether he's weaving the ghost story behind the Redfield, with its bloody heart, or slyly insulting the waxy banality of a Golden Delicious. It’s food writing unlike any I’ve read before, and it made me love apples in a way I didn’t ever think was possible. Helen Rosner

Arbitrary Stupid Goal
by Tamara Shopsin

This work from Tamara Shopsin, daughter of famed New York character and restaurateur Kenny, is the perfect beach/plane/commuting/whatever-wherever book for lovers of New York and quirky restaurants. It’s memoir-ish in that it is about her life and childhood. But really it’s a Bukowski-esque collection of small memories and stories and asides that together paint a picture of New York that is lost to us now. Characters including neighborhood supers, lovable swindlers, local lothsarios, nefarious landlords, and the occasional celebrity (notably John Belushi) all figure heavily into the narrative, alongside the ultimate character — Shopsin's wild and weird, talented and passionate, one-of-a-kind dad.

A friend told me Shopsin writes in tweets, which is almost right, but I think vignettes is more generous. Some are ephemeral. Most are so apt or funny or weirdly profound you want to clip them all out of the book and tape them to your mirror. —Amanda Kludt

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
by Lucy Knisley
First Second

Illustrator Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel Relish is a funny, thoughtful memoir that traces key moments in her life and what it was like to grow up with a gourmet-obsessive father and a mother who worked as a chef. Each chapter is framed by what Knisley was eating at the time, as well as lessons learned from food, cooking, and life in general.

The chapter on Knisley’s trip to Mexico is equal parts heartbreaking and amusing: She gets her first visit from the dreaded Aunt Flo and the only thing to comfort her are the various taquerias and candy shops nearby. (Her mother is absent due to being bedridden by the flu.)

Relish combines three of my favorite things: comics, coming-of-age stories, and food. While it should be read from beginning to end (obviously), each chapter manages to stand out on its own, making it that much easier to fall in love with its vibrant, colorful pages. Every chapter is capped by a recipe, and they’re illustrated — with some text — so if you’re a visual learner, I highly recommend it. —Esra Erol

by Charles Bukowski

Here’s a fictional adaptation of when the LA-based poet and novelist Charles Bukowski was cajoled into writing a screenplay based on his book Barfly, which, seven years after it was published in 1980, was turned into a film. Henry “Hank” Chinaski is Bukowski’s alter-ego in this tale, and between the people and drama he meets and the amount of alcohol he drinks, he lives a life that appears stranger than fiction.

This is Hollywood in the go-go ’80s, when financing for screenplays was more or less freewheeling, and the writer-alcoholic trope was not yet overdone. Maybe the only reason to revisit the book today is for the scenes that describe meals at Musso & Frank Grill, or Musso’s in the book. The restaurant, which has been in operation since 1919, remains a touchstone in Hollywood. Its wooden bar and dimly lit dining rooms are the scenes of power lunches and desperate drinking bouts — for the fictional Chinaski and to this day, in real life. Bukowski’s description of the consistent hospitality of the place may be the truest words he writes in Hollywood: “One of the nicest things about Musso’s was that when I returned again, after fucking up, I was always greeted with warm smiles.” — Daniela Galarza

Editor: Daniela Galarza

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