Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Book Review & Preview: Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs

I don't think this is a big secret, especially to the people who know me (and especially to my family) - I am a little bit of an intellectual snob. However, I'm that one particular type of intellectual snob that likes to spout nonsense about the cultural significance of lowbrowish pop culture phenomena (see: Chuck Klosterman, only less funny and also less of a stoner).

This personality trait - and I do think of it as a trait, rather than a preference - is totally, embarassingly reflected in the piles of books sitting on my bedside table. A handful of respectable food lit is interspersed with stacks and stacks of mindless trash (with really strong characters, if I may defend myself).

But you know what's not there? Chick lit. Oh, you'll find a few prominent chick-ish titles in my bookshelves, but not a whole lot. And the books that are in my house are mostly ones that either someone handed me and I never opened, or I bought in a moment of beachy weakness, but that I never read past page 50. For all my love of the trashily written word, there's something about that genre that just doesn't click with me. And I am not afraid to stop at page 50, skip to the end, read the last chapter, and then put the book away.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I opened my fresh-off-the-presses advance copy of Comfort Food. It's written by Kate Jacobs, who also wrote the wildly popular The Friday Night Knitting Club - one of those books I'd heard of, but I never read.

To be honest, I expected to be bored by the book, and I expected it to set it aside after a few chapters. It's not the subject matter - the story follows a food TV star who sounds much like a thinner, New York-based Paula Deen, as she embarks on a new program and deals with changes at her network (and attempts to accept turning 50). It's interesting and plausible, but it has the potential to slide into standard fare drivel, if not handled correctly.

Fortunately, for me, my preconceived notions couldn't have been more off base. In fact, not only did I not toss the book aside after a few pages, I read it all in one sitting. I started it around 9 pm and finally turned out the light close to 2. It's that entertaining. Kate Jacobs is a good writer. The characters are well-developed and likable, the story is believable and taps into the current celebrity chef fascination (and discussions about the intelligence of the Food Network's recent programming decisions), and overall, it's a good read.

Is it philosophically challenging? No. Will someone who's already into food learn anything dramatically new? Probably not. But it is certainly entertaining, and if you're looking for a reason to stay up late reading, you should definitely check it out.

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