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My wife and I host a book club, and last night we had our four year anniversary (our book club, we've been married seventeen years). We started this book club because for a few years I had tagged along to my wife's book club, which was all women. That wore on me a bit, and I think I cramped the ladies' style over time too. So we set out to create a book club for men and women (we mostly have couples as members), and we also wanted to read a greater variety of books. In the previous book club, we read fiction exclusively; in our book club we pick a non-fiction book about one-third of the time. Personally, I like participating in a book club because it forces me to read types of books and authors that I would never otherwise read. Sometimes, I confirm why I don't like certain books, sometimes I find something entirely new to appreciate, sometimes I find something I might have read and disliked when I was younger, but now can understand its' merits. Over the course of these four years I have found that my wife and I have different views on reading, and in many ways they are similar to our views on food.

When it comes to books and food, I'm a junkie. I like and will eat just about anything. Sure there are things I don't like, Hemingway, Brussels sprouts, Conservative flamethrowers, headcheese, etc., but I really like and appreciate just about anything. My wife, on the other hand is very utilitarian when it comes to reading. She needs to feel like she almost always is doing something useful. Food serves a similar purpose, and it generally should be good for you, reading serves a purpose, so what you read should educate, expand etc. As a result of this split we really have some major differences on anything she generally classifies as sub-par fiction and many kinds of food. Any fiction we read needs to be high quality and make you better somehow by reading it. Now, she will enjoy a trashy sort of book or junk food from time to time, just for fun--typically on an airplane or vacation. Something like Janet Evanovich (one or two, not the whole series) and french fries or Sophie Kinsella and funnel cakes, Tom Clancy and bacon etc.

She really hates it, though, when we read a book for the club that she does not find any better than the literary confections I just mentioned. I tend to disagree, however, because for me, I can really appreciate a big greasy cheeseburger from time to time. I really like it when a cheeseburger is not "run of the mill" but still manages to incorporate the quintessential nature of a cheeseburger: hot, swiss, onions and thick--the kind you can't put down because its just so much of a mess. Once you pick it up you're committed. I'm thinking something like Ben Elton's High Society, or Henry Miller's Sexus. I try to explain to her that even if you don't like parts or implications of some books, there remains significant value. In any case, I think we will continue to differ here, but there's nothing wrong with that.

As I was contemplating this line of comparison, it seems as though food pairings can really provide a good way to place a book in context while at the same time reflect the reader's reaction to it. I am a regular reader and participant in plf515's Friday morning, "What Are You Reading," diaries, and I think food descriptions could be a fun way to provide more insight into a piece of writing without revealing so much of the particular details of the piece. Someone who has read the work can agree with your description, or they can suggest something better. Someone who has not read the book might get a better idea as to whether it might be their cup of tea. In any case, I think its a fun way to describe a book. Here's a few to get the ball rolling:

I really like Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide or Dirk Gently  Holistic Detective. He really was such a clever man. His writing is very funny, but there's a quality to it that certainly rises above a cheeseburger. So here's Douglas Adams--A Portabello Mushroom Reuben, a bit fatty and greasy, very tasty, but better for you since you swap corned beef out for mushrooms.

Here's a simple straight-forward one, Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat--Alfalfa Sprouts with a Plate of Mashed Yeast. Somewhat good for you, but horrible to eat and artless to boot.

Balzac's Lost Illusions and The Harlot High and Low, a Seven Course French Meal, with no less than 3 different accompanying wines lasting for over three hours. Yes, you do have to read both, one picks up where the other left off, and you have to know how the story ends.

A good informative DailyKos diary--Dry-roasted, Unsalted Almonds, wholly satisfying, and something that keeps you going during the day.

Andrew Bacevich's The Limits of Power--Spinach and Low-fat Cottage Cheese Dip with garlic eaten with whole wheat pita bread. Very tasty, very good for you and entirely worth eating/reading.

Lastly, the novel from which my username is taken, Robertson Davies' What's Bred in the Bone, Monkfish Sauteed in Butter, Fennel and Lemon with freshly grilled asparagus accompanied by a clean New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Find out what kind of book you think it is.

Originally posted to FrankCornish on Sat Feb 28, 2009 at 09:13 AM PST.

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