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An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher [Hardcover]

Anne Zimmerman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 15, 2011
America's preeminent food writer and culinary grande dame, M.F.K. Fisher has influenced today's finest chefs, culinary writers, and legions of rabid readers and eaters.

Fisher's career began in the 1930s and spanned decades, her glittering prose blending musings on food, love, sex, and the pleasures of eating well and reveling in the senses. With her dozens of books including Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf and The
Gastronomical Me, she  pioneered an entirely new sensibility, daring to suggest that food be enjoyed sensually. In this age of celebrity chefs and "reality" food programming, her essays return the conversation to the simple, often intensely personal experience of food and dining--whether it's a five-course affair or the mysteries of the fried egg sandwich.

An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher, through painstaking research and her private papers and correspondence, traces Fisher's own appetites -- both professional and private.

We see how she birthed the genre of food writing. We follow her unhappy first marriage, travels through Europe, the United States, and Mexico ... to the suicide of her great love, and later, her brother. The complete saga, a story never fully told in M.F.K. Fisher's autobiographical work, describes the sometimes turbulent, always passionate intersection of food and personal desire.

Anne Zimmerman keeps her voracious appetite filled in the city of San Francisco where she lives and writes about food and wine.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Zimmerman, a contributor to, explores the privileged yet emotionally turbulent world of the pioneering American food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher. In her sympathetic yet critical biography of the life behind Fisher's celebrated writings, Zimmerman finds a passionate woman defined by "lifelong hungers." Using access to Fisher's private letters and with help from the family, Zimmerman paints Fisher's emotions and discoveries that she realized in those moments where her personality and adventurous palette intersect. "Her desire for food, for love and for attention of any kind, was relentless," writes Zimmerman. "Food helped her understand the world." In turn, Zimmerman's carefully crafted narrative urges readers to connect Fisher's expanding self-awareness to the literary career she built. It also maps the unique tastes Fisher found, then sensuously described along her way from a California childhood to her European (mostly French) and Mexican odysseys; three marriages; and the suicides of her second husband, Tim Parrish, in 1941 followed by that of her brother David a year later. This focused, smart, and engaging view serves MFK Fisher as both culinary writer and cultural icon. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The hunger for more and more insight into the life of M. F. K. Fisher continues unabated. Zimmerman draws on the archives of Fisher�s papers for this detailed account of the early years of the great gastronome and food writer. Although information on Fisher�s youth in Whittier, California, is sketchy and incomplete, the aesthetic pleasures of good eating attracted her early on, and she was able to focus herself on the details of tastes, smells, and colors of just about everything she put in her mouth. College, first in Illinois, then back in California, introduced her to a host of new friends and to her first husband, Al Fisher. Embarking on a honeymoon abroad, they eventually ended up in Dijon, France, which proved to be her spiritual home. Zimmerman details the marriage�s breakup, Fisher�s remarriage, her second husband�s suicide, and her contrarian attitudes about life and love. --Mark Knoblauch

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582435464
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582435466
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anne Zimmerman believed there was more to the life of famed food writer M.F.K. Fisher than the stories she told in her autobiographical books and essays. Fisher's writings about food were ripe and evocative: she viewed meals as one of the central characters in the most profound moments in her life. Yet there was a sadness to her work too, pain that hinted at a life filled with darkness and despair.

In An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher, Zimmerman seeks to illuminate the most colorful years of M.F.K. Fisher's life. Relying on unpublished letters and journals, she explores Fisher's time in Europe with her first husband, her re-marriage, her second husband's suicide, and the pleasures of cooking and table that made Fishers' life transcendent.

An Extravagant Hunger reveals the personal story behind some of M.F.K. Fisher's most beloved gastronomical writings: Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, and The Gastronomical Me.

Anne Zimmerman was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. She attended Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, and received a Master's degree from San Diego State University. A West Coast girl, she has lived in Portland, Seattle, and San Diego but currently call San Francisco's busy Mission neighborhood home.

When not writing, she scours the internet and flips through piles of cookbooks and past Gourmet Magazines, making lists of things to cook and bake. She insists on reading the printed version of the New York Times whenever possible. She always send thank-you notes.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for M.F.K. Fisher fans and foodies alike February 17, 2011
Utilizing information painstakingly gathered during years of coast-to-coast research, biographer Anne Zimmerman leads the reader through Fisher's formative years as an author, delving into her complex relationships with family, friends and lovers along the way. As one would expect in the biography of a beloved gastronome, Zimmerman's account often evokes the pleasures of the table--documenting everything from Fisher's simple peasant meals in Mexico to mouth-watering feasts in France.

A page-turner until the end, the book recounts Fisher's personal struggles, scandals, passions, and triumphs in a voice that is almost fond yet always candid. Fans of Fisher will delight in finding her unique, rich voice liberally sprinkled throughout, as excerpts from her private journals and published works seamlessly weave with Zimmerman's easy, flowing narrative. Fisher's numerous exploits and adventures will leave the reader often astounded yet always rooting for the woman whose unapologetic pursuit of pleasure could never be tamed.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Readable March 18, 2011
I have begun referring to MFK Fisher as the Virginia Woolf of the cucina. I intend the parallel to suggest that so much has been written and continues to be written about the life of Virginia Woolf. How much more can a body stand? Such is also the case with MFK Fisher. After exhausting her own writing, I moved on to the letters and then the writing of others about her. Then I read the Reardon bio and another Reardon edited collection entitled "A Story or a Stew." Friends told me that yet another Reardon production lies out there somewhere, but I was quite sated by all the Fisherama. So, when I read that yet another book about Fisher was set for publication, one that examined her youth, her marriage to and divorce from Al Fisher, as well as her relationship with Parrish, I could not imagine what more could be written? What more unearthed? Well, I am pleased to report that Anne Zimmerman has penned quite the engaging biography, one that moves beyond and behind the somewhat steely narrative Fisher presents to the world in her own writing. Apparently Zimmerman had access to papers others did not and from these she creates a thoughtful and thought provoking work. Now that I am moving toward the end of it, I find myself purposely putting the book aside hoping to drag out its pleasure -- what better recommendation can one offer? So whether you are a Fisher Aficionado or a newcomer, you will enjoy Zimmerman's work.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You're better off reading Fisher's work April 20, 2011
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I am a huge fan of MFK Fisher and have sought out books about her life over the years because I was curoius about some things that she didn't say in her own works. However, for me, this current brief biography, An Extravagant Hunger, didn't cut the mustard, so to speak.

As I was reading this book I was trying to figure out why it wasn't working, and after I finished I realized it's because it reads like someone's college term paper. There are a ton of quotes from Fisher's works, to the point where I felt the author might as well have just lifted the relevant paragraphs directly out of her books, rather than trying to constantly paraphrase her. I am sorry to seem harsh, but it reminded me of the way I was taught to write term papers in high school - "packed with facts" (thanks, Mr. Doucette!). There's little insight by the author. It's more just a narrative, and an occasionally repetitive one, and this surprises me since the author states she had access to a lot of papers and letters of Fisher's which provided new information. It seemed to me that most of what was said in this book can be gleaned from reading Fisher's own works.

Also, in covering only "the passionate years", the book feels like it rushes at the beginning and rushes again towards to end, to sort-of cover Fisher's entire life in 236 short pages. This technique did not work well for me. Although I'm fairly familiar with her life story, I felt like the author was being lazy in only covering part of her subject's life, and that not too thoroughly.

Although well-intentioned, this one is not a keeper for me, and I recommend that readers who are interested in Fisher's work actually read her books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anne Zimmerman Has Done It Again! December 6, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Anne Zimmerman has an eye for what is important about M.F.K. Fisher. Forget the food - one finishes this book with an appreciation for Fisher's wants and needs in her life. I loved it. BTW, downloaded the book from Kobo. Sorry, Amazon. Thanks Anne Zimmerman!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Compelling September 26, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
I confess: I had only a vague idea of who M.F.K. Fisher was until I read this book. But, now that I've read Anne Zimmerman's beautiful portrayal of her life, I'm absolutely fascinated by this amazing woman, her writings and her life. What a compelling life story! I highly recommend "An Extravagant Hunger" as Anne's detailed research, easy-to-read storytelling and lighthearted prose combine to create a fun, easy and fascinating read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hugely disappointing July 14, 2012
By KayPac
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a decades-long MFK Fisher fan, I had hoped to learn something new by reading this volume. Instead, I found this to be largely a re-hash of previously published material written by MFK herself. This author's hop-scotch coverage of MFK's life results in huge holes in her story; in fact, there is more biographical information missing than included. For a more comprehensive biography on MFK, the reader can't do better than delving into Poet of the Appetites by Joan Reardon. For a more lyrical version, of course, one simply cannot do better than reading MFK's own books -- all of which were better proofread than this one.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An Extravagant Hunger.
I would recommend reading Among Friends along with this book for those who have enjoyed the books by MFK Fisher. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Agatha
1.0 out of 5 stars An Extravagant Hunger: the Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher by Anne...
Not worth the money - extremely boring. I was hoping for more than the book gave me. It would have been better to choose another book about France
Published 19 months ago by Patricia S. Undercuffler
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read about an icon
As someone who had only a passing familiarity with MFK Fisher, I was assigned this book as part of a writing class. Read more
Published on June 13, 2012 by M. Dunkerley
5.0 out of 5 stars Filling in the blanks
It's hard to read MFK Fisher's work without wanting to know the real story behind the fresh-peas-for-lunch vignettes. Read more
Published on April 29, 2012 by K. Leahy
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes me right into the world of M.F.K. Fisher!
What a beautiful book! Not only has Anne Zimmerman created a fascinating biographical account of M.F.K. Read more
Published on January 5, 2012 by Alana Chernila
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Satisfying
Whether you are a well-read fan of MFK Fisher, a "foodie" or simply looking for a good read, you won't be disappointed with Anne Zimmerman's inside look at a fascinating woman. Read more
Published on January 4, 2012 by Bookworm for Life
5.0 out of 5 stars An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher
I read this book after attending a reading by Anne Zimmerman at the S.F. Public Library. I was captivated by the passages that Anne read and immediately began reading the book. Read more
Published on January 3, 2012 by Karen Salinger
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
This book kept me reading late into the night! I'm a huge fan of MFK Fisher, but knew nothing about her life, and this book really illuminated so many things about her. Read more
Published on January 3, 2012 by Amelia P Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars the real thing
I met Ms Fisher a number of times, I drew her for an article in the SFChronicle, she charmed my then 10 year-old son with her re-telling of Sister Age, and I had a pretty good idea... Read more
Published on January 3, 2012 by cabbage
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