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Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites Hardcover – July 9, 2013

3.5 out of 5 stars 127 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Christensen (The Great Man) describes her 1970s upbringing in Arizona in this unpretentious memoir. The oldest daughter of a Marxist lawyer and Waldorf-educated cellist, Christensen always modeled herself after her tough, uncompromising, iconoclastic father, whose manic rages nonetheless ruptured the family, sending the Christensen, her mother, and two sisters to start life in Tempe, Ariz., where her mother took up graduate studies in psychology. The three girls flourished, immersed in the era's consciousness-raising feminist literature and instant or experimental food, recipes for which Christensen dandles along her narrative without much ado (e.g., farmers fritters, camping peas ). Her efficient, chronological chapters treat some of the details those years, such as her mother's boyfriends and her own crushes, even the sexual predator at the Waldorf school she attended briefly in high school in Spring Valley, N.Y., but mostly the undercurrent eddies around the author's persistent loneliness, which she indulged by solitary writing and gorging on comfort food like bread and granola. A stint in France (flageolets en pissenlits ), followed by college in Portland at Reed, graduate school in Iowa City, and work in New York round out this frank memoir, with appropriate culinary offerings for the writer's darker moods (Bachelorette puttanesca ). (July)

From Booklist

Novelist Christensen (The Astral, 2011) pegs her tangy memoir of a peripatetic life to the endless quest for sustenance and the nurturing of the self. In her first food memory, she’s just eaten her favorite breakfast, soft-boiled eggs, when her father viciously attacks her mother. An “anxious and overly responsible” child, she vows to help her mother and relies on books for solace and enlightenment. “I began with eating and moved on to cooking just as I began with reading and moved on to writing.” Christensen tracks her food and literary adventures from California to Arizona, France, upstate New York, Oregon, Iowa, New York City, and New England, through tumultuous relationships and jobs as varied as short-order cook and corporate secretary. Harmonizing with her nostalgia for childhood comfort food, or “blue plate specials,” Christensen writes with savory, home-cooked clarity as she digs deeply into the pleasures and dangers of food, charting the culinary fads of the 1960s on as well as changes to women’s lives while zestfully telling intimate, harrowing, and hilarious tales of appetites corrosive and nourishing. Recipes included. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First American Edition edition (July 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385536267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385536264
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.3 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #246,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By N. B. Kennedy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This memoir about author Kate Christensen's life is a compulsively readable account of a truly odd upbringing and an itinerant (and extended) young adulthood. The author frames the circumstances of her life around three dominant themes: food and sex, and to a lesser extent, writing. Her ravenous hunger for each makes the subtitle of this book, "An Autobiography of My Appetites," more than apt.

The first part of the book, dealing with her early life as the child of hippie parents, was fascinating, though at the same time disturbing. I had a lot of sympathy for the young Kate Christensen. I wish parents would realize how profoundly their self-centeredness affects their children for life.

My interest in the author's descriptions of food lasted for the entire book, but I must say I quickly lost interest in her adult life, soaked as it is in alcohol and lust. As the book progresses, the author morphs into a person I didn't particularly like. She estranges herself from her mother and her sister, and writes prettily about it: "Susan and I had some minor sisterly spat one day over a lunch of pierogis and borscht at a Polish place on Second Avenue." The "spat" turns into years of estrangement, to the point that they pass each other on the street without acknowledging each other. It isn't until her mother becomes gravely ill that they all patch things up.

I suspect alcohol had a lot to do with her difficult life and fractious relationships, as it does for so many writers. "I drank excessively out of my chronic and ongoing sense of self-loathing, to escape myself, to flee the annoying chirpiness of my too clear, too verbal brain, so recently educated, so freshly imbued with the powers of literary analysis and writerly dogma," she writes. Yet her rationalizing fell flat for me.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really wanted to love this book, but I missed the memo that said anyone wanting to string together a chain of 50 years' of "what I did this summer"-caliber essays can staple it together with unrelated recipes and call it a day. Theo Nestor, in "How to Sleep Alone in a King-size Bed," manages to hinge the narrative of her entire divorce on one roast chicken, like a coat on a hanger. Claire Dederer, in "Poser," deftly weaves the chapters of her memoir with a set of yoga poses. Each figured out a way to describe how astonishing it is when hardship, heartbreak and joy collide with everyday life, resulting in the relatable moments when we find ourselves grieving as we pack a lunch, diffuse with new love as we brush the dog, or coming to hard decisions or new self-awareness as we drag the recycling to the curb.
Blue Plate Special could easily have been entitled "all the apartments and jobs and guys I ever knew." The foodie bits were disappointing, repetitive, and contradictory (I ate everything/nothing. I ate the same thing every day for a long time. Then later, I ate a different same thing every day for a long time). I slogged through it, waiting for humor, or an insight or two from a voice, that, instead of just narrating this unhappy life, might uplift it a bit into something relevatory, comforting, or interesting. Alas.
This book wants (though doesn't try very hard) to be in the brat pack of Isabel Gillies/India Knight-ish books - that "yes, I'm a little neurotic but shit, life is still fun if you can roll with the punches, slap some flowers in a jar, and still go Maine every summer" genre.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Blue Plate Special," a memoir by writer Kate Christensen, begins when she is about two years old with a memory that will haunt her for the rest of her life. If anyone doubts the tremendous influence of parents on their children, both for good and ill, you have only to read this searing and effective memoir. At two, Kate sees her adored but remote father beat her overwhelmed mother at the breakfast table and then leave for work as if it were an ordinary day. This event, and others like it, forever affects the way Kate responds to men and influences nearly every choice of man that she makes throughout her life. Choosing unsuitable men is one major motif of this book, and the reader suffers along with Kate as she struggles with each one. Not until she is in her forties does she resolve parental issues and make a superb choice in a partner.

This book is very well written, and, as the summary notes, each event in Kate's life is described at least partly in terms of food or the absence of food. For me, this was some of her best writing. No matter what she is describing, whether it is a simple soft cooked egg or a more complex chicken tagine, she makes the food sound great. Her writing here reminded me of Ernest Hemingway (though I suspect she would abhor this comparison)--but Hemingway could describe food so that you wanted to go fishing, catch a trout, and cook it over an open fire on the side of the stream. These food descriptions are like that, and Christensen includes one or two recipes at the end of every section of the book.

Kate's mother eventually leaves her father, taking Kate and her two younger sisters with her. Though this is Kate's story.
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