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French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 8, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Peter Mayle, author of the bestselling A Year in Provence has done it again--but differently. Traveling this time beyond his adopted Provence throughout France, the food and travel writer has produced French Lessons, a celebration of many of that country's gastronomic joys. Whether pursuing La Foire de Fromages, the annual cheese fair at Livarot; a Burgundian marathon offering runners Médoc refreshment; or a village truffle mass that concludes with a heady dégustation of the newly blessed tuber, Mayle takes his readers in hand and shows all. Wide-eyed yet knowing, ever affable but with a touch of mischief, he's an ideal companion, the best possible narrator of his lively food adventures.

Mayle's gastronomic baptism occurs when, as a 19-year-old, he dines for the first time in France. "At the first mouthful of French bread and French butter," he writes, "my taste buds, dormant until then, went into spasm." The paroxysm leads to serious food-and-wine perambulations--and, finally, to chapters including "The Thigh-Taster of Vitel" (a frog-eating fete); "Slow Food" (snail love in Martigny les Bains) and "The Guided Stomach" (an investigation of the Michelin Guide restaurant inspection), among others. Readers are also present for a debate on the secret of the perfect omelet; a search for the best possible chicken in Bourg-en-Bresse; and a visit to a St. Tropez restaurant notable for its scantily clad habitués. Those familiar with Mayle's work, and those yet to discover it, are in for a treat. --Arthur Boehm

From Publishers Weekly

In this latest book, part travelogue, part guide to cuisine, Mayle leaves his beloved Provence behind and sets out to experience gastronomic pleasures available at food festivals and celebrations throughout France. The always curious and friendly Mayle befriends colorful locals at such events as a frog's-leg festival in Vitel, where "thigh tasting" is regarded as a reverent act. The best advice when eating escargots, he finds, is that one should eat them "through the nose, not through the eyes." By far the most fascinating and bizarre event is a Catholic mass in the village of Richerenches whose main purpose is giving thanks for the adored, rare and costly black truffle. Mayle's wry, colorful and playful prose effectively conveys just how seriously the French take their food. Simon Jones, who also gave a wonderful reading of Mayle's A Dog's Life, is a highly entertaining performer with a voice and energy reminiscent of John Cleese. Paired with Mayle's witty and unpretentious style, his reading makes listening to this book delicious and satisfying. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (May 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375405909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375405907
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #890,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Author Bill Peschel on July 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It's an assignment that would make even the most jaded writer pick up his pen: Travel around France and report back about the oddest, most unusual ways that it celebrates its cuisine. Frog legs, snails, truffles, poultry, and, of course, its wine. Sheer heaven!
Peter Mayle accepted the challenge and here's the perfect book for curling up on the porch alongside a glass of cool refreshment. "French Lessons" charts a year in Mayle's life as he travels across France, describing with a combination of droll wit and wine-soaked facts (many times, he couldn't read his notes the day after some festival) how a country blessed with not only a variety of climates and cuisines, but also a people willing to spend large amounts of money on their enjoyment thereof.
I am a longtime fan of Mayle's writing, back when he was writing about pastis and other subjects for "European Travel & Life" magazine, but I hope not an uncritical one. I was disappointed in his account of his return to France in "Encore Provence," and "Hotel Pastis" did not engage me at all. Sometimes, I wonder if, with skills learned in the advertising trade, where he was an executive, he doesn't succeed in giving the French a gloss it doesn't otherwise deserve. Certainly, when discussing chickens from Bresse, the only poultry to have its own label (called appellation contrôlée), he touches only in passing, how most chickens we eat are raised (if we may call it that) in horrible conditions. Not for nothing is it called factory farming.
But "French Lessons" went down like a lightly garlic-flavored escargot. This is a book which celebrates eating and drinking well, and is a balm to the soul as well as incentive for the appetite.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Last year I was lucky enough to take a month long holiday in the south of France. Naturally, "French Lessons" is one of the books I chose to take with me.
"French Lessons" is vintage Peter Mayle. While I enjoy Mayle's fiction as a light and fun change of pace, I really think he is at the top of his form when writing non-fiction. "French Lessons," like the classic, "A Year in Provence," is simply charming. There is just no other way to describe it. The book charms and beguiles you; you lose yourself in it and time just flies. No one seems better able to describe the "real" France than Peter Mayle. And it shows. Most definitely.
Just as with Mayle's previous non-fiction books, I found I could relate to just about everything he wrote in "French Lessons." I had had similar experiences in Provence, in Paris, in the Loire, in Burgundy. One can learn about more than food in this book; Mayle also details the social customs of the areas and the idiosyncrasies of the people. I learned there are people who attend Mass to give thanks for the truffle, a festival where snails are eaten by the dozen and washed down with Gewurztraminer, and an actual "cheese hall of fame" in the town of Livarot. The person honored with the award from this particular hall of fame is expected to eat as much livarot cheese as possible. In another such festival, frogs' legs are the celebrated foodstuff. The annual celebration of the bleu footed poulet in Bourg-en-Bresse and the Marathon du Medoc made for especially hilarious reading.
Mayle takes us from region to region and from town to town...all in the name of great food. We visit festivals, restaurants, chateaux and so many town squares, I lost count.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on May 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is another wonderful book by Mr. Mayle. It is interesting, informative and very funny. I think some critics give Mr. Mayle the short end of the stick, as it is sometimes felt that his books are just "fluff". What's wrong with being entertaining, though? And if anyone bothers to take a careful look, Mr. Mayle is a very, very good writer. His sentences are polished gems, and I would put him right up there with the best novelists in terms of sheer writing ability.
If you like France and you like food, you will like this book. Mr. Mayle travels around going to various festivals that celebrate the eating of snails, or frogs legs, or cheese, etc. There are a couple of absolutely hilarious chapers, one dealing with the "beautiful people" being undressed for lunch in a seaside restaurant in St. Tropez, and the other dealing with going to a health spa, French style. (You have the choice between eating off of the low calorie menu or the gourmet menu. Caloric content is not given on the gourmet menu. After all, this is France!)
Scoop this book up as quickly as you can and enjoy every bite. Bon Appetit!
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. McKeon on May 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Since "A Year in Provence" is such a charming memoir I was prompted to read Mayle's subsequent works in the now Provence series. However, while amusing, the latter works pale in comparison with the jewel like quality of the original. Though entertaining "Tourjours Provence" was a disappointing "sequel." Last year after reading "Encore Provence" I felt that Mayle had squeezed out all the juice he could get from the "Provencial" rind. So, with trepidation and low expectations I bought "French Lessons" and was pleasantly surprised.
While not nearly as clever or heart warming as his initial work, "French Lessons" is fun, entertaining, and will heighten your appetite. It is an ideal work for the Francophile, or simply the reader who wishes to travel vicariously to France. It is a perfect summer beach, or long plane ride book.
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