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Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher Hardcover – October 14, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Writer M.F.K. Fisher, born in 1908 to an upper-middle-class American family, dabbled in various schools and made her society debut before marrying and heading to France to set up housekeeping. That she eventually abandoned her husband for her friend's husband, began writing about the art of eating and went on to become a distinctive literary and gastronomic stylist has created her image as a sensualist, but culinary historian Reardon finds that Fisher was actually "self-absorbed," and "at times a destructive woman." As if to demystify Fisher's sensualist image, Reardon details her life in workmanlike, almost sterile prose. Who stopped by for tea and who picked up the newspapers is followed by a sentence recording the suicide of Fisher's brother or a lover's death. On rare occasions when Reardon's opinion surfaces, it's usually negative: she disapproves of Fisher's child-rearing skills, of Fisher's affair with an older woman, of Fisher's open-door availability in the years before she died in 1992. Scholars may find this volume useful, but devotees of Fisher's writing will find that one big question still remains: how did a woman with such straightlaced roots become one of the world's most delightfully irreverent bon vivantes? Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

America's most lauded food writer, M. F. K. Fisher, has left so exhaustive a record of her life in her many treatises that a biography may seem superfluous. Yet, upon burrowing into Fisher's oeuvre, Reardon discovered that Fisher not only had no qualms about embellishing details of her remarkable career but also was not above outright fabrication. Working from the sources, Reardon reconstructs what she can of the truth of Fisher's life. She does not repeat details, for those can be found in Fisher's books, but Reardon fleshes out her subject's significant others. Reardon's ample gifts become especially apparent in her perceptive portrait of the shadowy Al Fisher, Mary Frances' poet husband. Al's enthusiastic aestheticism and his inherited repressive tendencies seemed to preclude his ever achieving the recognition he deserved. Mary Frances's quasi-libidinous libertinism and her determination to experience life in all its permutations made the initially promising marriage's dissolution inevitable. For all the love expressed in Fisher's prose, she could be brittle and cruel, as even her children discovered. Reardon's exceptional prose puts a human face on this icon. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (October 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865475628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865475625
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,186,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Culinary historian, cookbook author, and biographer Joan Reardon is the author of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters; M.F.K. Fisher Among the Pots and Pans; Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher; and Oysters: a Culinary Celebration. Reardon, who has a Ph.D. in English literature, won an IACP Award for culinary writing, publishes and edits a quarterly newsletter for Les Dames d'Escoffier Chicago, and serves on the advisory board of Gastronomica magazine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on September 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Joan Reardon's intimate biography of the food writer MFK Fisher quite a lot but the pleasures of reading it deepened into dispiriting reflections on how intrusive biography can be. Taking its title from an inane description of Fisher;s writing by John Updike, POET OF THE APPETITE peers almost literally into the abyss, the destruction and mixed feelings left behind by a talented, "play-acting" lady's sweep through life. Reardon details the events of Fisher's three marriages almost as though she'd been there, and she brings to life some long affairs as well. Before reading this book, I don't remember knowing that Fisher had often had to fight off members of her own sex, and occasionally she succumbed, bragging about it later. In contrast to the three dimensionality imparted to Fisher's male lovers, it is perhaps unfortunate that Reardon seems unwilling to portray the estimable Marietta Voorhees as anything other than a quarrelsome, needy, aged and ugly pest, whose function in Fisher's life was to whine and to fret about her mother.

Meanwhile a comparable affair with a man, her late in life hook up with Esuqire editor and Hemingway buddy Arbold Gingrich, a married man no less, is presented as kind of cute in that old-lovers Cocoon way.

Most distasteful is Reardon's prompt, efficient way of laying out the whole sad story of Anna Parrish, Fisher's younger daughter. After reading the facts of her life in this book, how could poor Anna ever raise her head high again? Reardon eviscerates her as a hedonistic hippie who let her toddler walk across a six lane highway unattended, while she was having a manic episode on a commune. I guess part of the point is that Fisher's karma finally caught up with her.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By GEM on October 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I, too, was greatly impressed by MFK Fisher's books - they had everything -- an appreciation of food, wine, travel, writing, husbands, lovers, children and always money. Yet, my appreciation of these tales, I think, reveal a retarded adolescence on my part.

Reardon's biography is well written, very informative, and considerate. It is the work of someone who is grown, mature. MFK Fisher never grew up. And I think that's what is at the heart of some readers dislike for her. To blame the biographer for this is shooting the messenger.

It's clear from this biography that MFK Fisher's personality did not grow beyond the age of 16 or so. Her children were props to her romance of her life. It was beyond cruel not to reveal the father of her daughter. I think that Reardon had to deal with some bad feelings of her own about MFK -- the mystification that occurs when people we admire do not seem admirable at all. From there, how do we accept their work -- do we decide that the artist's life has nothing to do with the work?

The romance Fisher created of herself, the mirror she created in her work, should have been obvious to me as a reader. No one's life could be so fluently lived. Yet, I can also see that her theatrics must have been quite compelling, very enlivening...but not real.

There is a darkness to her character that Reardon describes but never actually states. So I end up seeing this biography as completely necessary because MFK Fisher is part of our culture. She inspired many imaginations -- culinary, literary, everyday. But it was all a romance... a dark romance of someone in love with her image -- an adolescent.

This is a first rate biography for its fairness, its scholarship, and its clear writing.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
`Poet of the Appetites, The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher' by Joan Reardon is, obviously, a biography of America's greatest culinary essayist. It is important to distinguish Ms. Fisher's subject from her great contemporaries, Julia Child and James Beard, who wrote about food and cooking. The point of the title of this book is that Ms. Fisher wrote about eating and the enjoyment of eating.

Ms. Reardon is eminently qualified to do the biography of Ms. Fisher, as she was a friend and associate of Ms. Fisher for several years and a commentator on her works in earlier writings. Her main problem was that the eminent writing stylist, Ms. Fisher wrote so many memoirs on various parts of her own life that it may have been hard to compete with her subject.

In Ms. Reardon's favor is the fact that Ms. Fisher had a tendency to `play fast and loose with her renditions of events' (quote from Ms. Reardon's introduction). This means that while Ms. Fisher's description of, for example, her early 1930s life with her first husband in Dijon in `Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon' may be more interesting to read than Ms. Reardon's account of the same period, Joan Reardon is more likely to be giving us the unvarnished story.

Part of my problem in reading this biography may have been the fact that I knew relatively little of Ms. Fisher's life. Unlike my reading the biographies of Julia Child and James Beard, I had no sense of anticipation to discover how, for example, Julia Child acquired her passion for French cooking.

My exposure up to this point had been a brief essay by James Villas on an encounter with Ms. Fisher late in her career.
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