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Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites Hardcover – July 9, 2013
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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)
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
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Sort of like Blood , Bones , and Butter , also some Anne Tyler books....You get very engrossed into the character and where it takes her....Why did I , at first, Sort of Back away? I don't like Blue Plate Specials much, as they were in Early New England....my studies with a French Chef, exalted so much more...
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. While I get that we are not all built as cheerful people with good bone structure and boot-strappish tendencies, and that many of us let life happen to us without gaining the perspective that would allow for a learning curve, the point is that we do better when we try. If not, why go on and on about it?
I did smile once reading this - when gluten, that dark horse, raised its guilty, scapegoaty head. If Christensen had only managed to work in more kale while she was at it, she could have changed the title to "a la mode."
All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments by Alex Witchel. And My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) by Luisa Weiss. These were three recent reads that I just devoured. Blue Plate Special just did not have enough foodie mentions for me. It is an easy read though. Each chapter is small and concise and it flows nicely. I believe this would be of interest to Ms. Christensen's fans of her books. She is very honest and forthright with her life.
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It's very readable, and well-written with that as a criterion.Read more