I had only read about a third of Dinner: A Love Story before I was instant messaging my mom and saying, “Have you heard about this book or blog? You need to read it right away.”
Of course when you go with the “haven’t-actually-finished-the-book” method of recommending, you live a bit in fear that you’ll be picking up the phone 50 pages later and shouting “Nevermind! Don’t bother! So sorry to have wasted your time. Please tell me you haven’t bought it yet.” Happily, this book finished as strongly as it started. I loved every page of this book (good thing, too, since my Mom had already texted me to say she’d purchased her own copy).
Dinner: A Love Story is divided into three sections – the first one is about Jenny and Andy’s early married life, where their commitment to family dinners began and they started learning how to really cook, the second is about the early years of parenting their two daughters and trying to still have some semblance of dinners (you’ll notice an emphasis on quick and easy dinners in this section, not to mention more than a couple of references to cocktails), and the third, amusingly subtitled “The Years the Angels Began to Sing”), about family dinners as their children grow older (now in third and fourth grade, I believe) and things are a little more calm.
Each section is liberally sprinkled with recipes, amusing letters between Jenny and Andy (he mentions how she has turned him into a dessert fiend), and suggestions for how to make dinner less crazy, especially when your children are picky, change their minds about what foods are tolerable every day or two, and would really prefer to just eat chicken nuggets every single night. There are also menus and ideas for party hosting and involving your children/non-cooking spouse in the dinner process. Seriously, the whole thing is a gold mine.
The key to a first person narrative is how much you like that person, and I liked Jenny instantly. On the one hand, her life is so intensely different than mine – a high-profile career in the magazine industry, years as a working mom, living in New York – but in other ways, we have important things in common. We’re both mothers, we both love food and cooking, and we both care deeply about feeding our families. She is so likeable, so funny, so real, and so non-judgemental that it’s hard for me to believe ANYONE wouldn’t like her.
I found this book to be a completely immersive experience – I wasn’t popping in and reading a couple of pages and then dashing off to do something else. I was just enjoying every moment of it, envisioning life in New York, and remembering clearly the strangeness of those first couple of weeks with a newborn, and thinking about my own childhood dinners (for some reason, the thing I remember most clearly about dinner in my home is that I never liked those little chow mein noodles we had with Hawaiian Haystacks which the rest of the world seem obsessed with). Everything about this book just delighted me – I can’t think of the last book where I just savored every page like this. Maybe The Happiness Project?
One of the things I loved about this book was the photographs. Some of them, of course, are beauitful photos of food and, no surprise, I’m a sucker for those kinds of photos. But the photos that really drew me in were the ones of her girls or their family in the middle of their everyday routines – eating dinner, doing homework, blurry children sprinting across the dinging room. They brought such personality and realism to the whole book and they just, no kidding, warmed my heart. They made me anxious for fall and winter, when I can cook some really warm foods and listen to Christmas music. (Also, I seem to recall that I own a few sweaters that I like).
Not every recipe in this book appeals to me (in fact, I’d say many of them do not – they seem to eat a lot more meat than we do), but there were plenty of them that I’m eager to try and the whole book kickstarted my brain into imagining more ways to make dinner interesting and fun for all three of us.
I handed my copy to a friend last week who was asking about it and she flipped through a few pages and made a comment that I’d thought myself as I read it, “This is just a beautiful book. It’s just pleasant to hold.” I couldn’t agree more.
I have looked at her blog a couple of times before this (as it’s been mentioned o n blogs I read regularly over the last couple of years), but I haven’t subscribed to it. You can bet though I’ve subscribed now.
I’m a little worried, frankly, that when I do my top 10 book list at the end of the year, it’s going to be 90% non-fiction.
Copy checked out fom my local library