Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Book Report/Home Cooking

As I began reading Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, I could feel an ache in my heart. This is a particular form of ache, one that happens only when I read an author for the first time, an author whose work I love and to whom I feel a deep affinity, and this author is dead. I want Laurie Colwin to be alive. I want to email her or call her up and tell her that I think we could be friends. I also want to tell her that things have changed since 1988, and so many thoughts she had about food have now become the norm, popular, even fashionable.

I think I knew I was going to feel this way, and so have avoided reading her all these years. I heard about her, read snippets of her work, and just knew I would love the writing. I also knew she was dead, had died young (her heart stopped in her sleep when she was 48 years old in 1992), and that she was adored by her readers. But when I read Marcia's review of Happy All The Time, a novel, I decided to buck up and start reading her books. I began with her first book of essays, and have ordered the second one, More Home Cooking. In fact, I just called up my local bookstore yesterday and told the woman who answered, who is a friend, to just order me a bunch of titles. I didn't really care which. I will eventually own all her books.

In a chapter called English Food, she writes about tea in London:

We sat down to tea and I was in heaven. This was the fulfillment of a childhood filled with English children's books. It seemed a wonderful feast to me as a child and now that I am grown up tea is my favorite meal.

Put before us was a plate of bread and butter, a seed cake and a dish of little cakes made with candied cherries. I felt I would never be as happy again as I was that afternoon.

I want to tell Laurie Colwin that she would feel so at home in the internet world. She would find people simpatico with her views on food and home life. I'm sure she would be a blogger, sharing her recipes and funny stories about preparing meals.

From the first words in her introduction, I was nodding my head in recognition.

Unlike some people, who love to go out, I love to stay home. This may be caused by laziness, anxiety or xenophobia, and in the days when my friends were happily traveling to Bolivia and Nepal, I was ashamed to admit that what I liked best was hanging around the house.

I am probably not much fun as a traveler, either. My idea of a good time abroad is to visit someone's house and hang out, poking into their cupboards if they will let me. One summer I spent some time in a farmhouse on the island of Minorca. This was my idea of bliss: a vacation at home (even if it wasn't my home). I could wake up in the morning, make the coffee and wander outside to pick apricots for breakfast. I could wander around markets figuring out that night's dinner. In foreign countries I am drawn into grocery shops, supermarkets and kitchen supply houses. I explain this by reminding my friends that, as I was taught in my Introduction To Anthropology, it is not just the Great Works of mankind that make a culture. It is the daily things, like what people eat and how they serve it.

Since her death, we have had a (little) explosion of works about home-life, and "real" cooking, by such authors as Rosamunde Pilcher, Maeve Binchy, Raffaela Barker, and Jan Karon; and a revived interest in "domestic" writers from the past, like the much-beloved Gladys Taber. We have magazines about cozy homes, with rooms and kitchens that welcome us. Even in this time of "trophy houses", we have little cottages springing up with little cottage gardens. Inside we are baking bread and cookies. We love Mary Engelbreit, and Susan Branch, and Mary Jane Butters. We want to live a life that isn't just rushing around, working outside the home for too many hours. And if we do have to live that life, we want our homes to be there as a beacon, a comfort, a place that is calm with good smells coming from the kitchen.

Even the editor of such an upscale magazine as House & Garden, Dominique Browning, is writing books about the joys of the home and the garden; how they can support us in hard times, and help heal the troubles we feel. I once wrote about Paths of Desire:

I was struck part way through that she is a modern day Gladys Taber. She writes of her home and her garden with an affection and almost reverence which Gladys Taber felt. One is a suburban woman with a high power job, who writes books and columns about her life, and the other was a country woman who wrote articles and books about her life. They share that commitment to their homes.

Laurie Colwin, too, would be nodding in recognition. What a loss for her, and for all of us.


  1. Nan, what a beautiful post this morning! I've been so interested in your quotes from and references to Gladys Taber, that I started searching for her books. They're hard to get hold of nowadays! But I did manage to find a used one, and it arrived in the mail yesterday. I know I'm going to love it. Now I must order some Laurie Colwin, too!

  2. Beautiful, beautiful post! You must print it out and put it somewhere safe, as I think it is such a true definition of who YOU are and what you believe in.

    I haven't read anything by Colwin, but I have several titles on a list for the library. Perhaps I should buy them instead! :)

  3. I'm not familiar with Laurie Colwin, but your post tells me she'll be another of my favorites! I'm off to the library to pay homage to a wonderful author. Sad she's gone.

  4. Thank you all for your very kind responses. You know, I read that all of her works are still in print. That's how good she is and that's how much she is still read and appreciated.

  5. Dear Nan...

    This is such a wonderful post and you've made me want to go and read Laurie Colwin too.

    It's uncanny how you described the sadness you felt at reading her words and wanting her to be alive. That's exactly how I felt when I was reading Gladys Taber for the first was an overwhelming sadness that I knew would never go away.

    Your posts are always wonderful Nan.

  6. Oh, Nan, I was so happy to read your post on Home Cooking. You echo my thoughts of Laurie Colwin and her work. You have inspired me to gather together several of my "gentle" books and to keep them nearby on my reading table as a ready respite at the end of each too full day.

  7. Thank you for such a wonderfully touching post!

  8. Ah, Nan, one of my favorites..I have devoured her cookbooks as well as several fiction titles. Ms. Colwin was an amazing writer, she knew just how to get to the heart of things. I just gave my eldest daughter a copy of Home Cooking, felt like I was introducing her to a special friend.

  9. Thanks, Shelley, I feel that way about Gladys,too. Thanks so much for the compliment.

    Marcia, I'd love to know the titles of your "gentle books." And thank you for the inspiration to finally read Laurie Colwin.

    Thank you, Laura!

    And Rapunzel, it probably won't surprise you that I've been talking the book up to my daughter.

  10. I added a link to your review to my Saturday Review of Books, a weekly round-up of book reviews that I post at my blog Semicolon each Saturday. ( You're welcome to add a link to any reviews you write during the week any Saturday.

  11. Nan - Beautiful post. Laurie Colwin has been a favorite of mine for a long, long time. I first read her columns in Gourmet Magazine (and carefully saved them all!), then got her cookbooks which are so wonderful (more like snippets of life). I own every one of her novels. I feel the same way you do - so sad that she left this life too early. She puts her heart on the page, and it makes the reader feel like they know her personally. Glad you discovered this wonderful writer!

  12. Wow, thanks, Sherry! I went over and visited, and that is a great idea- Saturday Review of Books. And what a list!

    And Wendy, thanks for your nice words. I love how you said, "she puts her heart on the page."

  13. Nan - thanks for visiting my blog, and for *your* nice comments :)


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