I have to warn you: there’s only one fiction title on this month’s Must Reads list. Not that there isn’t wonderful fiction to be found – my shelves are groaning with books I’ve yet to read – but this time of year is when the really wonderful eye candy books start to appear. The best cookbooks, design books, cheery gift books – all things you’d want to give someone for, say, a holiday that’s coming up on you faster than a freight train. I’m holding a few back for the holidays, but some are just too good to keep from you for one more moment.
Just promise me you won’t let the shortage of traditional page-turners deter you – whatever their genre, more than a few of these books are just begging to be read cover to cover.
Mastering the Art of French Eating, Ann Mah (Pamela Dorman Books): A memoir about living in Paris, and eating your way through France? It’s like she wrote it just for me. Ann Mah married a diplomat, moved to Paris, and began a Julia Child-esque exploration of the history of France’s signature foods. You’ll love it if you’re a foodie or a Francophile…it’s full of humor, heart, and helpful hints. I’m on Chapter 2, and already I’ve learned that I’ve been ordering my steak frites wrong in every Parisian café I’ve ever visited.
The Translator, Nina Schuyler (Pegasus Books): The only bona fide fiction on this month’s list, this beautifully-written book weaves together three distinct stories: a Japanese author, the book he’s written, and the woman who’s translating it into English. I promise you, you’ll be hooked by the end of the first paragraph.
A Compendium of Collective Nouns, Woop Studios (Chronicle): Gift alert! I want to give this tome of adorableness to every graphic designer, English major and small child I know. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of the craziest collective nouns in the English language, complete with illustrations so sweet, you’ll be tempted to tear the book apart and frame the pages, just so that you can have a Mob of Kangaroos on your wall.
An Invitation to Chateau du Grand-Lucé, Timothy Corrigan (Rizzoli): This is not a design book. That is to say, it’s not one of those stuffy design books you put on your coffee table, glance through occasionally, and never deal with again. Timothy Corrigan went to France, bought a Neoclassical chateau, and went through the process of restoring it to its former glory (while bringing it into the 21st century). The photos are amazing, but it’s the history and the journey Corrigan undertook that will have you reading this surprisingly well-written beauty from cover to cover.
SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine, Shelley Lindgren & Matthew Accarrino (Ten Speed Press): For those not familiar, SPQR is a Michelin-starred carboholic’s candyland in San Francisco. I was so very excited to see their new cookbook, though if I’m honest, most of the recipes are probably beyond my skill level (or at least my dedication level) – there are three pages of detail on how to butcher a suckling pig. But if you’re a foodie, it’s a fascinating read. A thorough history of Italian food, regional ingredients and eccentricities, and enough information about wine to make you feel at least moderately confident the next time you order a bottle off a particularly daunting wine list.
Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird, Gabriel Rucker & Meredith Erickson (Ten Speed Press): I fell for this book when, in the last line of the introduction, Andrew Fortgang (who manages the front of the house at Le Pigeon) tells you if you need help pairing a wine with a recipe in this book, just call him at the restaurant. I have no trouble believing this hilarious duo would happily take your call, and might even FedEx you a cork or two to sniff. Sure, some of the recipes are a little out there (ahem, a whole chapter on tongue?) – Portland’s famous for its affinity for offal. But there are plenty of outstanding, very approachable recipes in here, and the whole book is so entertaining, so lighthearted, and so very Portland, it’s impossible not to be charmed.
Beginnings: My Way To Start a Meal, Chris Cosentino (Olive Press): Mmmm, appetizers. By far the best part of any restaurant meal, if you ask me. But when it’s time to host a dinner at home, that’s always the piece I forego. Because who has time, or energy, to put together appetizers when you’re cooking the rest of the meal too? But I promise you, a few minutes with Chris Cosentino (the king of SF’s Incanto and tasty salted pig parts), and you’ll be singing a different tune. Arranged by season, the apps in this book are simple to prepare, (a good number could be whipped up in under 15 minutes), genuinely inventive and uniformly mouthwatering.
The Model Bakery Cookbook, Karen Mitchell & Sarah Mitchell Hansen (Chronicle): I do love a good baking book, and the ladies at Model Bakery didn’t disappoint with theirs. Packed with everything from their signature English Muffins and crusty country breads to far simpler fare (a very tempting Red Velvet Cupcake comes to mind), this book stands out for the helpful hints hidden on nearly every page. Did you know you could freeze croissants and just reheat (from frozen) in a 300-degree oven for 10 minutes to restore them to their original crispy, chewy goodness?
Cowgirl Creamery Cooks, Sue Conley & Peggy Smith (Chronicle Books): It may not be Disneyland, but for me (and many of my friends), Cowgirl Creamery is definitely one of the happiest places on earth. Their first book (!) doles out recipes for everything from their signature grilled cheese and tomato soup to fromage blanc spreads, cheese soufflés, gougéres, stuffed brie, and tips on creating the perfect cheese plate. It is cheesy goodness incarnate.
Phew! What did I miss, friends? Any reads you’ve found and loved lately?