The book reviewed here was not obtained for free. I bought it. And, I am glad I did. Why? At least two reasons: I like Sandra Gilbert's work -- as feminist, as a thinker about and with death and elegy, and more. So, I was intrigued enough to buy this in . . . gasp . . . hardback . . . at my favorite (our favorite) stress reliever in Chicago, the Seminary Coop Bookstore. If you do not know her, you should. (Check out her website here.)
I have read some of her prior work -- knowing her as feminst critic and as I worked myself on death and moring finding her struggles with that as an intellectual matter and a lived experience both moving and helpful. And, as readers here know, I love to read about food. So, a book that explores that very thing -- how we read abotu food, and how we have read and written about food, seemed just right. Sometimes, these turn out to be turgid, and not fun or not thought provoking. Gilbert is fun, thought provoking, has read a lot of things I have read in terms of recent foodie lit of various sorts (I had never heard the term "foodoir" til I read this book -- a term for foodie memoir), and knows an enormous amount of literature I have never encountered, some quite dandy recent poetry, much philosophy both ancient and more recent, and lots of stories and novels. I learned from this book. Perhaps it is not surprising that in her retirement Sandra Gilbert lives in Berkeley -- a foodie delight and an intellectuals delight (with loads of wonderful bookstores). And, like many of her peers, retirement seems to mean little, as she goes on producing works that are meaningful and important.
A few specific tidbots to ensourage you to go out and purchase your own copy:
1. For upstate NY types: she does mention Wegmans. You will only notice this if you already love wegmans, but it does remind you that Gilbert was educated at Cornell and continues to have ties to the region.
2. She uses the word feminism. Shocking, I know And, she does not seem to think that all feminists think the same things. I like that. I also like, on a related note, her reflections, across the book but especially when she discusses food and death and again, toward the end, when she looks at her own earlier work anew. This, to me, is hte sign of a thoughtful intellectual modeling growth across a career. Well, perhaps not growth, as that presumes a sort of teleology -- just movement, dynamism, thoughtfulness. Some of the texts she writes about -- including, e.g., Atwood's The Edible Woman, are themselves from the period at the cusp of second wave feminism -- so her reflections on them are in part reflections on change -- and stasis.
SHe does, of course, though in a bit less integrated way than one might have liked, address the anorexia/bulemia matter, but she resists seeing that as all that feminism has to say about food or, indeed, that somewhat more mysterious (or perhaps equally mysterious) thing -- the culinary imagination.
3. The subtitle, of course, is "From myth to modernity." Here I would quibble, though who knows who chose the title. Really: this arc is a cliche that has been critiqued regularly. So: enough already. And, it comes with a kind of limp ending, to be honest, where the book kinds of just stops. Hmmm.
And yet, this is a book sprinkled with ideas I like, that felt welcoming and like dining with a thoughtful friend with similar but not identical tastes. It mingles the personal reflection of a hyphenated American with a somewhat tart evaluation of the myth of a uniform american culinary past that fast food tore us away from. It mingles a sardonic look at casseroles made with mushrrom soup with nostalgia for her own particularities. It mingles the literary critic with the amateur consumer of food. I enjoyed the meal.