Books That Cook! My First Food Fiction Course

One of my favorite blogs, Bitch, Ph.D., posts recipes once in a while, and the most recent recipe posting included one for what looks to be a delicious pumpkin cookie: I can’t wait to try making them, though my baking/cooking skills are, not to be too humble, uneven.  Ms. Sybil noted in her posting that she should just start a food blog, and the cheers of support keep pouring in (for the most part).  That idea (a food blog, for those who cook, for those who eat, for those who like to read about food) got me reflecting (finally, in that time I allow for myself each morning when I go running–so that I can eat lots of pumpkin cookies) on the food fiction course I’m teaching this term for the first time.

Last spring I read an article in College English (70.4) titled “Books That Cook: Teaching Food and Food Literature in the English Classroom” by Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite (the entire March 2008 issue is on food, fyi).   Since I was teaching a generically titled Introduction to Women Writers course this fall, I decided to try out some of their ideas by focusing on “food fiction” by women writers.  I ended up (after much anguish—I struggle with this choice whenever I teach a literature course) with the following reading list:

·         Isak Dinesen’s “Babette’s Feast”

·         Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate

·         Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

·         Diana Abu Jaber’s Crescent

Other books I considered but couldn’t “fit in” to our quarter system include:

·         Joanne Harris’ Chocolat (much better than the film version)

·         Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes At the Whistle Stop Café

·         Chitra Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices

·         Diane Hammond’s Going to Bend

Several students chose one of the latter books as the focus of their final project, so I’m curious to read and hear about their responses to these selections. 

As it turns out, the novels worked well together, sharing many of the same themes (including elements of magical realism; fairy tale allusions; and, naturally, the use of food as a central metaphor).   And because we focused on contemporary women’s fiction–fiction that is not “canonical”–there were some engaging discussions of some of the issues (high vs. “middlebrow” literature and approaches to reading literature, for example) that I’m thinking/writing about for my Oprah’s Book Club talk next week.

I decided to focus on fiction, but I know there are many, many food memoirs out there, too.  And, of course, I limited the selection to women writers, but someday I can see a separate food memoir course where I could include one of my favorites, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.   

Please share any other ideas you have:  the course (now almost finished) was a joy to prepare and teach, and I’ll be asking students for feedback, too.  I’ll post more on the course after the term is over.