The Book Maven’s Literary Advent Calendar 2014, Day Ten

December 17th, 2014 | Filed under Books, Reading, The Book Maven's Literary Advent Calendar

Yes, yes, I’m behind a few days. Are your holiday cards all written and sent? Have you finished shopping for gifts? How about baking and cooking?

::Sob:: as I might say on Twitter. I don’t mean to be so cranky. It’s just been a busy week and I wish I could at least keep current in one area out of all of those.

Which is why I’m going to get caught up. Right now! Advent isn’t over, and neither is this Calendar.

However, I’ll keep this particular entry short and sweet, just like some of the items in today’s book.

“Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals” by Dinah Fried

Fictitious DishesHunger brought on by literary content is a special kind of hunger, because it isn’t about physical emptiness or direct temptation; it’s about connecting with a character or situation through food that you may never actually taste. I personally know at least a dozen people (probably more) who have wanted to try Turkish Delight ever since reading “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” but have never even seen the British candy version. It doesn’t matter in the slightest. Literary hunger cannot be sated through consumption of actual food; it’s not about the food, but about what that food represents. The Turkish Delight on offer in Lewis’s novel connotes temptation, perfection, the idea of absolute deliciousness. Feasting on a box of the real thing could never measure up. Our reaches exceed our grasps, and this imaginative ability is why literature is so powerful.

That’s why it matters not a bit that not all of the meals depicted in Dinah Fried’s “Fictitious Dishes” look yummy. I’m not sure if I could stomach Mr. Leopold Bloom’s grilled mutton kidneys “which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine,” but Fried’s gorgeous photo (which includes toast, butter, and tea, all served on period porcelain) brings me straight into the world of “Ulysses” by James Joyce, an Ireland I’ll never walk through but can experience all the same. I’d also pass on the “Gravity’s Rainbow” banana-sandwich buffet, the “Valley of the Dolls” pill platter, and Gregor Samsa’s rotting-foods-on-a-newspaper–but each of these photographs does just what it should like the grilled kidneys: Jettisons me straight back into the world of a book I read years ago.

Of course, some of the tableaux look scrumptious, like the Trasks’ meal in “East of Eden:” Potato salad! Peach pie! How about linden-leaf tea and madeleines, from Proust? Those madeleines have long stood for exactly the experience I’m describing and Fried captures in this surprising, evocative look at some of our most viscerally remembered reads. But the contrast between the dishes I might not want to eat, and those that looked tempting, reminds me that it’s the writing that makes the meals, and not the other way around. Man (and woman) cannot live on bread alone.

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