From Fatima Ali’s posthumous memoir to a celebrity essay collection about fond food memories, these are the books to read this fall
If summer is for breezy beach reads, then the fall — a time that represents a return to school for so many — is for picking up books that encourage one to think. This fall, several books use food as a lens through which to consider history, architecture, memory, and more. This season’s reading also spans forms, offering up traditional memoir, anthologies, essays, and even some satire. And among the slate of upcoming and recently published works that provide thought-provoking comment on culinary culture, there are plenty that are just as gripping as one of those beach reads, whether you’re looking to be moved emotionally or hoping to arm yourself with a dinner party’s worth of fun facts. Here are 10 titles to consider as you fill out your nightstand stack.
London Feeds Itself
edited by Jonathan Nunn
Open-City, London’s premiere architecture education organization, turns its attention to food with the help of Vittles editor Jonathan Nunn. In 25 essays, contributors including Ruby Tandoh and Jeremy Corbyn explore public spaces that may not have been designed as food destinations but have nonetheless become the culinary hearts of London communities. The essays are accompanied by guides to 125 of the markets, street food vendors, and undersung restaurants that make up the city’s “vernacular food culture.”
Savor: A Chef’s Hunger for More
Fatima Ali with Tarajia Morrell
Ballantine Books, October 11
In 2019, chef Fatima Ali died of the bone cancer Ewing’s sarcoma, less than two years after becoming a fan favorite on Season 15 of Top Chef. Her memoir, which she worked on in the months before her death, is written from the perspective of someone who acknowledges their time is limited by, in part, linking it to a larger history: Ali’s narrative extends beyond her life experiences to include her mother Farezeh’s story, which begins in Karachi, Pakistan. Chapters are written from both women’s perspectives and are skillfully stitched together by writer Tarajia Morrell, who came onto the project to document Ali’s final bucket-list year before everyone soon realized, tragically, that there would be no time for that. Instead, Savor explores the ways identity often butts up against tradition and what it means to savor life despite everything.
Sweet Land of Liberty: A History of America in 11 Pies
Abrams, October 25
Rossi Anastopoulo doesn’t aim to tell the entire history of America — just the parts of it that can be revealed through pie. Perhaps surprisingly, there’s a ton of material to mine. Pumpkin pie connects back to the country’s erasure of Indigenous people, while bean pie is a symbol of resistance during the civil rights movement, and mock apple pie is emblematic of the Great Depression. Anastopoulo delivers all of these connections as though she’s relaying an interesting story to a friend, and across the book’s 12 chapters focused on 11 pies (with recipes), she makes the case that pie is a meaningful way through which to consider history.
My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings
edited by Zosia Mamet
Penguin Books, November 1
The idea that food is wrapped up in feelings has been a cliche at least since Marcel Proust’s madeleine in In Search of Lost Time. But actor Zosia Mamet took this idea and ran with it for My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings, a collection of essays. Contributions come from across disciplines, including fellow actors like Beanie Feldstein and Tony Hale, along with professional writers like Sloane Crosley and Jia Tolentino. The approach each takes to the broad prompt is just as varied, with some as concise as recipe headnotes. And recipes do follow most of the pieces: Rosie Perez describes how childhood trauma was sometimes made palatable by her aunt’s pollo guisado, then shares the recipe; meanwhile, instructions for making banana dumplings accompany an essay from chef Anita Lo about her complicated feelings toward dumplings in general. In some cases, the recipes, more than the stories that precede them, feel like the point, and like any zany community cookbook, there are some gems in the bunch.
Fatty Fatty Boom Boom
Algonquin, November 8
Rabia Chaudry is perhaps best known as the advocate for Adnan Syed, the subject of the hit first season of the Serial podcast, or for her own show Undisclosed, which investigates wrongful convictions. In Fatty Fatty Boom Boom, though, Chaudry tells her own story. As a child, Chaudry’s size was a topic of concern and criticism for her Pakistani immigrant family, who saw it as the product of fatty, processed American foods. In this memoir with recipes, she frankly and humorously details how she nonetheless learned to embrace her body and find joy in food — most significantly, the cuisine of her culture.
The Lemon: A Novel
Viking, November 8
The Lemon will not be for everyone. The novel, written by journalists Kevin Alexander and Joe Keohane and editor Alessandra Lusardi under the pen name S.E. Boyd, begins after the celebrated host of a culinary travel show is found dead in a hotel room by his famous chef best friend, proprietor of The French Restaurant With the French Name (sound familiar?). The absurdist events that follow, as characters from all avenues attempt to cash in on the host’s death, are intended as satire set in the worlds of fine dining and Hollywood. But while some may appreciate The Lemon’s darkly humorous commentary on the pitfalls of celebrity, others may question whether the book plays into the very cycle it aims to lampoon. Either way, people will likely be talking.
In case you missed them, a few books that published in August
Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew, Michael Twitty
Michael Twitty begins his second book with a response to all those who have questioned whether someone can occupy both Black and Jewish identities. But as is characteristic of the food historian’s work, this defense of his intersectional identity goes deep — drawing on history and geography, conversations with fellow Black Jews, and Twitty’s own experiences working in both food and Jewish education. The sum total reaches for an understanding of what it means to be and cook koshersoul, a word that Twitty made up “to talk about a whole confluence of ideas,” he recently told Eater. “It’s not just Black folks. … There’s a whole other ring of intersectionality and connection that’s koshersoul.”
To Fall in Love, Drink This, Alice Feiring
Alice Feiring has written several books on wine, including 2019’s Natural Wine for the People, as well as a bimonthly natural wine-focused newsletter and numerous contributions to newspapers and magazines. In her first memoir, Feiring explains how an aspiring dancer became one of the foremost voices in wine writing. She does this through non-chronological essays that offer glimpses of Feiring as she comes of age. But while this is a book about Feiring’s life, like everything she writes, it is also a book about wine, and recommendations that tie into each of the anecdotes follow every chapter.
A Waiter in Paris: Adventures in the Dark Heart of the City, Edward Chisholm
Published in Edward Chisholm’s native U.K. in May, A Waiter in Paris made its debut in the U.S. and Canada in August. The book chronicles the four years Chisholm spent working as a food runner and waiter at a restaurant he calls “Le Bistrot de la Seine.” Within this colorful setting there are villains — chiefly a restaurant manager he calls “the rat” — and Chisholm’s own hero’s journey as he strives to work his way up from runner to waiter. Emily in Paris this is not.
California Soul, Keith Corbin and Kevin Alexander
Not to be confused with Tanya Holland’s California Soul, out this fall, Keith Corbin’s memoir, California Soul, traces his path from growing up in Watts to cooking in prison to becoming a celebrated chef and co-owner of Alta Adams in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles. And while that summary sounds like it could be an inspirational story of triumph, Corbin wants to speak directly to “people who are in the struggle,” and he’s clear-eyed in his telling. “There’s this idea that there’s a magic door when you come home from prison where you get a straight job, and boom, everything is perfect,” he told Eater LA of his reasons for writing a memoir. “But that’s not the truth.”
Don Caminos is a visual vaquero providing editorial illustration from Mexico City.
Copy edited by Leilah Bernstein