Thursday, January 29, 2009

Readin': The School of Essential Ingredients

What a wonderful book!

Last night I ventured out to Third Place Books to pick up the second book in the Philip Hamilton series (which I have not yet written about, but I will, soon. I hope) and to see if there were any others from the Sharing Knife series or anything from Elizabeth Bear (author of the Jenny Casey trilogy and Carnival (which I have finished but not yet written about)). I was able to pick up the Hamilton book, Passage, the third volume in the Sharing Knife series, and another Elizabeth Bear book (don't remember the title and don't have it nearby at the moment). What I had not expected was that I would come away with another book entirely.

As I go to the entrace of Third Place Books, I noticed the usual display for coming author events. Right there in the middle was a poster for Erica Bauermeister's reading this coming Thursday supporting her first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. I rarely buy hard cover books, except as presents. I made an exception in this case. I have been friends with Erica's husband, Ben, since 1988 when I worked in the Tech Support organization at Aldus. In addition, my brother, Tom, taught at the school where Ben and Erica's two kids were educated. After reading the flyleaf, I figured it would be worth the read. How right I was.

The School of Essential Ingredients tells the story of a once-a-month cooking class held at Lillian's, which is both the name of the restaurant and the name of the proprietor/chef of the restaurant where the classes are held in the kitchen. The story is told through the experiences of each of the participants in the class, flipping back and forth between the present (in the cooking class) and the past (what memories the cooking class is calling out of them). The book positively glows; the prose is absolutely gorgeous. To me, the most amazing work she does is in her descriptions of smells and what they evoke. Each of the people in the class, starting with the teacher, is given a chapter.

Another aspect of the book that I loved was its deeply positive, hopeful attitude toward each of the characters. They are all revealed in the complexity that each of us human beings possess, but it is done in such a gentle, strength-based (as my social worker wife is so fond of saying) way. Each character reveals themselves in many ways, but is also revealed through the eyes of the other characters as well.

I started the book as soon as I got home and finished it before going to bed last night. It's not that long a book (237 pages, I think), but the story is well paced and the writing is so exquisite that I couldn't put it down. Well, I could have, but I chose not to do so.

If you know someone who loves to cook and loves to read, please give them a copy of this book. They will thank you for it. And, oh, by the way, read it yourself before you hand it over. It is that good.

Very highly recommended.

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About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.