Garner gathers a literary chorus to capture the joys of reading and eating in this comic, personal classic.
Reading and eating, like Krazy and Ignatz, Sturm und Drang, prosciutto and melon, Simon and Schuster, and radishes and butter, have always, for me, simply gone together. The book you’re holding is a product of these combined gluttonies.
Dwight Garner, the beloved New York Times critic and the author of Garner’s Quotations, serves up the intertwined pleasures of books and food. The product of a lifetime of obsessively reading, eating, and every combination therein, The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading is a charming, emotional memoir, one that only Garner could write. In it, he records the voices of great writers and the stories from his life that fill his mind as he moves through the sections of the day and of this book: breakfast, lunch, shopping, the occasional nap, drinking, and dinner.
Through his lifelong infatuation with these twin joys, we meet the man behind the pages and the plates, and a portrait of Garner, eager and insatiable, emerges. He writes with tenderness and humor about his mayonnaise-laden childhood in West Virginia and Naples, Florida (and about his father’s famous peanut butter and pickle sandwich), his mind-opening marriage to a chef from a foodie family (“Cree grew up taking leftover frog legs to school in her lunch box”), and the words and dishes closest to his heart. This is a book to be savored, though it may just whet your appetite for more.
New York Times book critic Garner (Read Me) meanders through a lifetime of eating—from boyhood mayo-and-cheese sandwiches to the French bouillabaisses of middle age—and summons wordsmiths from Thackeray to Houellebecq in this amusing mix of memoir, criticism, and cultural history. The loose-limbed text is arranged into sections that contemplate the three daily meals, drinks (Garner concurs with H.L. Mencken, who said, "The martini is the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet"), grocery shopping, the sadness of eating alone in a restaurant, and the ideal setup for a dinner party (six to eight guests at a round table so that no one is marooned in a conversational dead zone between two bores). Garner's own knockabout memories are happily omnivorous and often amusing: "I read novels while stuffing myself with Drake's Ring Dings, tubs of Cheez Balls, single-serving bags of Famous Amos cookies," he writes of an early job working the late shift at an Exxon near the Everglades. "I rarely, I am sorry to admit, rang these morsels up on the cash register." His literary analyses, which see him examining roadkill in Cormac McCarthy's novels and pickles in Salman Rushdie's, are likewise delicious. Garner dishes up a plethora of tasty morsels for literary foodies to nosh on.
Asking for seconds …
My favorite book of 2023. Simply lyrical.
Good enough to consume in one sitting
What a gift to have this lifetime collection of literary and gastronomical anecdotes and bon mots. Fans of MFK Fisher, et al. will rejoice. Something compelling about Garner’s unashamed culinary maximalism, so refreshing in our age of smug dietary exclusions - begs whether a broad appetite is a prerequisite for a broad mind.