Thursday, March 7, 2013

How potted ham makes you a man (even when you don't want to be)

Book: Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger
Author: Nigel Slater
Published: 2003 (Gotham)
Pages: 235

The beginning of this book is perfect to read out loud to old people. It’s about how different foods shaped or described Slater’s childhood. No more, and oh definitely not any crumb of toast left. It’s warm and understated and sometimes bratty and basically exactly like a boy explaining, if unconsciously, how one’s choice of candy bar marks what he is to his classmates who can see his purchase and how hating the preservative jelly on a specific type of tinned ham fails a man test set forth by his dad.

And then he hits adolescence and his mom dies and his dad marries again to a great cook and a lot of food begins to tie into sexual awakening and then you should stop reading out loud to old people and enjoy the rest of it like everything else the author (and you, don’t lie) hides from his parents.

It’s fantastic. It’s specific, detailed, broken into (pun ahoy) easily digestable chunks that by themselves are slight and charming but, like a meringue, whip together into something solid, and frank enough to show how broken or badly cooked or disgusting foods (=bits of life) shape a person even more than the good stuff.

And it never devolves into food porn, so it’s going onto my bookshelf next to my other awesome memoirs. Like a more sincere, more edible David Sedaris.    

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