Friday, November 29, 2013

Food and Fiction

One of my fondest memories from my college literature classes is from my first semester of college.  I had signed up for British Literature II, a course based, obviously, on British Literature. The “II” encompassed the years 1800-1950. The professor lady was cheerful and friendly to her students, including myself, and it was clear from the way she talked about books that she derived absolute glee from them.*  

She had us read out loud the poetry and act out the plays. She had outdated and esoteric video adaptations that we would watch and discuss, or play musical numbers. She would instruct us to draw illustrations of scenes from the classic literature. And she graded on a “200%” scale, something she knew would drive the more mathematically-minded of her students crazy. 

Thus, when one of the students suggested we have a “Literature Tea” during class, this very interactive and engaging professorin was all for it. The rules were simple: any student who wanted to participate should sign up for a food that had been included in one of the works we had read on the syllabus.  

We had read The Importance of Being Earnest, so there was tea and teacake and bread and butter (I brought English muffins, someone else brought “American) muffins” and we had a friendly discussion as to whose were more accurate to the actual play. Someone who had not been studying hard enough brought crumpets (which were NOT in anything we had read.)

Food is actually dangerous to keep around books. Not just the obvious dangers of coffee spills or staining, but the insidious odors that books soak  up like sponges, or the crumbs that wriggle their way into the binding. Yet food and books are both “cozy” things that seem to go so well together. And many books—not just cookbooks, but novels and poetry—talk about food in such a way that makes one ravenous in their reading. I know that I can’t read a Charles Dickens novel without getting peckish…and it’s not just because it takes such a long time to read his novels, either!

I remember reading Pippi on the High Seas and suddenly needing some fruit because of all the talk of coconuts. Good luck to anyone reading a Nero Wolfe mystery and not getting a sudden desire for a tall glass of milk. Brian Jacques, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Kenneth Grahame…there must be something about British fantasy writers that causes them to go on long diatribes about succulent feasts. Oh, and for the record if you read C.S. Lewis, Turkish Delight is pretty good as long as you’re not getting it from Jadis the White Witch.  

And watch out for those Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’ll make you crave pure maple syrup, flapjacks, salted pork and pies made from green pumpkins. My two favorite spreads for toast or biscuits are honey and marmalade, and my two favorite fictional bears are Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington…coincidence? I think NOT! 

*No, this was NOT high school, and there was NO singing. But “gleeful” is a perfect adjective for the way she talked about things in class.

1 comment:

  1. As soon as I sit down to read it is always accompanied by coffee and biscuits or fruit scones. If one is on a diet don't for heavens sake read Joanne Harris's novel, 'Chocolat'. I think I gained about a stone in weight after reading that book.