Real-life espionage, restaurant reviews, and recipes? If you’re looking for an appetizingly unexpected mixture of genres, be sure to check out Ruth Reichl’s memoir Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.
It all starts with a disturbing encounter on a flight to New York City, as Reichl prepares to transition her family’s life from Los Angeles so she can become the new restaurant critic for The New York Times. As a result of this run-in with a New York City restaurant employee, Reichl makes the paradoxical discovery that, to do her job from a place of authenticity, she will have to change her identity (“The Daily Special” and “Molly”).
Garlic and Sapphires follows Reichl through the 1990s as she and her personas make their mark on the newspaper and its readers. If you’ve ever thought becoming a professional critic would be an awesome way to earn money by doing something that appeals to you, you’ll discover you’re both right and wrong. Throughout her memoir, Reichl shows us how simultaneously rewarding and anxiety-inducing a writing career can be.
Fellow writers, published or not, should enjoy this book. Reichl has a gift for delivering engaging introductions in the included reviews and articles, as well as inventive food descriptions throughout. Figurative language takes on a life of its own, creating vivid sensory impressions for readers. From a writer’s perspective, it’s also interesting to see how Reichl incorporates recipes that connect to her story through themes or significant moments. Another appeal is the inside look at the author’s research and writing processes, which can help us assess our own approaches. It’s good for writers to read about other writers, and better yet if the experience is enjoyable. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl shares what she’s learned about authenticity in matters of cooking, writing, and self while entertaining us along the way.
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Reichl, Ruth. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. Kindle ed., Penguin