This is my first time reading Reichl, and I found this book fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable. Reichl describes her background and what led her into cooking and then restaurant critiquing, but most of the book is spent describing her years as the editor of Gourmet Magazine. I was never a reader of the magazine, but I love reading about the publishing world, and I’ve never read a book about what it’s like to run a major magazine. This book combined my love of food, my interest in the world of celebrity chefs, and my interest in writing and publishing.
That said, this book is so good because Reichl is a great storyteller. She brings a personality and humanity to this book which could easily be stuffy and pretentious. I listened to the audiobook and she’s an excellent reader (and many authors are not, even when reading their own work). During the course of this book she becomes someone you feel you know – or at least someone you’d love to meet.
Reichl covers a lot of different topics in this book, which covers about 10 years from the late 90’s to 2008. She writes about her husband and son, about her love of food, and about her parents. She also writes about money. She grows up with parents who have little income but her mother loves glamour and forces them to go to the fanciest restaurants, even though they can’t actually eat a meal there. As an adult she works for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times where she doesn’t make much and works in tiny little offices with minimal benefits.
The world of Gourmet is so different, and at first she’s completely uncomfortable with the idea of having a large office, a driver, and a clothing budget. Then as she gets farther into the job, she’s regularly hobnobbing with celebrities at elaborate galas and eating at the finest restaurants in town. At one point she becomes very uncomfortable because she’s gotten used to this lifestyle (while also recognizing that her mother would have loved it). I appreciated her thoughtfulness – she lives this absolutely amazing life but doesn’t take it for granted.
It was a little difficult keeping track of all the different people she works with, but she does a nice job of introducing the people she works with most. I appreciated having an inside look at how complicated running a magazine can be, from your art director feuding with your ad sales director, to the politics that goes into choosing and shooting a cover.
As a reader, I loved the way she writes about how the magazine incorporated the work of literary authors like Ann Patchett and David Foster Wallace. I also appreciated her interest in having the magazine cover more difficult and controversial issues around food. I would love a food magazine with that kind of writing, and maybe I should be looking at the newsstand to see what’s out there.
One nice thing about the audiobook is that many gourmet foods are French and I have little idea how to pronounce them (though I try), and it’s nice to hear Reichl’s own pronunciation, especially when she travels to France. Some might find this pretentious, but I like to hear words pronounced in their own language rather than our Americanized version.
I really enjoyed hearing Reichl’s story and getting an inside perspective on the foodie world and what it’s like to run a magazine. And I also liked getting to know her. It’s an all-around enjoyable read and a nice break from some of the weightier issues I’ve been reading about lately.
Hungry for more memoirs? See my recent reviews of Pete Buttigeig’s The Shortest Way Home and Sandra Uwuringiyama’s How Dare the Sun Rise. I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, so I’m looking forward to Nonfiction November, hosted by Doing Dewey.