Memoirs are brilliant, aren’t they? I loathed the genre when I was in school — the memoirs they made us read always seemed to be complaining about something — but I’ve recently come to appreciate the beauty of a book written by someone who has gone through experiences and come out wanting to write about it. In other words, someone like me, usually. At worst, a memoir can be a maudlin, boring and self-indulgent romp through the insignificant points in someone’s life. At best, a memoir helps the reader feel through accurate or poignant descriptions of someone’s life. It’s like fiction only thought it’s real, more or less.
When choosing a memoir I look for ones written by people who have lived abroad, cooked or have a tone that makes me laugh (think Jen Lancaster). People who do all three are near memoir-nirvana. That’s why I’ve read A Homemade Life twice and am looking forward to reading it a third time. Obviously, going into Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, I expected to enter into a rich story that I would love and feel a deep connection with. Unfortunately, that didn’t exactly happen.
Blood, Bones and Butter tells the story of how Gabrielle Hamilton got to where she is now (or at least to the moment of writing in 2011) from childhood through adolescence to adult-hood. The tag-line, the inadvertant education of a reluctant chef, describes the book better than I possibly could in more ways then one. Hamilton ultimately falls into cooking and restaurant ownership. This means that her passion for cooking and for food is different than the average readers will probably be. She also writes very well and has enough insight to be able to give her book a brilliant subtitle.
Part of the reason why I had a difficult time connecting with the story was because of Hamilton’s less than traditional youth/adolesence and, let’s face it, adulthood. She falls into a life of drugs, leaving school, living on her own and living a tough life. While it’s (sort-of) interesting to read about, it’s not something I find particularly pleasant to hear about. Maybe I’m just a delicate flower, but I found that Hamilton’s hard-core lifestyle made the book very difficult to deal with at points.
I expected the book to focus more on the actual process of Hamilton opening up her restaurant Prune, but the restaurant (not to mention the opening process) only plays an incidental role in the story. This was quite a surprise and disappointment, especially since as I enjoyed the parts when she wrote about Prune the most. The last part of the book was, for me, the least interesting. She’s in Italy eating food, eating pasta, liking and hating Italy. Perhaps it was just too close to home in that moment, but I found my mind wandering more than once.
Any reservations I had about the plot (or, um, life), were more than made up for by Hamilton’s fantastic writing. The book draws you in a wraps you up slowly. It doesn’t grab you with the most interesting cliff hanger or opening, but invites you to come to the table at your own pace and figure out what you want to get from it. Hamilton finds a way to describe food that feels natural, like you’re focusing on an experience more so than something that tastes salty/fatty/delicious/frackin’ yum-tastic. There are also interesting issues discussed, such as the idea of the female chef, that make this book feel more important than just a memoir.
While Blood, Bones and Butter might not be the kind of memoir that I will return to over and over, I was glad to have read it and would recommend it to someone, foodie or not, without reservations. The writing is fantastic and the glimpses into the life of a chef/restaurant owner are truly fascinating.
Do you like to read memoirs? Have you ever eaten at Prune?