Book Review: Try This: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving the Table
That circumstances change the way we approach our lives is hardly a revolutionary statement -- on Saturdays, farmers' market shopping feels like a luxurious escape, on weeknights grocery shopping quickly becomes that dreaded after-work chore. And so with those 405 homebrew-friendly roadblocks ahead this weekend, Try This: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving the Table by Danyelle Freeman, a first-person food "memoir" (personal essay, really) that we dismissed when it first passed our desk a few weeks ago, sounds entirely too housebound-relevant to discount this weekend.
Freeman's book is touted in promo materials as an "adventurous and accessible guide to eating out in the twenty-first century, perfect for anyone who loves food but wants to break out of a restaurant rut." (She is the founding editor of restaurantgirl.com and the former restaurant critic for The New York Post.)
For those of us lucky enough to live in L.A., where cultural diversity and tacos collide on an everyday basis, the idea of reading a book to teach us how to break out of a dining rut is pretty hilarious. But hey, it's Carmageddon weekend. So what did we think?
The book's fourteen chapters are organized by type of cuisine: Chinese, Cuban, Greek, French, Indian and so forth. Logical enough. Which gets us to the writing style.
The prose is a bit single-minded, meaning everything is written from Freeman's opinionated New York City palate point-of-view. (The Spotted Pig makes frequent appearances in the "British Cuisine" chapter as a modern pub, a.k.a gastropub.) All well and good, as she is a restaurant critic.
Yet the narration unfolds in somewhat random bursts of factual culinary history ("King Charles II and his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza... first introduced tea to England in 1662, and shortly thereafter the wealthy followed their royal lead") followed by lengthy paragraphs revealing Freeman's personal opinions on a full English breakfast ("I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but the English take it a tad too far... I tell myself, "Don't do it this time, Danyelle. You'll regret it"). Call us crazy Americans, but we don't quite follow the contradictory factual reporting versus first-person storytelling logic.
Add in that some of the factual details that Freeman presents as revelatory tidbits for the reader are pretty common knowledge these days ("America and England have different takes on what constitutes a pint -- whose would you guess is bigger? That's right, the British Imperial pint at twenty tall ounces beats out the sixteen-ounce American pint"), and the end result is a book that feels a bit chaotic and lacking in a clear logical purpose. But hey, maybe that makes Try This: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving the Table the perfect Carmageddon weekend reading.