Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Created by: Lucy Knisley
Published by: First Second
ISBN: 1596436239 (Amazon)
I was unlucky in birth. I mean, sort of. Really everything went pretty swimmingly save for the fact that I was born with a very narrow palette. My range of acceptable tastes and textures is lean and withered. I am, others have judged, a picky eater.
This was not me.
I’m fine with a small battery of stand-bys (meats, potatoes, dairy, most fruits), but vegetables and items with more exotic textures remain holy and set apart for sacrifice to other eaters. I mean, I absolutely adore steamed artichoke, but broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes (not a vegetable, I know), and non-Idaho-potato roots twist my expression into something sinister. Mussels, oysters, and sushi are a rocky row to hoe—fourteen years ago when I interviewed for my current job, I was taken to sushi, gave it a chance, and nearly drenched my prospective employer in regurgitation. I mostly stick to safe things these days, out of habit and out of fear.
With all that in mind, think about how incredible Lucy Knisley’s book must be to make me want to a) prepare things like a plateful of mushrooms, a gaggle of sushi rolls, or a good pesto, and then b) try actually eating the product of those recipes. Relish, Knisley’s personal-history-via-gustatory-memory, is simply wonderful. I haven’t been this exuberant about a reading experience in a while. There are better, thicker, more challenging works available and as far as importance goes, the 173-page paperback doesn’t hold a candle to, say, Building Stories or Duncan the Wonder Dog. But that hardly matters as I’m pretty well-convinced that I had more fun reading Relish. It’s that much fun.
Knisley’s memoir is composed of twelve short chapters that roughly trace the chronology of her life, and each pericope develops around the various foods she associates with those stories. She intersperses narrative delights with recipes for favourite foods and a helpful fact sheet explaining the complicated world of cheeses. None of my description of this, however, conveys the pleasure and excitement Knisley’s pages draw forth.
Her work is bright, colourful, humourous, and (best of all) exuberant. The joy Knisley evidently takes in the act of tasting is translated almost perfectly11I only say almost to leave her room for improvement—even though I can’t imagine in which direction she could improve. through both her narrative choices and the manner of her execution. Her characters are lively and their expressions telling. She narrates her story with a confident voice and as much as she talks about food, good food, and even gourmet food, Knisley never approaches that smug condescension that has become the signature delight of the foodie crowd. Here, wait. I’ll share with you the piece that utterly won me over early on in the book.
That right there is golden. I will confess that perhaps nothing else in the book grabbed me quite so well as the image of young Lucy dreaming of all the geese that would be foie-grased into her belly over the succeeding years—but the rest isn’t far off.
And at the end of the day, Relish does probably exactly what it sets out to do:
- Make Lucy Knisley seem like an awesome person with an infectious love for food.
- Infect the reader with that love for food
There are probably other things the book sets out to accomplish as well: like talk about stuff that happened, share information about food, underscore the fact that Knisley’s mother is a bitchen cook, make divorce seem sad. Stuff like that. It’s all there and it’s all at some level of important. But end of the day? Relish is about a young woman’s love of food and how you will be drawn into that love’s blackhole gravity until you become one with a love for food too.
Remember: I almost vomited on the founder of the company I was trying to work for all because the taste and texture of high-quality toro put my throat into convulsions. And now I think I want to try sushi again.
As it turns out, many of the things we eat are sinister. And not all of them are meats.
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