Saturday, July 2, 2016

Two Book Reviews: "Uncommon Ground" and "1000 Foods To Eat Before You Die"

1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover's Life List

By Mimi Sheraton

Workman Publishing, 2014

Softcover, 990 pages

(Click to see this review on the book's Amazon product page.)

Mimi Sheraton is a major food critic, and 1000 Foods, written toward the end of her career, is a monument to the world's cuisine. Sheraton's list includes guilty pleasures like a deep-fried Mars bar, humble dishes like a BLT, food spectacles like Sartu di Riso, and prized items like alphonso mangoes, Fourme d'Ambert cheese, and saffron. The list also includes renowned restaurants, beloved cafes, and sensational fish markets. The entries in the book are informative, thoroughly indexed, and often illustrated with photographs.

The book reveals similarity across cultures (we all love stew, we all love spice, and we all love dumplings of one kind or another) as well as differences: it would take a committed relativist to deny the evidence in these pages that different regions of the world differ greatly in the overall scrumptiousness of their traditional foods.

One of the pleasures of a book like 1000 Foods is kibbitzing on the list itself. How could Sheraton leave out chicken pot pie? Tres leches cake? A cold meatloaf sandwich with ketchup? And how did maple syrup not make the cut? (Canadians, it seems, were not pleased.)

I received the book as a gift and read it in one sitting, dog-earing a couple dozen pages along the way. Perhaps that is the best use of a book like 1000 Foods: to select from its bounty a wish-list all your own.

Uncommon Ground: A word-lover's guide to the British landscape

By Dominick Tyler

Guardian Books, 2015

Softcover, 247 pages

(Click to see this review on the book's Amazon product page.)

Photographer Dominick Tyler traveled the length and breadth of Britain to produce Uncommon Ground, a treasury of words that name features of the landscape. The boulder yonder that seems out of place in its meadow...the mountain on the horizon shaped like a rounded heap...those circular ripples where an unseen fish has broken the water's surface—Uncommon Ground gives us words for them. Often ancient, and sometimes unpronounceable, this lexicon evokes by turns the bucolic, the desolate, the sylvan, and even the sinister.

You'll have noticed some of these natural features before. Others, so to speak, you'll have noticed without noticing them. From now on, you'll see them more clearly, because you'll have the words for them. Tyler is interested in the way words allow us to attach to reality in general and to the landscape in particular. His pensive mini-essays, and his artful yet unpretentious photographs, offer pure browsing pleasure while advancing his proposition that "rebuilding our landscape vocabulary might enable more complicated conversations about nature to take place."

What might have been a coffee-table book signals intimacy instead, thanks to its compact format and thoughtful typography. I received the book as a gift and expect to reread it often. Here is the Guardian review including a few of the photos.


Dominick Tyler said...

Dear Jason,

I happened upon your review at and wanted to pass on my thanks. I'm delighted you enjoyed the book and very grateful that you took the time to think and write about it.

Best wishes,
Dominick Tyler

Jason Zimba said...

Dominick, thanks for stopping by - and thanks for giving us "Uncommon Ground."