Lost Restaurants of Houston by Paul and Christiane Galvani

Another in the vein of Wednesday’s post. In a word: I loved the content, learning about the culinary history of my hometown. (Food and Houston: these are a few of my favorite things.) The book? I’ll be brief and just rehash some of what I wrote the other day about the Guy Clark bio. This was more pamphlet than finished monograph. The early material, on the history of Houston restaurants in general–history of the city, its ethnic makeup, and a few of the early businesses along Main Street, for example–seemed promising. The writing is lackluster, more emphasis on listing of facts than any care to the construction of sentences for their charm. This feature became much more pronounced when we moved into the restaurants themselves. Each entry read like a exhaustive catalog of every fact dug up in source materials, not so much constructed into sentences and paragraphs, let alone an artful narrative, but rather a list in paragraph form. By the end it was painful to read.

Again, as with the Clark bio, it was nice to see my familiar and loved hometown show up on these pages. But it was downright hard to read in many spots. I am frustrated.

This would make good source material for the neatly put-together history of Houston food which is still waiting to be written.

Rating: 5 oysters, generously, again with credit given for subject matter.

Consider the Oyster by M.F.K. Fisher

I regret it took me so long to read this slim, delightful collection. M.F.K. Fisher is a very fine essayist, known for her food writing but a clever, funny, thoughtful voice in general. Warning: these delicious little pieces will make you hungry (if you have any taste at all for my favorite bivalve).

Obviously I read this book for my own essay about pearls and oysters which I’ve been working on for years… but it was an absolutely pleasure all around. Consider the Oyster has an original copyright date of 1941, and you can hear its era here and there; but overall, I think it ages really well.

Under 100 pages, and all about oysters. Short essays cover oyster sex; the seasonal nature (or not!) of edible oysters; a great many recipes from throughout history and around the world, with Fisher’s commentary; pearls; the oyster as aphrodisiac; regionalism; and more. Fisher is mostly but not entirely concerned with oysters as eaten by humans. Her writing is pithy, charming, humorous and very smart. She is a real personality, and I am a real fan.

Really, folks. What a short, accessible, but so clever little book this is. You should really pick it up, unless oysters totally disgust you, in which case you still should, because it will educate and probably humor you just the same.

Synchronicity: one of the back-cover blurbs here is credited to Clifton Fadiman, who is himself the subject of one of the next books on my list (for the Shelf), The Wine Lover’s Daughter by Anne Fadiman (author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which was one of the first books I personally recognized as “creative nonfiction” as I was beginning to conceive of the genre). Everything is circular. Like a pearl.

Rating: 8 pearls, naturally.
%d bloggers like this: