Susan’s Book Talk: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl


I think the friend who sent me a copy of Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires begged me to read it soon, and not let it sit on the TBR mountains forever. Which, of course, means… it sat on the TBR mountains for a damn long time. Too long, but there are very few books that don’t anymore. This is why Jett now runs The Rock of Pages.

But I needed something to read one day in a waiting room, and Garlic and Sapphires was sitting in a pile with one other book. Hardly a pile, right? Easy way to make a dent in the TBR mountains, eliminate a metaphoric peak. I doubted I’d even like it; I usually don’t particularly care for non-fiction.

For days, I did very little BUT read. And at some point, I surfaced long enough to think about the book’s structure.

Oh, sure, you can easily point to the way Ruth talks about her various disguises and hunt for their personas as the structure. The persona, and then the string of restaurants she visited. It all ends with the actual review.

Go deeper, though. Early on, Ruth tells us that moving to New York is going home. And early in her adventures, she does a lot of remembering. You can feel her revisiting the memories and putting them to rest. Her adventures and meals are the vehicle for her coming to terms with her past.

But the longer she’s working, the fewer those moments become. Instead, the new life she’s built creeps into the prose. We may not hear as much about her husband, but we hear more about her son. Politics at the paper. Becoming a celebrity. All this changes her, too, and as her friend and co-worker Carol gets sicker, her personas get meaner and harder to be around — and her friends, being true friends, call her on it.

It’s fascinating to see how the structure of the book ties in so nicely to Ruth’s own changes. It was totally unexpected, how she ties it all together, with food ever at the center, until this isn’t an inside look at being a restaurant critic anymore. Nope. It becomes a story of one woman’s personal journey, and how the people along the way touch her.

I don’t often find books that I can’t put down. It’s even rarer that I find non-fiction that I can’t put down. Go pick this one up — if you’re local, nab my copy before it winds up in a Little Free Library somewhere. It’s okay if you don’t see the brilliance in the structure the way I did. I’m the editor, after all. My approach to the written word is bound to be a bit different.


1 Comment

  1. nimrodiel

    November 19, 2014 9:04 pm

    Yay! I ‘m so glad to see you liked this one. This was my introduction to Ruth Reichl as well and like you I couldn’t put it down 🙂

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