I’ve almost certainly made it clear that I don’t like internet lists, on balance. They’re lazy and reductive in most cases, and that’s only made worse by clicking through a dozen pages to realize how lazy and reductive a given list is. There are, of course, exceptions, and I was lucky to come across two this very week.
The first is courtesy of Robert Parker’s wonderful wine site. Neal Martin offers a list he calls, “Some of the Finest Wine Books Ever Written (…But Not by Jancis or Hugh).” These aren’t, it bears mentioning, altogether practical choices Martin makes. He readily acknowledges this. Of J.A. Garde’s Histoire de Pomerol, he writes, “It’s a book that seems to relish its tangents, narrative cul-de-sacs and ellipses, which meant that I had to read/translate it 50 or 60 times to eke out nuggets of precious information. Because they are here. You just have to search hard for it.” At times, André Simon’s Vintage-Wise “reads like the midnight shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4 and though its subject matter is just as irrelevant, insofar that the paucity of 1887 Saint Julien’s impacts your daily life as much as a squall on the Dogger Bank, you feel comforted by the information that seems better to know, than not.” These descriptions make me think of an unusual and almost totally impractical book I picked up a couple of years ago called Herbs and the Earth by Henry Beston. There’s something oddly reassuring and at times genuinely engaging about a writer’s devotion to a subject of intense personal interest. Just the kind of thing to relax into as the cool months descend.
The second list appeared on the Saveur site. Russ Parsons writes about “3 Classic (and Vastly Underappreciated) Books That Changed the Way We Cook.” He includes Helen Brown’s West Coast Cookbook, which is just a fantastic choice. She was indeed a James Beard protégée of sorts, though Beard’s letters to her, collected in Love and Kisses and A Halo of Truffles, seem to regard her more as a peer/equal. That quibble aside, the list is worth a look.
– John McIntyre