You could say that meals—especially holiday meals—are stories in themselves. Beyond the suspense of waiting for a cake to come out of the oven, or the satisfying denouement served in a steaming bowl of soup, there’s a wealth of symbolism (not to mention potential for drama) in gathering to share life-sustaining, life-affirming food. Gustave Flaubert uses turkeys and plum jam to mark the passing years in Madame Bovary’s married life. And Naz Deravian finds a poignant history of Persia in her family’s handed-down recipes.
In Robin Sloan’s novel Sourdough, a disillusioned tech worker struggles to tend to a sourdough starter—and to the human relationships it represents. But the chef Samin Nosrat, who sees food as a way to bring people together, is firm in her belief that those connections are accessible to anyone. And the year’s best recipe books give home cooks the chance to craft their own culinary narrative, even when dining alone.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out. Check out past issues here. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.
What We’re Reading
Samin Nosrat wants everybody to cook
“Rather than inundate aspiring cooks with an index of glamorously photographed recipes to follow precisely, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat offers Nosrat’s readers something much more substantial: a cooking philosophy.”
Writing an Iranian cookbook in an age of anxiety
“As the world thundered, I paved a new, diplomatic relationship with my measuring cups and timer, finding solace in their certainty. Whereas only months before I’d felt restricted by the written recipe, I now relied on it.”
The strange pathos of the turkey in Madame Bovary
“What does a 19th-century French tragedy, in which a provincial housewife kills herself as a result of her debts and affairs, have to do with an American holiday that celebrates homecoming and overeating? The answer, quite simply, is turkey (along with plum preserve).”
Robin Sloan’s Sourdough is a fascinating riddle
“The starter has survived decades in the brothers’ caring hands—it’s used to make a sourdough bread that’s plated as a side dish to their spicy soup, a fiery broth that, seemingly magically, burns sickness and apathy from its eater. The starter’s survival now depends on a former standout computer-science student from the Midwest.”
The 7 best cookbooks of 2018
“It’s hard not to want to try what’s on any page you turn to … Scanning the streamlined but explicit instructions, you think: easy, quick, works, boom.”
📚 BOTTOM OF THE POT: PERSIAN RECIPES AND STORIES, by Naz Deravian
📚 FEAST: FOOD OF THE ISLAMIC WORLD, by Anissa Helou
📚 SOUL: A CHEF’S CULINARY EVOLUTION IN 150 RECIPES, by Todd Richards
📚 MILK STREET: TUESDAY NIGHTS, by Christopher Kimball
📚 EVERYDAY DORIE: THE WAY I COOK, by Dorie Greenspan
📚 SOLO: A MODERN COOKBOOK FOR A PARTY OF ONE, by Anita Lo
Last week, we asked you to tell us about the books you’ve read that best capture loneliness. Susan Lipman, a reader in Los Angeles, chose John Williams’s Stoner: “It is beautifully written, but its strength is in its ability to tell a story of a man’s life (that many would consider a failure) with dignity and compassion.”
Gitanjali Bhattacharjee recommends The Nowhere Man, by Kamala Markandaya, which “illustrates so many of the tensions that come with being an expatriate of a country that was once colonized by the British, or a child of those expatriates … Reading this book felt at once profoundly lonely as I empathized with Srinivas, the protagonist, and like I had found a necessary community, one for which I’d long been searching.”
What’s a book about food—whether it’s a cookbook with a bigger story behind its recipes, a novel with meals that make your mouth water, or a deep dive into an ingredient’s history—that you think everyone should read? Tweet at us with #TheAtlanticBooksBriefing, or fill out the form here.