BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

A food journal ...

Here is another awesome dollar store find … as I have probably already mentioned here, I used to be quite confused at how books, such as this, which are still in print (and, in this case, being offered at full cover price on-line) can end up on the $1 shelves … a while back, however, a manager up at Dollar Tree was at the check out and he told me that they get books that Walmart has had and discontinued, so that's how reasonably new, quality books end up retailing for a buck! Needless to say, these don't stay on the shelves long, so it's a impetus to visit the dollar stores with some regularity.

I'm guessing that anybody with cable/satellite TV knows the author of this one … Adam Richman, who has hit it big as the host of Travel Channel's “Man vs. Food” and its various spin-offs. His America the Edible: A Hungry History, from Sea to Dining Sea is evidently a collection of entries from his journal, spanning 10 locations and five years, from 2004 to 2009 (during which period he scored his show). Most of this is like a written version of the “non-challenge” parts of Man vs. Food, where he goes places, finds great food, and raves about it.

This isn't, however, a print companion to the show, and there are a number of surprising points here. First of all, on the show one takes it that he's a food industry guy who happened to land an on-camera gig … not (really) so. He's an actor who, in the first chapter here, is striving to get his career off the ground in L.A. … much of the “location” elements are due to him being some place for an acting gig (he did a lot of regional stage work). Frankly, aside from a few “context” paragraphs, there's not much here about him working in the restaurants … he mentions being a waiter, a sushi chef, and a few other things, but these all seem to have been in the course of keeping his acting career funded.

The places featured here are Los Angeles, Honolulu, Brooklyn (where he's from), St. Louis, Cleveland, Austin, San Francisco, Portland (Maine), Savannah, and back, five years later with a hit show, to L.A. These, however, are not presented in a “travel/dining” mode, but more like being pulled out of a diary, with Richman describing what he was doing, what he was feeling, where he was staying, etc., with the food stuff just the central element in the narrative.

This “journal” aspect is both the strength of the book and a nagging weakness, as it also brings in what I felt to be a rather discordant note. In almost every one of these places he's either just broken up with somebody and looking for some “rebound action”, or getting together with some gal that he knew from some other time, or chasing down some random woman that he encountered in that city. To me, this was simply “TMI” and his various presentations of the details, or smugly “not telling”, was not adding anything, and the book would have been improved with not having that aspect.

Of course, maybe the author was needing to express himself as a whole human being, with the struggles of his career and his love life there to make this less of a “food book”. At least America the Edible is fairly consistent in tone, whether he's describing life-long haunts, finding places serendipitously, or even just driving around looking for the next place to stop and eat.

Over the years of keeping his journal it appears that he was also snapping some pictures, as there are a smattering of snapshots of food which generally relate to what he's talking about in the text. There are also black boxes with what I'm guessing to be white text to look like a menu blackboard which bring in historical facts, interesting food info, bits of trivia, local tips, and assorted lists (from places to get pizza outside New York to food-related songs), and a few recipes, all of which certainly make the book a more informative read.

Again, this is sort of “in between” genres, it's autobiographical more than you'd expect (want?) in a food journal, but it's not exactly a straight forward food book either. While the effect does come across as charming, you get the feeling that Richman is trying a bit to hard to BE “charming” with personal details that seem only to be in the book to get people to feel some connection with him. This is not to say that the book's not a delightful read, just that (and I realize that I'm a stick-in-the-mud about this) it could have used a firmer hand on the editorial side.

America the Edible is out there, but (oddly enough) both of the big on-line guys have it for full cover price, so if you were looking for a new copy, you might be able to do as well at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor. As noted, I got this a couple of weeks ago at a Dollar Tree, so if you have one of those nearby, you might want to try there … the next best deal would be the new/used guys on Amazon where you can score an “acceptable” copy of the hardcover for just 1¢ (plus the $3.99 shipping, of course). Given the above caveats, I enjoyed reading this, and got a lot of good, very interesting, information from it, so I'm glad I picked up a copy … you probably would be too.

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Tags: book review

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