I am very biased toward Number One Chinese Restaurant for reasons that have nothing to do with the book itself. It’s a debut novel by a writer from the DC area—plus, her name is very close to mine. Usually, when I’m biased toward a novel for such silly reasons, it then disappoints me. Not this time! Number One Chinese Restaurant is a delight. Its food writing is as good as you want it to be, its characters are wonderful and wonderfully awful, and Li is expert at braiding together her high level of insight with her great sense of humor. Early in the book, one of her protagonists remembers ruefully, “Love came slowly, as weaknesses in the body often do.” As soon as I read that, I was sold.
Imagine Sheila Heti’s last book, How Should A Person Be?, mixed with Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation and the I Ching, and you already know what reading Motherhood is like. Confusing, charming, and heartbreaking in equal measure, Heti’s maybe-a-novel takes us deep into the thoughts of a writer debating, you got it, motherhood. Whether she’s interpreting her dreams or holding a friend’s baby, flipping coins at her desk or smoking with strangers on book tour, the unnamed narrator is honest, relatable, and perfectly voiced. I loved spending time in her head.
Tamar Adler has had more of an impact on the way I eat than anyone but my mother. Her essays and books—first An Everlasting Meal, now Something Old, Something New—are all about taking pleasure in the fact of food. She can make celery root sound luxurious, kale stems seem fancy. She can make you long for stale bread, or, in Something Old, Something New, for Salisbury steak and lettuce soup. Her genius is re-framing, whether it’s turning stale bread into garlicky crumbs or a strange ‘50s clam recipe into perfect, modern clams casino. She’s a pleasure to read, and her recipes (and un-recipes) are a pleasure to cook. I cannot recommend her enough.