Book: Provence, 1970: M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr
Genre: History / Biography
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Publication date: 2013
Summary: During a couple of months in late 1970, the great voices of the American food world found themselves in southern France. Provence, 1970 relates their comings and goings, their meetings and conversations, and what they ate. M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and others were at a turning point. They didn’t turn away from France, exactly, but they were ready to take what they learned from French cooking and apply it in new modern ways to suit American attitudes. This great story is told by Luke Barr, grand-nephew of M.F.K. Fisher, who had access to people, letters, and other revealing documents.
Thoughts: I wasn’t going to read this book. After reading the review at Beth Fish Reads, I decided that I should read something, anything, by M.F.K. Fisher first. I’m not sure why I haven’t read M.F.K. Fisher — I think I picked up one of her books in my twenties and it wasn’t what I expected (possibly, I expected How to Cook a Wolf to be about hiking, nature, and wolves. Now that I see what it’s really about, it sounds perfect for my current self.) But I already had Provence, 1970 on the request list at the library. When it came in, I took just a peek. Before I knew it, I was completely sucked into the adventure.
The people mentioned in the title are the likable heroes of the tale. Other characters are fun to read about because of their viciousness, like this passage describing a visit between Richard Olney, American food writer, and Sybille Bedford, English novelist and travel writer:
They brought out the worst in each other: cutting, cruel superiority and a sneaking and rather pleasurable misanthropy, all expressed in the form of bitter complaint and vindictive character assessments. p. 166
A good life lesson, there, I thought. The other characters in the book strike me as happier and it’s related, in part, to being less judgmental.
Child’s TV persona was sui generis, combining passionate instruction; a theatrical, at times comic sensibility; and real human warmth. It all served to make her both supremely fascinating and supremely approachable. Indeed, the Child on television and the Child in person were one and the same. p. 231
Appeal: A lovely book to read this time of year — there are even some quiet, not quite melancholy, Christmas scenes. Provence, 1970 would also be a great book for the Francophile or foodie on your Christmas list. Less obvious, this is a book that will appeal to writers, even ones who don’t write about food. The hints about the writing, publishing, and promoting process continue to have resonance today.
I will link this to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads this morning and Dreaming of France at An Accidental Blog on Monday. There will be many more cooking and France links to visit at those two locations.
Have you read this book? What did you think?