Thank goodness the waiter slipped coffee into my decaf. Yes, I was up all night, but it gave me time to read "Comfort Me With Apples" in one huge, delicious sitting. If you read and liked Ruth Reichl's previous memoir, "Tender at the Bone," then run out and get this one--it's better. And if you haven't read Tender at the Bone, then get this anyway, or just make your life better and get both.
I'd initially shied away from reading this book because sophomore efforts are rarely as good as the originals, because the first few pages, when I scanned them, looked awfully dreary (all those Berkeley folks giving Reichl a very hard and preachy time of it, complaining that her new job as a restaurant reviewer means selling out), and because of some negative reviews on Amazon. Now that I've reread those reviews, I'm surprised--some people seem to have read such a different book than I did.
But I just figured out what the problem must be. Reichl is a devoted foodie and food writer, but she is also an eloquent and moving memoirist. If you've come to her work looking for insight only about food, go elsewhere (I suggest Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything, or AJ Liebling's Between Meals). But if your interested in lives--women's lives especially--and how they intertwine with careers and passions (Reichl's passion being for food among other things), get this. Reichl is definitely and consciously writing in the tradition of MFK Fisher, who used food as a prism to write about a thousand other things.
Reichl's chief story line is about her career as a restaurant critic and a reporter on the scene of the great revolution in Californian (and hence American) cuisine. Contrary to one reviewer, I didn't think she's telling this story to show off; her insights about Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Fisher, and others are worthwhile and fascinating. Her subplot is her personal life--divorce and remarriage, the death of her father, the adoption and loss of one child and the birth of another. In the hands of another writer these personal details might be mawkish or dreary; I found them wonderfully engrossing.
Of course there are problems with the book. I agreed with many others that tales of trips to China, Thailand, and Barcelona at times seemed more like magazine articles than a coherent part of a memoir. Unlike others, I didn't like the recipes at the end of each chapter; I found it intrusive to go from an emotionally wrenching description of the end of an affair, for example, into chirpee cookbookese ("count on a pound of asparagus per person. Buy the fattest stalks you can . . . ") The memoir parts of the book could have been slightly more self-reflective; Reichl needn't show regret she doesn't feel for the affairs she had during her marriage, but it would seem natural to acknowledge them as something the merest bit more troublesome than the decision about which main course to choose at La Tour d'Argent. Nevertheless, the book overall was wonderful, warm, lusty, passionate, filling, generous, and evocative. I recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in food, life, or love.