Monday, September 12, 2011

Freerange Nonfiction Presented "A Night of Food Writing": Four Books You Should Check Out

This past Wednesday night I attended the Freerange Nonfiction Reading Series event at Pianos on the Lower East Side. Freerange Nonfiction is a group supporting and preserving the art of nonficition by nurturing writers and holding monthly readings. Recently they started doing more thematic readings and kicked off Wednesday with the theme of Food Writing. I heard about the event from Jonathan Dixon's Beaten Seared and Sauced Facebook page and decided to check it out. 

Four authors would be reading from their own books of food/drink-related nonfiction. Naturally, Jonathan Dixon was there to read from Beaten Seared and Sauced, Max Watman read from Chasing the White Dog, Lauren Shockey read from Four Kitchens, and Danyelle Freeman read from Try This. You know by now I loved Dixon's book but I have also been meaning to read Shockey's Four Kitchens. I had heard of Freeman's book but did not know much about it and I hadn't heard of Watman or his book before the event. I was looking forward to an evening of good readings and more titles to add to my constantly expanding list of books to read. That was just what I got. 

Being at Pianos I felt a bit out of place, not quite trendy or "hip" enough to be there in my all black ensemble. The crowd was small, mainly due to the never-ending rain we'd experienced all week, but they were happy to be there. Mira Ptacin got the evening going with an introduction to the evening and Freerange Nonfiction. Then Max Watman started the readings with an excerpt from Chasing the White Dog.

Watman's book is about his journey through the world of Moonshine. He read the chapter titled "Skillet's Place." From the moment he finished reading the first page of his selection, I could tell Watman was a great writer and that his book would be a joy to read. In this part of the book he's exploring the nip joints where moonshine is served and trying to see if he can go to one or at least acquire some moonshine that is sold in one. The descriptions he gives of how he imagines them, the realities he discovers, the people he meets (and the dialogue with them) and finally the moment he tastes some nip joint moonshine are vivid, entertaining and intriguing. You want to know more. Even though I had not heard of Watman before Wednesday night, he is on my radar now and I plan to read his book even though I'm not very interested in moonshine. 

Next up was Danyelle Freeman who read the introduction to her book Try This: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving the Table. Her book is divided by regional cuisines and gives descriptions of specific dishes in each. She chose her introduction which gives an overview of the book and how she came to be Restaurant Girl. She explains how she doesn't read romance novels on the subway, but instead opts to pore over menus in transit. Before she goes to sleep at night she highlights and makes notes in her Zagat. Her introduction encourages her reader to try new things while out to eat. She offers her book as the guide to discovering new menu items and what the sometimes strange names for things really mean. Her book would make a great gift to any adventurous eater or anyone stuck in a food rut. I may pick it up someday myself to learn more about undiscovered dishes that could become my next great meal. 

After Freeman whet our appetites with descriptions of the best ravioli in New Jersey Lauren Shockey turned our stomachs in a different direction with an unforgettable meal. During her time staging in Hanoi, Vietnam she took the opportunity to try some regional cuisine... dog meat. It all began with her asking a Vietnamese friend, Hung, what dog meat tastes like which in turn lead him to offer to take her out to try some on their next meeting. Shockey's writing and dictation of her experience had everyone in the audience gutturally reacting. With comically written skepticism about preparing to try dog Shockey's outlook stays bright and upbeat. I won't spoil what she thought about her meal, so you can read her book and find out for yourself. Four Kitchens is a book that has been on my list for the past few months. After the reading it is one I plan to get my hands on sooner rather than later. [I don't have a picture of Shockey reading because I was far too enthralled by her story as her very first paragraph ended with the words "dog meat."]

To finish off the evening Jonathan Dixon read from Beaten Seared and Sauced. Though I had heard Dixon discuss the book at the event I attended in May, this was the first time I heard him read from his own work. The event's MC introduced Dixon, desperately hoping his reading would be about "broccoli" to ease our dog meat turned stomachs but instead the reading he had selected paired all too well with Shockey's. Dixon coyly alluded to what his reading was about before starting saying that he and a group of students were asked to do something... and they did. He read from Chapter 5 of the book when he and some fellow students go with Chef Sebald to Brook Farm to harvest chickens. Dixon wrote about the experience with respect but also with the realistic ways people react in these situations. He describes the daughter of the farmers who has tear-ridden eyes the whole day, the matter-of-fact way the group of people eats together before killing chickens. I love Dixon's book and would recommend it to anyone who is a student of food and cooking, which most likely is anyone who would be reading this sentence. 

When the readings were finished the author's milled about speaking to one another, to family and friends who came to see them and to new found fans and readers to come. The next Freerange Reading event will be October 5th and I believe the theme is War and Peace. It is a cool way to spend an evening and if you enjoy nonfiction and author readings I definitely recommend checking them out.


Laura Lutz said...

Oooh, I had never heard of CHASING THE WHITE DOG before your post - it sounds fantastic. Clicking "buy" on my iPad right now...

The Culinary Librarian said...

Glad to hear it Laura! Sounds like a great story and a great read.

Jessica @The Literary Foodie said...

Would have loved to be there for this great line up. I am currently reading "Beaten, Seared & sauced" and really enjoying it, would have liked to hear him read. Also, thanks for the Watman rec, will look into finding some of his as well.

The Culinary Librarian said...

Thanks for your comment, Jessica! Dixon is a great writer and he reads his work well- check out the Beaten Seared and Sauced FB page for when he has readings! []

And I haven't gotten to read Watman's yet but I think when I do I'll really enjoy it!

Happy Reading! and thanks for stopping by.