Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites
Blue Plate Special, novelist Kate Christensen's new memoir about food and sex and writing -- or, as she calls it, "An Autobiography of My Appetites" -- opens with a homey scene familiar to the food writing genre. All the typical nostalgic elements are there: the weather outside is chill. The family is gathered around the table. Christensen's mother is making "soft-boiled eggs with pieces of buttered toast broken into them" -- ideal comfort food. The reader is lulled by this lovely Ruth Reichl-esque fantasy...into which Christensen then introduces a moment of shocking domestic violence.
While this sudden change in tone is certainly enough to gain one's attention, what impressed me -- and turned me from someone who was casually perusing this book's first few pages into someone eager to gobble it down like warm buttered toast and eggs -- was Christensen's forthright emotional honesty in analyzing both her two-year-old and her adult reaction to this scene. "In that moment, as a helpless child, I had two choices of people to identify with. In that moment, I split in half. As part of me stared at the eggshells, the toast crumbs, the empty, yolk-streaked bowls, that other part allied itself with my father, the person with the strength and force and power. And so, from then on, I denied that part of me that was female. I tried to be like some idealized version of a guy: tough, impermeable, ambitious, sexually aggressive, and intolerant of weakness and vulnerability, in myself and everyone else."
In the writing of Blue Plate Special, however, Christensen allows herself to be vulnerable and then some. With a refreshing lack of sentimentality but a richly flavored memory, she lays herself bare, mapping out the ups and downs of the rest of her childhood in Berkeley, Arizona, France, and beyond; her struggle to make a living as a writer in New York; and the travails of her love life and failed marriage. In all of these things she holds herself firmly to account, with psychological insight that was doubly fascinating to me: as if I were staring at a stage and looking in a mirror. Never have I read a memoir and come away so desperately wanting to be the writer's friend. (Call me!) This is followed quite closely by wanting to read all her previous fiction, and try out her wealth of recipes -- helpfully included. -- Anna Kaufman
From acclaimed novelist Kate Christensen, Blue Plate Special is a mouthwatering literary memoir about an unusual upbringing and the long, winding path to happiness.
“To taste fully is to live fully.” For Kate Christensen, food and eating have always been powerful connectors to self and world—“a subterranean conduit to sensuality, memory, desire.” Her appetites run deep; in her own words, she spent much of her life as “a hungry, lonely, wild animal looking for happiness and stability.” Now, having found them at last, in this passionate feast of a memoir she reflects upon her journey of innocence lost and wisdom gained, mistakes made and lessons learned, and hearts broken and mended.
In the tradition of M. F. K. Fisher, Laurie Colwin, and Ruth Reichl, Blue Plate Special is a narrative in which food—eating it, cooking it, reflecting on it—becomes the vehicle for unpacking a life. Christensen explores her history of hunger—not just for food but for love and confidence and a sense of belonging—with a profound honesty, starting with her unorthodox childhood in 1960s Berkeley as the daughter of a mercurial legal activist who ruled the house with his fists. After a whirlwind adolescent awakening, Christensen strikes out to chart her own destiny within the literary world and the world of men, both equally alluring and dangerous. Food of all kinds, from Ho Hos to haute cuisine, remains an evocative constant throughout, not just as sustenance but as a realm of experience unto itself, always reflective of what is going on in her life. She unearths memories—sometimes joyful, sometimes painful—of the love between mother and daughter, sister and sister, and husband and wife, and of the times when the bonds of love were broken. Food sustains her as she endures the pain of these ruptures and fuels her determination not to settle for anything less than the love and contentment for which she’s always yearned.
The physical and emotional sensuality that defines Christensen’s fiction resonates throughout the pages of Blue Plate Special. A vibrant celebration of life in all its truth and complexity, this book is about embracing the world through the transformative power of food: it’s about listening to your appetites, about having faith, and about learning what is worth holding on to and what is not.
About the Author
KATE CHRISTENSEN is the author of six previous novels, most recently The Astral. The Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award. She has published reviews and essays in numerous publications, most recently the New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, O, Elle, and Gilt Taste. She writes an occasional drinks column for The Wall Street Journal called "With a Twist." Her blog can be accessed at: http://katechristensen.wordpress.com
Praise for Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites…
Praise for Blue Plate Special:
“I’ve often thought that eating, writing and living well required similar qualities: creativity, daring, the ability to savor the good stuff and learn from the bad. Blue Plate Special is the memoir of an utterly original thinker, a free-spirited gourmand, and a great American writer. It’s an expert guide on inspiration, ingenuity, heartbreak, buoyancy, home, love, family, screwing up, bouncing back and perfecting the bacon-cheddar biscuit.”
—Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects
“Blue Plate Special is the evocative, irresistible tale of the life and loves of one of America’s greatest writers, Kate Christensen. Her loves include: Family, friends, men, travel, literature, but perhaps most of all, food. This is a breathtaking book, sensuously written, emotionally generous, and decadent as a bowl of macaroni and cheese.”
—Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins
“No American author writes with greater generosity of spirit or blazing descriptive power than Kate Christensen. Blue Plate Special is a marvel of a memoir—warm, wise, earthy, funny, honest, haunting, and bighearted. Christensen takes her place among the other great writers who’ve shown us that the best writing about food must also be about life and love and the world that grants us these gifts. If you’re crazy about M.F.K Fisher and Laurie Colwin, you will be crazy for this book, too. There's not a single empty calorie here: every morsel is both delicious and nourishing.”
— Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking With Men
“Kate Christensen’s prose has always been dazzling and brilliant even as it amuses and entertains. In Blue Plate Special, she applies her formidable talent to a memoir about the role of food in her (not always easy or kosher) past and present. The result is a glorious feast of meals, prose, and life from one of our finest writers today—a banquet of a book about eating, loving, and overcoming, to be devoured as fast as one’s fingers can turn the pages.”
— Cathi Hanauer, author of Gone and Sweet Ruin, and editor of The Bitch in the House
“A novelist’s deliciously engrossing exploration of her life through the two major passions that have defined it: food and writing…A Rabelaisian celebration of appetite, complete with savory recipes, that genuinely satisfies.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Christensen writes with savory, home-cooked clarity as she digs deeply into the pleasures and dangers of food, charting the culinary fads of the 1960s on as well as changes to women’s lives while zestfully telling intimate, harrowing, and hilarious tales of appetites corrosive and nourishing.”
“Christensen…brings a real sense of enchantment to her food writing…She is both sensual and wickedly observant, a hard combination to pull off.”
“In the end, Christensen makes no grand pronouncements, offers no advice, reveals no starry epiphany. There is, simply, life, and its small pleasures, and maybe, with time, a little bit of peacemaking with the company of memory, over plates of asparagus and steamed-and-buttered clams, small glasses of Rioja and chocolate-dipped strawberries, and out of it all a generosity of spirit…”
“In Blue Plate Special, Christensen has deftly tucked food into every scenario, every relationship and every crossroads. But it isn’t her subject. Eating is what she was doing while she was growing up, falling in love and becoming a writer. She recounts all of this very well, creating a homey and vivid portrait of a woman who has dedicated herself to sitting in a room—sometimes of her own—and writing good books, including this one.”
— The Wall Street Journal
“A mouthwateringly good story that begs to be read and shared. “
“After publishing six novels, Christensen (The Great Man) turned her literary attention to food—first in a blog and now in this poignant, delicious first memoir…A delightful book that leaves you hungering for more.”
— People Magazine
“How many more food-based memoirs does the reading public really need? Novelist Kate Christensen proves that there’s always room for one more, provided that it’s good and this one is…There’s plenty of food (and no shortage of alcohol) in these pages, counterbalanced with some really fine prose.”
— The Christian Science Monitor
“Picking up Blue Plate Special is a little like having Kate Christensen sit down next to you in a bar and hearing her life story. In a bar, you wouldn’t get her recipes, however. They appear in the book and are built for comfort, from the Bachelorette Puttanesca to the Dark Night of the Soul Soup.”
— Los Angeles Times