Eater Article: The Best Food Books to Read This Spring

More fun than law books !

Spring is fast approaching, as the groundhog confirmed on February 2, and with it, comes a bright new crop of new food-related reads. This season’s books truly run the gamut, from a cozy novel set in a fictionalized Great British Bake Off to compelling memoirs that dig deep into themes of family, motherhood, immigration, and in at least one case, mangoes worth shooting someone over. Spring also brings the arrival of The Paris Novel, the much-anticipated latest fiction endeavor from longtime food critic and writer Ruth Reichl.

Use this list of food-related books as a way to fill up your to-be-read shelf in the coming months, whether you’re hoping to learn more about the history of food publishing or simply want to cozy up with a good novel that’s sure to be all over BookTok.

The Best Fiction Food Books

Mrs. Quinn’s Rise to Fame by Olivia Ford

Pamela Dorman Books, out now

Mrs. Quinn’s Rise to Fame is a charming story that falls within the growing niche of books set in, essentially, fictionalized versions of the Great British Bake Off. At 77, Jennifer Quinn lives in the English countryside with her husband Bernard, and despite the quiet peace of their existence, she has begun to feel the smallness “of having reached a point where there was far more of life behind her than ahead of her.” A lifelong baker, Jenny works up the nerve to apply for the competition show Britain Bakes and earns a place as a contestant. Baking brings up secrets and memories from Jenny’s past, and these anecdotes are interspersed throughout the present-day narrative. It’s a sweet, approachable book that’s fit for the times you simply want something that soothes. —Bettina Makalintal, senior reporter

Piglet by Lottie Hazell

Henry Holt & Company, February 27

Lottie Hazell’s debut, which follows a cookbook editor nicknamed Piglet in the days leading up to her wedding, is poised to be a BookTok hit. An early 30s protagonist who is unsure of the direction her life is headed? Check. A social media-friendly cover, featuring a Noah Verrier painting of a cheeseburger? I can see the “what’s in my bag” videos already. Piglet uses its namesake’s pursuit of food to question her satiation in life more broadly: Is this marriage actually what she wants? And, in terms of both food and ambition, does she simply want too much?

Piglet’s hunger is as emotional as it is physical, though Hazell’s exploration might still leave some readers wanting for nuance. But in all, it’s a compelling debut. Hazell’s writing moves quickly, and she excels in setting scenes and describing food and cooking. An instance in which Piglet chaotically assembles croquembouche, willing the towers not to fall apart, is taut enough that you might hold your breath just reading along. —BM

Butter by Asako Yuzuki, translated by Polly Barton

Ecco Press, April 16

First published in Japan in 2017, Asako Yuzuki’s Butter follows Rika Machida, a young Japanese journalist who lives an ascetic and career-focused life, as she develops a friendship with Manako Kaiji, a food-loving murderer who is known for cooking for men, getting them to fund her lifestyle, and then killing them. Rika’s relationship with Manako begins when she writes Manako a letter asking for her beef bourguignon recipe. Manako invites Rika to visit her in prison and coaxes Rika to eat the foods that she’s craving but can’t have.

Butter isn’t so much about crime but rather, Rika’s journey of understanding food and pleasure, with a murderer as her unconventional guide. As Rika begins to appreciate food, she starts to understand the kind of woman she wants to be. Rich with descriptions of beef-fat-coated rice and butter-laden ramen — the latter of which Manako instructs Rika to eat alone, late at night, after having had sex — Butter explores what it means to be a woman who knows her own tastes. (Those sensitive to discussions of weight may want to tread carefully, as this is frequently referenced throughout the book.) —BM

The Paris Novel by Ruth Reichl

Penguin Random House, April 23

Who among us hasn’t wanted to run off to Paris in search of who we really are? In The Paris Novel, the latest from prolific critic and food writer Ruth Reichl, Stella is a shy, rigid young woman working in publishing and trying to come to terms with her strained relationship with her mother, whose life is a stark contrast to Stella’s own dull, regimented existence. When her mother dies, Stella’s inheritance comes in the form of a plane ticket to Paris, where a meal of oysters and Chablis at Les Deux Magots and a chance encounter with a charming old man named Jules opens her eyes to a new world of not just experiencing food, art, and culture — but actually enjoying it. Not long after that restaurant meal, Stella is thrust into the world of Paris art and culture, crossing paths with figures like James Baldwin and Allan Ginsberg, as she seeks to unravel both an art history mystery and the secrets of her mother’s past.

Reichl draws on her own vast experiences dining in and exploring 1980s Paris, which lends immersive vividity to The Paris Novel. Her writing reads like a dish you want to savor, slowly chewing each perfectly chosen word as she describes the distinct experience of eating ortolan for the first time or sipping a red wine that tastes like “liquid rubies.” If you’re familiar with French cuisine, you’ll appreciate Reichl’s extreme attention to detail in depicting its intricacies, and if you’re not, you’ll get a crash course in la grande cuisine as you find yourself immersed in Stella’s journey of self-discovery. —Amy McCarthy, reporter

The Best Nonfiction Food Books

Slow Noodles: A Cambodian Memoir of Love, Loss, and Family Recipes by Chantha Nguon with Kim Green

Algonquin Books, February 20

When your culture has faced the threat of annihilation, cooking its foods is an especially powerful act. This reclamation is the throughline of Chantha Nguon’s new memoir, which is interspersed with recipes for dishes like fish amok and green papaya pickles.

Nguon fled Cambodia for Vietnam at 9 years old and spent over 20 years as a refugee. Her nine years of pleasant memories of food in Cambodia before, as she writes, the Khmer Rouge “remade a civilization into a vast forced-labor camp and turned eight million Cambodians into six million emaciated inmates and beggars,” became foundational as she later built her future. In Vietnam, Thailand, and when she later returned to Cambodia, food dulled the pain of the past and allowed her to remember her lost relatives. “The memory of happiness also lingers — I will never forget its flavors and aromas,” she writes, describing her mother’s pâté de foie. With such descriptions and a strong sense of place, Nguon expertly captures the bittersweet feeling of her memories and makes Slow Noodles a moving reflection. —BM

Rottenkid: A Succulent Story of Survival by Brigit Binns

Sibylline Press, March 5

Cookbook author Brigit Binns grew up surrounded by the trappings of Old Hollywood — attending school with Jamie Lee Curtis and once boarding a boat with her father Eddie to film a television show alongside Robert Wagner — but it wasn’t until she left home that her true passions, and her career trajectory, began to take shape.

Binns’s father was distant; he frequently lived on the East Coast to work in theater, leaving Binns with her cold, often openly cruel mother. As she grows up and begins traveling, Binns finds both comfort and escape in food, including learning how to cook French classics at a British cooking school. After culinary school, cooking provided solace as she moved across Europe to coastal Spain, where she began a catering business, and dealt with the end of her marriage. The food Binns describes — poached chicken in bechamel, crudites with Roquefort dip — is delightfully ’80s glam, a striking contrast to her emotional turmoil. Post-divorce, Binns returns to her home state of California, where she begins her culinary career in earnest, writing for food publications and developing recipes before eventually becoming a prolific cookbook writer. With a dry, often acerbic tone that brings humor to even the most devastating situations, Rottenkid is a remarkable telling of a unique life. —AM

If You Can’t Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury by Geraldine DeRuiter

Crown Publishing, March 12

Inspired by her viral essay on Mario Batali’s less-than-lackluster apology, which bizarrely included a recipe for cinnamon rolls, Geraldine DeRuiter goes scorched-earth in this collection of essays that explore the complicated intersections between women, dining, food culture, and the ways that all of the above are portrayed in media. Whether writing about her affinity for Red Lobster or putting the pieces back together after a terrible kitchen fire, DeRuiter approaches the subject with both wry wit and a sharp tongue. And considering the often-depressing subject matter (service industry misogyny, most prominently), she manages to examine the ways that women are marginalized in the culinary world — and her own anxieties surrounding food — with refreshing candor and a big pinch of humor. —AM

The Mango Tree: A Memoir of Fruit, Florida, and Felony by Annabelle Tometich

Little, Brown, April 2

How far would you go to protect your precious mangoes? If you’re the mother of writer Annabelle Tometich, you’d go to jail. In The Mango Tree, Tometich tells the winding story of how she went from the child of immigrants growing up in sunny Florida to becoming an accomplished food critic for her hometown paper, the Fort Myers News-Press, all while dealing with her mother’s eccentricities. The story begins when Tometich’s mother is being sentenced for shooting at a man who was trying to pilfer fruits from her mango trees, and it only gets wilder — and more compelling — from there. —AM

The French Ingredient: A Memoir by Jane Bertch

Penguin Random House, April 9

Offered an opportunity to move to Paris and further her career in the finance industry in 2005, Jane Bertch had trouble fitting in in France — at first. As she slowly adjusts to the country’s decidedly unique social and cultural atmosphere, Bertch also realizes that she’s no longer fulfilled by her work in banking. And so she sets out to live her dream by opening La Cuisine Paris, an English-speaking cooking school for home cooks looking to refine their skills, four years later in 2009. As you might expect, opening a cooking school in the middle of Paris is not without its challenges, and in stark, compelling detail, Bertch shares her experiences trying to keep La Cuisine afloat amid some pretty extreme challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and 2015’s terrorist attacks. —AM

Bite by Bite: Nourishments and Jamborees by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Ecco Press, May 7

Through 40 short, food-themed essays, Aimee Nezhukumatathil constructs her personal history as the American-born daughter of a Filipino mother and an Indian father. Each essay is just a handful of pages, and each is centered around a particular ingredient or dish and how it’s meaningful to her: mangoes, pawpaw, gyro, crawfish. Mangoes, she writes, are “a self-portrait,” and with age, she has learned to no longer hide herself or pick sides; both the Alphonsos of India and the Carabaos of the Philippines have their merits. Nezhukumatathil’s background as a poet is obvious throughout. Her writing is lyrical (some essays include poems), and her brevity shows her skill in word choice and description. Bite by Bite will be an especially good option for anyone trying to get out of a reading slump. —BM

The Editor: How Publishing Legend Judith Jones Shaped Culture in America by Sara B. Franklin

Atria Books, May 28

The food world as we know it owes so much to Judith Jones, Sara B. Franklin argues in her new biography of the editor behind foundational works including Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (You might recognize Franklin’s name in association with Jones from her 2022 Lithub piece that debunked the portrayal of Jones in the Max show Julia.) In The Editor, Franklin traces Jones’s oeuvre beyond food, including her advocacy for The Diary of Anne Frank. But she emphasizes the editor’s cookbook contributions for a reason: That Jones’s impact on American culture and literature hasn’t fully gotten its due, she explains, is because the literary establishment has historically (and one might argue, still) not taken books about food seriously.

Franklin’s book follows Jones from her girlhood in New York and Vermont to her adulthood as an instrumental part of American publishing, eventually working at Alfred A. Knopf for 56 years. Her writing relies on having spent years interviewing and developing a friendship with Jones, reading her personal papers, and interviewing those close to her. It’s buoyant, full of encounters with the who’s who of the American literary canon and evocative imagery of Parisian dinner parties and important New York meetings. It’s a must-read for anyone who appreciates culinary history, but it’s engaging enough to sway even those who aren’t usually drawn to nonfiction. —BM