Critics' Lists: Summer 2013
7:03 am
Mon July 22, 2013

Hidden Gems: 5 Summer Books That Deserve More Fanfare

Originally published on Tue March 18, 2014 4:04 pm

In the old days, when a book came out it just had to compete with other books. But these days a book has to compete not only with other books, but also with blog posts and tweets and tumblrs and everything else in written form. There's only so much that readers feel like reading, and as a result, every year many good books get lost under a tide of prose. How many times does a writer go to a party and someone asks, "When is your book coming out?" And the answer is, "Uh, six months ago." And then there's an awkward, horrible silence, and the person asking the question mutters something and rushes off to refresh his drink.

The publication of every good book should ideally be met with a triumphal, trumpet fanfare. But that doesn't always happen. I looked back over many of the books that have been published this year and selected five that deserve a little more fanfare.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Every summer, NPR Books asks its critics and correspondents to list the year's best books so far. Reviewer Meg Wolitzer has sorted through her hidden gems, books that flew under the radar and deserved more attention, and here she is with her favorite.

MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: It used to be when a book came out it just had to compete with other books. But these days, there are blog posts and tweets and Tumblrs and everything else. And there's only so much that people feel like reading, so every year all these great things get lost under a tide of prose.

How many times does a writer go to a party and someone says: When is your book coming out? And the answer is: Uh, six months ago. And then there's this horrible silence, and they both rush to refresh their drinks.

"The Duke's Table" isn't going to have that problem. Its author is long dead. But it did get kind of overlooked, and that's too bad. It's a cookbook, but it's not the kind that's going to seduce you with beautiful, burnished photographs of eggplant. It was originally published in 1930 by Enrico Alliata, Duke of Salaparuta. He wrote that he wanted to transform our diet and, by doing so, repair our health, our culture and our world. So he took classic Italian dishes and translated them into meatless ones.

We get recipes in here for things like egg medallions in fricassee, which involves 10 eggs, four ounces of butter, four ounces of parmesan cheese and some other white and yellow ingredients. There's a carrot and beet flan, an artichoke cutlets, which I definitely plan to make, and there's a dish called milk squares cooked in broth, which I definitely do not. The duke was even prescient enough to write an entire section on raw food. That said, he doesn't seem to realize that if he really wanted to be cool, he should have also devoted a section to the wonders of kale.

"The Duke's Table" was written long before today's locavore, sophisticated, Alice Waters, foodie paradise, but it's not just a curiosity. This guy really knew his way around a cauliflower.

CORNISH: Meg Wolitzer is the author of "The Interestings." You can find more of her hidden gems at nprbooks.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.