Book City: What's Seattle foodie Molly Wizenberg reading?
Molly Wizenberg is a Seattle-based food writer, memoirist, photographer an- restaurateur. Her website “Orangette”, was named best food blog in the world by the London Times. Molly has written two best selling books, and she co-hosts the hit food-and-comedy podcast “Spilled Milk.” She and her husband Brandon Petit own and run the Ballard-area restaurants Delancey and Essex.
What books are open on your nightstand right now?
“The Summer Book,” by Tove Jansson, recommended to me by a friend in Edinburgh whose book club loved it. All I know so far is that it’s set on a Scandinavian island in summertime. Also “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work,” by Mason Currey, and a bunch of copies of “The New Yorker.”
Have you read a book lately you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?
The first thing that comes to mind is a YA novel “This Song Will Save Your Life,” by Leila Sales. The narrator is a teenager who feels utterly unhappy in her own skin, but who slowly uncovers her tremendous talents as a disc jockey. I went through a little YA phase this summer, and it was pure pleasure.
Any book you’ve read lately that really caught your imagination, inspired you or changed how you look at the world?
I just finished, and loved, Lena Dunham’s book “Not That Kind of Girl.” It’s well written, of course, and funny, but more than anything, it’s thought provoking. She’s a wonderful example of what it means to be a feminist today.
Any well-reviewed or popular books that didn’t live up to the hype? That disappointed you?
A good friend recommended “Light Years,” by James Salter, and I kept it in the back of my mind for couple of years before finally picking it up. But I found that I just couldn’t stick with it. I found the writing style sort of impenetrable and the characters unsympathetic. Oh well.
Do you mostly read non-fiction or fiction? Any favorite genres?
I tend to read a lot of nonfiction — memoirs, long-form essays. I recently read two essays in “The New Yorker” that absolutely electrified me: one by Hector Tobar about the Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days, and one by Burkhard Bilger about extreme cavers. (Guess I have a thing for caves?) I find that real life is almost always more interesting than anything we could invent. But I’ve been returning to fiction in the past year, reading some YA, as I mentioned, and finally tackling “Madame Bovary.” (Ow.)
Would you say you write cookbooks, or memoirs or blog-to-books? How would you describe “A Homemade Life” and “Delancey"?
When I set out to write the book that became “A Homemade Life,” I thought I was writing a cookbook. It was my editor who helped me to see that it was actually a memoir — and to believe that I was capable of writing it. And “Delancey” is absolutely a memoir. In that one, the recipes came much later; the story was the point.
How long have you been writing your blog, and why do you think the London Times named ‘Orangette’ the best food blog in the world?
I started my blog in July of 2004, so it’s been more than a decade now. It’s crazy. I never anticipated that! I think it’s succeeded on the strength of the writing. There are a ton of blogs out there, but there are few that I actually want to read. I try to follow my nose, to do the kind of work that I want to consume.
Does living in the Northwest influence your cooking? Your writing?
Absolutely. We have a lot of farmers’ markets, and my cooking is very much influenced by seasons and seasonal food. For me, food and cooking are markers of time, both in my daily life and in the larger sense. The geography and climate of the Northwest are also big for me. I grew up in Oklahoma, where it’s mostly flat flat flat, so the landscape here is a huge inspiration. Going for a walk always gets me thinking.
Do you collect cookbooks? What cookery authors have inspired you?
I don’t collect them, per se, but I have somehow accumulated a lot! My favorite cookbook authors these days are, in no particular order, Nigel Slater, Edna Lewis, Marion Cunningham, Molly Stevens, Melissa Clark and Fuchsia Dunlop. Dunlop is a British food writer and an authority on Chinese food. Her newest book is “Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking,” which isn’t as exotic as it seems if you just have a few basic ingredients. Everything I’ve cooked from it has turned out great.
Are your cookbooks pristine or splattered?
Splattered! They lie open on the counter, sometimes for weeks at a time. They’ve got water rings, oil splatters, you name it. I dog-ear recipes that I like or want to try, and I always write notes in the margins — ingredients I changed, that kind of thing.
Do you have favorite cooking blogs?
“The Wednesday Chef,” by Luisa Weiss; she has an Italian mother and lives in Berlin. I go to it for the writing, and Weiss’s wonderful sense for food honed by the overlapping cultures in her life.
What were your most cherished books when you were a child? Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?
There were tons. But for some reason, the only ones I’m remembering right now are “Where the Red Fern Grows,” by Wilson Rawls and “The Baby-Sitters Club” books! Oy. And “Forever,” by Judy Blume. It was scandalous, and I loved it.
Do you have a book or two that you’ve re-read over the years?
“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” by Michael Chabon. It’s his first novel, a coming of age story and I love the voice of the narrator. It’s the only book I’ve read three times.
Are you working on a new book?
For now, I’m working on staying in a good rhythm with my blog, and this winter, my husband and I plan to start work on a proposal for a Delancey cookbook. We’ll see!
What Val’s Reading this Week: Marilynne Robinson’s new novel “Lila” revisits the fictional town of Gilead. No one writes more skillfully about human nature, and Robinson plumbs the depths of heart and intellect in Lila, a mistreated, rootless child grown into a mistrustful yet deeply sympathetic woman. How is Robinson able to write books full of poverty, struggle and shame, yet ultimately so joyful and satisfying? “Lila” is, in the end, a most unusual love story.