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2020 Book Concierge: Books For Foodies

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

NPR's Book Concierge has nearly 400 recommendations from staff and critics. I give to you this holiday season a little assistance to find a book for you or a loved one. Today, some ideas for books about food from four of our colleagues.

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CONNOR DONEVAN, BYLINE: My name is Connor Donevan. I'm a producer for the show All Things Considered. I'm recommending the book "Cooking For One" by America's Test Kitchen. I have been a single person for a lot of this pandemic. And like a lot of people, I've been cooking a bunch. And cooking for one can just be depressing. It's kind of a lot of work for a small payoff, especially when, you know, you're not having the occasional dinner parties or things that you might have because of COVID.

So I've read a few cookbooks that are sort of like cooking for one oriented, and they are all great. But what I like about this one is it's almost like an entire system of cooking. They have tips on how to shop for ingredients. If they have you use half a head of cabbage, they have ideas for what to do with the other half of that head of cabbage. They have cool ideas for how to freeze and reuse things. It's just lots of tips and kind of recipes that are specifically designed to be not a total pain in the butt, but also kind of exciting enough that they're better than just getting takeout and eating it over the sink, which is sometimes the alternative when you're a single person.

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ANJULI SASTRY, BYLINE: I'm Anjuli Sastry, and I'm a producer on It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders. My book is "Recipe For Persuasion" by Sonali Dev. It's about a struggling chef. Her name is Ashna Raje. And she is trying to kind of bring her dad's restaurant back into, like, full force. You know, she had a very difficult relationship with him, and he passes away. And there's, like, a meet-cute situation with someone from her past. And she kind of finds her identity and becomes more comfortable with this former flame and also her cooking.

And what I loved most about it is that there's no explanatory comma. So she's, like, sprinkling in little bits of, like, South Asian tradition or, like, names of Indian dishes, and she's not, like, stepping back and being like, this is da, da, da, da, da (ph) and what it is. But there is, like, a lot of rich description and character development that I just really needed during this intense dumpster fire year.

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NATALIE WINSTON, BYLINE: Hi. My name is Natalie Winston, and I am the executive producer of Weekend All Things Considered. The book I'm recommending is called "How To Wash The Dishes" by Peter Miller.

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WINSTON: It may sound pretty basic, but it actually taught me lots of things that I had never known and never thought about. A lot of it comes down to having a big bowl of soapy water in your sink at all times. There are other tips, like don't put any knives in the bottom of the bowl because that's a great way to stab yourself accidentally.

Not only did this book come out at the exact most perfect moment, March 2020, when we all started doing a lot more dishes at home, but also, it's just beautifully written, with so many cute insights that really make doing the dishes more fun.

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ROSE FRIEDMAN, BYLINE: I'm Rose Friedman. I'm an editor on NPR's Arts Desk, and I'm also an editor on the Book Concierge. I am recommending Bill Buford's "Dirt," which is a book I've been waiting for for a really long time, ever since I read his first memoir, "Heat," which was about moving to Italy. This one is about moving to France.

And the book is just delightful. He's really fun to hang out with just as a writer. You just want to spend time in his orbit. He apprentices himself to different kitchens around Lyon, France. He learns to cook a ton of French dishes, obviously, and describes them in ways that sound delicious. He is the kind of writer who will just as happily catalogue his failures in the kitchen as his successes, which if you like to cook, it's a fun thing to sort of watch somebody else fail over and over until they get it. But at its heart, it's really just a book about taking his family on this big adventure, and it's lovely.

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SIMON: That was Rose Friedman recommending "Dirt," Natalie Winston recommending "How To Wash The Dishes," Anjuli Sastry, who recommended "Recipe For Persuasion," and Connor Donevan talking about "Cooking For One." For suggestions for the gourmand who likes to eat, cook or clean up after eating and the full list of NPR Book Concierge recommendations, you can visit npr.org/bestbooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.