Release Date: April 2, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
To say that Ruth Reichl’s career trajectory is impressive is an understatement (at least coming from the point of view of an avid reader and writer). Her memoir illustrates the myriad of ways that Gourmet magazine has played a role in her life, beginning in childhood, when she idolized the pages of her Grandmother’s copies. As a burgeoning writer, she visited the magazine’s office to pitch an article idea, but was sorely rejected. From there, she takes the reader through her time working as a restaurant critic. Her experiences there, and at the L.A. Times, are woven into small flashbacks. When she is eventually offered the role at Gourmet, Ruth is skeptical. The magazine as she sees it at the time, is no longer that which she adored as a child, it has become predictable, and she isn’t sure she has the means to make the types of major changes it would need to make it successful again. The fact is, she has no such experience.
Nonetheless, when faced with an offer for a salary six times what she currently making, along with a driver and yearly clothing allowance (how is that a real thing?!), Ruth takes the plunge. The rest of the book chronicles the ups and downs that Ruth, and Gourmet face. Her palpable fear when faced with her new staff for the first time gave me major secondhand embarrassment. Ruth jumps the gun, trying to please her new colleagues by agreeing to start her new job three months early, while finishing up her current job. Ruth’s people-pleasing qualities were all too relatable.
The ebbs and flows in Ruth’s experience at Gourmet were remarkable. I ate up every detail (pun intended) from the ultimate success of David Foster Wallace’s game changing article on the ethics of human eating habits, to the unexpected outrage that followed the decision to put a cupcake-covered cake on the front of the magazine. The struggle with keeping a constant staff was especially eye-opening, as was the insight into the way that Condé Nast runs, seemingly swapping around upper management from publication to publication with little warning or explanation. Those segments of the memoir were disheartening, and I could feel Ruth’s frustration.
I also loved the way Ruth tied her family life into writing that was primarily career oriented. Her son’s relationship to food was interesting, and especially how much he longed for his mom to stay home and cook for him. This was a unique contrast to my childhood experience of longing for a chance to eat at restaurants.
The descriptions of food throughout this memoir were, of course, mouthwatering. It’s obvious that Reichl has spent much of her life writing about food: she knows exactly how to make her words succulent and enticing. Overall, this book was, in and of itself, a delicious treat. It far surpassed my expectations, especially as an ARC I received, and did not seek out for myself.