Highlights in the Charts
By Jenna Tomlinson and Lauren Fardoe
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
World famous actor Stanley Tucci is no stranger to cooking. The face of Tanqueray gin; author of two cookbooks; food travel series presenter and a self-confessed lover of all things cooking and eating, it seems only fitting that his memoir should be told through the medium of family recipes and stories about food.
However, this is not just another book about food! It is Tucci’s realism and irony that stands out in this book. Don’t get me wrong, the recipes are delicious, but Tucci writes in a way we often don’t see from Hollywood A-listers. He talks about food like most families talk about it: of passed down recipes and shared cooking tips; of tastes that make you relive a certain memory and of favoured restaurants. Tucci writes as if you are at the dinner table in his home, sharing his food.
This unpretentious manner put me at ease. Equating his love of food with his love for family, he talks about places he has eaten and who he has eaten with – sharing celebrity and family names alike. Tucci recalls that he first fell in love with his second wife after she asked for seconds at her sister’s wedding. He recounts a tale of her making roast potatoes for him and his parents for the first time. Her British way of doing this is completely different to his family’s Italian way and the family are baffled by her series of techniques that cause billows of smoke and amass an array of kitchen utensils. When she finally shares them, the family are hooked and it’s almost like he falls in love with her all over again. Haven’t we all felt something like that after an amazing Sunday roast?
Tucci also deals with life’s hardships in his memoir. He recounts his battle with cancer and how it affected him: a tumour at the base of his tongue meant he was tube fed for a while and this begged the question of whether he could enjoy a life without his love of food. He balances the bad with the good (as we all do when reliving memories) and details how this time brought him closer to friends and family.
Overall, the memoir is one that we all would love to write but that really only a few can do so skilfully. Tucci, with his ease and charm, is one of those few. His mix of knowledge and adoration for recipes, ingredients and wine would make him a perfect dinner guest – and it resonates in this book.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Convenience Store Woman introduces Keiko, a thirty-six-year-old woman whose life solely revolves around the small convenience store where she works part-time. To her, it’s more than a job picked up to make ends meet during university, it is her entire livelihood.
Keiko appears immediately different from her peers – evident in the events of her childhood recounted in the beginning of the novel where her first reaction to finding a dead pet bird is to eat it. This detached, abnormal perspective leads to her attempts throughout her life to fit in to the various identities presented to her as socially acceptable. However, Keiko is immensely practical, taking many social cues from her sister and copying other people’s speech patterns – although not explicitly confirmed in the novel, she displays key neurodivergent characteristics.
In her late thirties, pressure is mounting on Keiko to marry and have children, as many of her friends have already. Murata depicts her attempts to conform, despite her sense of deep contentment in her current position.
Convenience Store Woman predominantly explores self-expression once a job defines your societal role. Keiko is a woman defined by her job, but a person who is entirely fulfilled with that. Murata depicts her as someone who doesn’t know how to be human in the ways other people expect her to be, and therefore as someone who has failed by invisible standards set by outsiders. I feel the novel provides a quirky social commentary on the position of the self within society and a pressure to conform to rigid standards. Keiko’s character is loveable albeit slightly frustrating at times, culminating in a stimulating read which stays with you.