Kindle, and ‘Confessions of a Gourmand’

December 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

So I finally got me an e-reader a few weeks ago. I had to battle past a few years’ worth of entrenched prejudice against e-reading, based on my near-worship of the printed page. E-reading can never equal reading off paper, and an electronic pad is nothing like the charm of a real paper-bound book. What use could I possibly have for an e-reader?

Well. While it remains absolutely true that no e-reader will ever equal or replace the charm of a real book, the truth is that there’s space for both in the library of the truly avid reader. Especially when the display is as eye-friendly as the Kindle, which by the way really is as good as people say.

The first thing I did, naturally, is to download a virtual truckload of free or mostly free literary classics. Once my new kindle was suitably stuffed with Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Dickens, Gaskell and more, it was time to explore the new horizons: books that are only available electronically.

Here is where the e-reader is already becoming an asset. In a world dominated by large chainstore retailers of books, it’s refreshing and exciting to be able to access new works published online or in e-reader format – not necessarily supported or marketed by vast publishing houses. Does this mean that the books in question weren’t good enough for more traditional publication? That remains to be seen, but my first foray into these new waters suggests otherwise.

‘Confessions of a Gourmand’ by Tom Bruno. Idly browsing the fantasy fiction e-books last week, I came across this title, priced at the staggering sum of seventy-two pence. Here is the page, and the synopsis. A fantasy novel told through food and cooking? How could I resist? It turned out to be quite enchanting to be shown each race, culture or community in this world largely through the nature of their cuisine. I’ve never read anything quite like it. At the risk of generalising too early, I shall tentatively chalk up ‘originality’ as one of the bonuses of acquiring books this way.

The narrative is expansive and rambling as the hero, Van d’Allamitri, wends his way more or less involuntarily around parts of the world, sampling new cuisine with enthusiasm in each location he visits – and managing to survive largely through the particular excellence of his own skills as a chef. Even at a remarkably young age. It is reminiscent of a sort of Odyssey of food, as Van travels over seas and jungles, becomes a slave, wins his freedom, befriends and loves a slew of magnificent characters and finally returns home to wreak vengeance upon his mother’s enemies – all before the age of eighteen.

If the notion of such an abominably precocious child hero is repulsive – or at least suspect – fear not, for all of this is told by Van himself, via an autobiography, from the vantage point of adulthood. It’s successful enough that I was sorry to leave Van to his travels once he has reached manhood. Away he goes to experience more of the world’s finest cuisines, and sadly his autobiographical phase seems to be finished.

The only major downside to this book was the number of uncorrected typos all the way through the text. This problem is easily fixed, of course, and one hopes that further texts from the author will be more rigorously proofread and edited by somebody. Other than that, I have no complaints to make about this new literary market. On the contrary, I shall go forth and acquire more of this type of reading – after all, it’s hard to object to great new novels for the price of seventy-two pence each.

By the way, the extent of the culinary knowledge displayed by the author is quite staggering. One gets the impression that an invitation to dinner at Mr. Bruno’s would be quite an event. Curious to know if this is personal experience or extremely convincing research? On the one hand, it’s a great example of the benefits of ‘write what you know’; alternatively it’s an equally good example of the power of meticulous research in novel-writing. Nicely done, either way.

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