Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
Billie Breslin moved to New York to take a job at Delicious! magazine. When the magazine is suddenly shut down she agrees to stay in order to maintain the reader hotline. She discovers a hidden room in the magazines library which contains a treasure trove of letters written to the magazine by a young girl during World War II. Finding and reading these letters helps Billie find the courage to come to terms with her own life and the fears and hardships she has harbored.
This book was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m not sure I even read the synopsis before starting to read. I really enjoyed the story and I liked the way the letters were used in the book. Both the letters Billie wrote to her sister, and Lulu’s letters that she found.
Billie is unfamiliar with New York, but quickly learns the ropes of the food scene due to her new job and colleagues. She ends up working in an upscale delicatessen part time as well where we meet a whole host of other interesting characters. Reading about all of the food in this book often left me feeling a bit hungry. The descriptions of the meats, cheeses, and meals are all in depth which is unsurprising given the authors background as a food writer.
The discovery of the secret room and the letters is lovely. The librarian who catalogued all of the letters in the 1970’s set them up as a riddle. Each letter holds a clue to where the next set will be found. This was mostly a clever and fun twist…much more interesting than having them all lumped together and found as a single group. However, the clues for finding the letters were sometimes obscure and didn’t always allow the reader to play along.
Billie was a likable character. This was really her story of self-discovery including the classic new job, new city, living on her own for the first time bits. Following a dramatic hair cut Billie reflects on the following,
“I decided it wasn’t pretty I felt, but confident. If I saw this girl walking down the street, Id’ think she was cool, that she led a fascinating life. She looked nothing like the real me. But maybe most people were crouching behind a facade. Maybe inside the sleek Joan-Mary was a frightened little person. Was that why Sammy had adopted his uniform of tweeds? Did they give him courage?? Maybe that was why he talked the way he did. Maybe everyone was scared.”
Insights like this in the book help to make it relatable. Who hasn’t found that new hair or clothes or makeup gives them confidence and maybe lets you pretend to be someone a little different than normal?
The cast of secondary characters is delightful. And Fontanari’s, the shop where Billie ends up working part time and which is owned by the delightful Sal is almost a character in itself. I loved reading the interactions with the customers when they came in for meats or cheese.
Overall, this was a delightful read that I’m giving a 4/5 and I would recommend (as long as you’re not on a diet, there really is a lot of food porn going on).