Bedside Manner: Keeping Up to Date

The search for better cocktail banter

photo by Brandon Watson

A while back, I wrote a column about the need to expand my horizons given that so much of my day-to-day life revolved around food. I felt like I was becoming insufferable constantly talking about this or that chef or the decor at some new hot spot. I feared I had become a lousy date.

I didn't really take my own advice back then. There were too many new hot spots for one, and so much news about this or that chef. It's hard to resist the appeal of the immediate. But more to the point: I wasn't really going on many dates anyway. The food community didn't seem to mind my single-mindedness.

But now things are different – giddier – and I don't want to bore a cute guy to tears. When you have that teenage feeling, you want to be the best, most interesting version of yourself – the one who is reasonably smart and has a lot of interests, the one who reads, the one who reads novels and memoirs in addition to cookbooks. I'm not sure if my new reading list makes me any less insufferable; but if someone is going to roll their eyes, the least I can do is give them a little variety.

Last Book I Read:
Nothing Fancy
by Diana Kennedy
(University of Texas Press, 230 pp., $29.95)

Diana Kennedy is often referred to as the “Julia Child of Mexican Cuisine,” and indeed she did come into prominence in that period when publishers were thirsty for the next Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But where Child was almost always an amiable figure in print, Kennedy could be pointed and sharp. (Her screed against Kosher salt alone makes for essential reading.) This is a cookbook that reads like a memoir – spanning her childhood in England and adulthood in Mexico – and a reminder that food writing is about the entirety of life as much as it is about what we eat.

Book I'm Currently Reading:
Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration
by David Wojnarowicz
(Vintage, 288 pp., $15.95)

After the horror of Orlando, queer identities suddenly seemed more urgent. It seemed natural to turn to the book that was so instrumental in shaping my own. I picked up Close to the Knives at a B. Dalton during my junior year of high school – months before I came out and long before I was really comfortable in my own skin (even bringing the book to the counter took a deep breath of courage). LBGTQ life was painted in terms of danger then – the threat of bashings, AIDS, eternal damnation – and I felt I would spend my entire life hiding. But here was David Wojnarowicz, unapologetic, graphic, using creativity as defiance. I have seen queerness in those terms ever since.

Book I Plan to Read Next:
62: A Model Kit
by Julio Cortázar
(New Directions, 288 pp., $18.95)

A couple of years ago, I read somewhere that Roberto Bolaño named Julio Cortázar as a major influence of the Savage Detectives, so I picked up a used copy during a book buying binge. That was about the time I became the Chronicle Food Editor and stopped reading anything that didn’t have a Ruth Reichl blurb on the sleeve. Since then, it has sat there untouched, mocking my vapid bedtime reading. 62 is rumored to be a difficult read, but the desire to challenge myself isn’t really my motivation to tackle it. I just plucked the book off my “to read” shelf that seemed the least food-oriented. And maybe, vainly, the book that seemed the smartest.

Brandon Watson is Food Editor for The Austin Chronicle.

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More Bedside Manner
Bedside Manner: Sharing Shelf Space
Bedside Manner: Sharing Shelf Space
My parents' Kindle library and me

Kimberley Jones, June 22, 2016

Bedside Manner: Guitar & Pen
Bedside Manner: Guitar & Pen
Homework vs. live music ascension

Raoul Hernandez, June 22, 2016

More by Brandon Watson
My Obsession: Therapy With Nineties Supermodels
My Obsession: Therapy With Nineties Supermodels
Escape via the long gay tradition of diva worship

Sept. 15, 2017

Review: Holy Roller
Review: Holy Roller
The personal is edible at Callie Speer’s new hot spot

Sept. 8, 2017


Bedside Manner, Diana Kennedy, Julio Cortázar, David Wojnarowicz, Summer Reading 2016

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