Continued from last week, I am happy to feature the next three books on Kevin's list. At this point, now you understand why I am featuring Kevin's favorites over a period of three weeks. (If you didn't catch Part 1, make sure you check it out here!) In his own words:
4. The Philadelphian, Richard Powell (1956)
In 1959, at the age of 9, I spent many hours every week in our beautiful 1920’s neighborhood library. Out in the sunlit center, on the terrazzo floor, were long wooden tables in the section for those 14 and under: the rest was off limits. I couldn’t stand it, since I was hot to trot when it came to books. I got my parents and my teacher, Mrs. App, to speak with the librarian. I was given an adult library card and a letter that allowed me to take adult books out of any Allen County Public Library. Now I could browse for hours in the formerly forbidden stacks. In my first month, I flipped through Powell’s novel, found some passages that were very puzzling, and checked it out. I read the book twice, absorbed in the family saga from nineteenth-century poor Irish immigrant girl to the powerful, brilliant twentieth-century lawyer. That all made sense, but what intrigued me most were the non-explicit sex scenes—non-explicit from an adult standpoint, but very mysterious to me. This led me to a search for understanding of human behavior that has dominated my life. Even now, fifty years later, I find the ways of human beings quite mysterious.
5. L’Étre et le néant / Being and Nothingness, J. P. Sartre (1943)
Sartre’s phenomenology opened my mind and my heart to the meaning of freedom when I first read this in English translation in 1965, at the end of freshman year in high school. Freedom had been just a word with American mythological meanings attached. Now, the radical nature of consciousness, our absolute freedom to construct a mode of being-in-the-world, became evident. My so-far unsuccessful struggle for authenticity in every part of life dates to that first reading. While a student in Paris, I finally read Sartre’s essay in French, and later, in the late 1970s, in Polish translation obtained from a public library in Wrocław.
6. The Penguin Elizabeth David Cookery Book Set (1971)
While studying in Paris in the early 70s, I spent an occasional afternoon in the English-language paperback section in the basement of Brentano’s on the Avenue de l’Opéra. There I found and browsed through this set. I was intrigued, but the little box was a little rich for my budget. A week later, I found it at a much lower price at W. H. Smith, just north of the Tuileries, and snapped it up. I started what I thought was going to be a slow slog, but I zipped through. David made food writing alive, sensual, and let me know that I, too, could cook like homemakers in France and Italy with simple, fresh ingredients. The 1971 reprinting includes Mediterranean Food (1950), French Country Cooking (1951), Italian Food (1954), Summer Cooking (1955), and French Provincial Cooking (1960). Thanks to David, I began to pay attention to the beautiful foods I was eating every day, to the ways I could prepare them, and to food memories from my family. I am a decent amateur cook today, thanks to my parents’ and grand-parents’ cooking, and thanks also to Elizabeth David who liberated my culinary impulses and showed me how to unleash them, unafraid.