Blood, Bones & Butter

Blood, Bones & Butter

I have an ambivalent relationship to food memoirs.

On the one hand, a book that’s entirely devoted to food and food experiences should have my name all over it. On the other hand, I deal with food so exclusively and so intensely all day and all week long that when I sit down to read at night or on weekends, I sort of want to read about other lives entirely.

And this is one of the reasons why I so enjoyed Gabrielle Hamilton‘s memoir.

Blood, Bones & Butter is a food memoir in as much as the author is a food professional — she’s the chef and owner of Prune, a small and highly popular restaurant in NYC’s East Village* — but it is, in truth, a lot wider in scope than “the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef,” as the (somewhat clunky) subtitle reads.

I won’t reveal anything about the arc of her life story: I like to know as little as possible about books before I read them so I’m not about to spoil this one for you, but let’s just say (and I’ve provided links below if you want to know more) that it hasn’t been the smoothest of rides.

And the book she has drawn from it is the rawest, most plainspoken, no-holds-barred memoir I have ever read. It is marvelously engrossing, and it pulls you in with the author’s naked honesty and the way she looks back at her life, dark passages included, with no glossing over, retracing her steps without making excuses or trying to shed a flattering light on herself.

Blood, Bones & Butter is also full of incredibly fresh, delectable images, the kind that makes you run to the nearest comma so you can re-read it and savor its pitch-perfectness.

I did think there was something lopsided about the book’s perspective, which can be a model of lucidity at times, but seems at others to be written from a place of undigested anger or grief. This can make it hard for the reader to fully grasp the context of her most important relationships — to her parents, her siblings, her girlfriend, her husband — but in a way, it is consistent with what we perceive of Hamilton’s conflicted personality.

I also feel that the manuscript would have benefited from another round of editing, as some passages seem a bit more rambling than others (especially in the third and last section of the book), and it pushed my Frenchwoman-reading-in-English button** a few times, but the overall pace and vividness of the prose more than makes up for these aspects.

What about you, did you read Hamilton’s book, and if so, what did you think?

~~~

Read, listen, watch more about Blood, Bones & Butter:
~ Jennifer Reese’s review on NPR.org,
~ Frank Bruni’s review and a profile of the author in the New York Times,
~ Gabrielle Hamilton was interviewed on All Things Considered this weekend,
~ She also had a segment on the Today Show.

~~~

* I had dinner there once, a little over four years ago, and I’m happy to say it lived up to the hype.

** When French phrases or dialogues are included in English books, it seems nine times out of ten they are misspelled or grammatically incorrect, and always I wonder: was there no French person available to double-check these? (To be fair, I have an exactly symmetric pet peeve when English phrases are used in French texts.) (And yes, I realize that this sort of comment makes me even more vulnerable to people rushing to point out my own mistakes and typos.)

  • http://www.boulderneigh.blogspot.com Michelle McMillen

    I heard Hamilton’s interview on NPR; it was very interesting!

  • http://www.ladystiles.blogspot.com Michelle

    I read a lot of food memoirs and food writing in general that I get burnt out at times but this book sounds worthy of my time.

    Thanks for the review!

  • http://welldonechef.com Jason Sandeman

    Thank you for turning me on to this book. I am a professional chef too, and I would love to see someone else’s pain – err road. LOL
    I will make a note of this book to get. Thanks for that.

  • http://wellseasonedfoodblog.blogspot.com/ Gemma

    Sounds engrossing! Like you I love to read, however sometimes a foodie memoir is a bit much after a long day in the kitchen, but for this one maybe I’ll give it a go!

  • Kate

    I haven’t read the book, but totally totally agree about how irritating it is when books/newspapers/websites make simple mistakes that could SO easily be fixed by having a translator skim it! I don’t find that it bothers me nearly as much with blogs, though – at least the ones that clearly don’t have an editor. It’s a different thing, in my view.

  • Griffin

    “full of incredibly fresh, delectable similes, the kind that makes you run to the nearest comma so you can re-read it and savor its pitch-perfectness.”

    I remember the same feeling about your writing when you wrote some short pieces here that were not recipes, but memories. I’d love to see a work of fiction by you… any time, but I’ll wait. Your writing was one of the things that kept me coming back for more.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you so much, Griffin. As you know, I have been dabbling at fiction writing, but it is a difficult craft, and it is taking time for anything worthwhile to take shape. I do love knowing that you’re “waiting” though, and I thank you for telling me that again.

  • http://livingsmallblog.com Charlotte

    Hi Clothilde — I felt much the same as you about this book — my review for Bookslut is here.
    (I hope cross-posting isn’t terrible form — but I thought it was the most interesting memoir of any kind to come along in a long while.)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Quite the contrary, Charlotte, thanks a lot for the link to your review. I enjoyed it very much, and invite anyone else to link to their own post/review if they have written one — always so interesting to compare viewpoints on the same book.

  • cornflower

    You write English better than most North Americans or Brits do, so have no worries on that account.In my years of reading your blog, I’ve only once or twice noticed tiny ‘glitches’ that made it clear you aren’t quite a native speaker, and no true errors. Your writing is also at the same time clear/straightforward and poetic/resonating. I agree with the other poster that you might someday wish to write a novel.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I do want to note that I was absolutely not fishing for compliments with that footnote, but I certainly appreciate your kind words. Thank you.

  • http://wordbyjessie.com Jessie

    impecable reviews! seems like i am going to need to pick this one up.

  • aujourdhui

    As an American who can actually speak grammatically correct English, I am so VERY impressed at your complete command of the English language…. Je parle francais….I only wish I were as accomplished in French as you are in English. LOVE your blog…merci!

  • http://breadandmilkandblackberries.blogspot.com/ Ruth

    I think I need to read this! How inspiring.

    Thought I should also let you know that I’ve followed your sourdough adventures and this blog was a lighthouse in the sea of confusing an contradictory advice!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      You have no idea how happy that makes me, Ruth, thank you!

      • http://breadandmilkandblackberries.blogspot.com/ Ruth

        :-)

  • http://www.makanaibio.com Flo Makanai

    Bon, après ces commentaires 100 % légitimement élogieux concernant ton style et ta maitrise de la langue, je ne peux que m’exprimer en français pour te dire que j’adore quand tu nous parles de tes lectures. C’est très vivant et plein et évocateur. Ca donne envie mais c’est déjà un petit bonheur en soi. Un grand merci, sincèrement.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Merci beaucoup, Flo. Et je peux te prêter le bouquin si tu veux !

      • http://www.makanaibio.com Flo Makanai

        Oui, je veux bien t’emprunter le livre, merci. On va être obligées de se retrouver à Paris, alors, pfff ;) !

  • http://www.mischief-making.blogspot.com/ Misty

    I’m always looking for good book recommendations, thanks!

  • http://bakeology101.blogspot.com Kartik @ Bakeology 101

    Hey Clotilde,
    I read the excerpt on NPR and I was impressed. I already put a hold on the book in the local library. Thanks for pointing out this book.
    Thanks,
    Kartik

  • http://naturally-delicious.blogspot.com/ renee

    I must agree with the other commenters regarding your use of the English language, including its idioms and colloquialisms. I have had to recheck from time to time and remind myself that you are not a native English speaker. Tres bien fait!
    I love food memoirs. I have just finished Keeping the Feast. A moving account of how food provided healing from in a family dealing with depression. I am about to begin Pass the Polenta: And Other Writings from the Kitchen.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you for the compliment Renée, and the reading suggestions!

  • dory

    You made me smile because I have exactly the same pet peeve, to the point where my husband makes fun of me! If we are watching a movie and someone speaks French he will look at me and say in an affected and snobbish tone of voice “Of course the accent isn’t authentic!” (Of course, he being South American will complain bitterly when they have Mexican actors play South American characters– quite different Spanish, but that is another story!)

    I actually once did something humiliating that haunts me to this day. Now, of course, I am revealing myself in public.

    There was a Canadian author I liked quite a bit at the time who wrote a book set in the American Southwest. He decided to have his characters be bilingual and engage in what they call “code-switching” going back and forth between English and Spanish, but his Spanish obviously was not fluent and, let’s say, there were a few glitches. Ok, more than a few. I didn’t understand at the time that publishing houses don’t pass books that use two languages by bilingual copy editors. My Spanish is quite a bit more fluent than the writers, and I emailed him with suggestions for a second edition. Of course he turned out to be a really nice, but really sensitive person, and I discovered that I had made him feel ashamed. I was so upset with myself about my insensitivity that I could not read any of his books for years. Of course I had faulted the publishing house, thinking it was their fault, and the author blamed himself, which stupidly had not occurred to me. I will never, ever, ever, do something like that again unless I have a close personal relationship with an author, or unless the author is long dead, but I still grumble a lot. I don’t know why publishers don’t pass books by someone who is actually a fluent speaker of any other language used in the text before publishing.

    If this author uses a lot of French I will probably find the book unreadable. I am not obsessive/compulsive about anything else except copy editing. I also don’t worry about blogs.

    Dory

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thanks for sharing those anecdotes, Dory, I can imagine how you must have felt!

      About B, B & B, I really hope I haven’t made my comment sound worse than it really is. There are only a handful of French phrases/sentences in there, and it is quite possible that the errors were caught and corrected in later printings (I hear it went through three printings before it was even released) so I hope it doesn’t discourage you or anyone from reading what is a very worthy book.

  • Shana

    I have been quietly reading and cooking from your blog for years: thank you. Today I am compelled to comment by the vast respect I feel toward you for what you said about editorial mistakes in whatever language. I get so disheartened to see that people don’t even try to get things right these days, and just because I care does not mean I’m perfect. In other words, and as you said so simply, please feel free to point out my errors, BECAUSE I CARE, and I hope that you do, too.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      My sentiment exactly — I’m always grateful when readers get in touch to report a typo or an error.

  • http://www.tandcake.wordpress.com Tamsin

    Looks like a lot of us share the same pet peeve! I work in publishing and can’t believe some publishers let these things slip. I was once working on a French/English frequency dictionary (entirely by chance, not because of my degree in French) and found so many errors in translation, took me forever to fix!
    I’ve not read this book but it sounds good. My favourite food memoire is Nigel Slater’s Toast.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      For some reason I’ve never read Toast, although I really like Slater’s cookbooks. I will add it to my to-read list, thanks Tamsin!

      • Rachel

        I second Tamsin’s recommendation of Toast. I enjoyed your review of Blood, Bones and Butter – having read the excerpt published in the New Yorker recently, I was very impressed with her writing and your review has encouraged me to seek out the book.

        Not quite the same as your pet peeve, but it drives me nuts when I watch a French film with English subtitles and I can tell that something has been mis-translated or worse, not translated. At least with a DVD one has the option of turning off the subtitles! :)

        • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

          I completely agree re: the subtitles. It used to make me upset that part of the meaning (and usually the most subtle part) was lost in translation. But having tried my hand at volunteer subtitling for TED videos, I recognize that subtitle space is very limited compared to how much a character or speaker can say in a very short amount of time, so it’s a best-effort proposition, and it pains the translator him/herself (or at least it pained me!) not to have room to get the full depth of meaning across.

  • http://senseofhome.blogspot.com Sense of Home

    I am a little over half-way through the book and I am enjoying her writing style. I have the day off today and I am cooking, reading her book and checking blogs I enjoy, I should be able to finish her book today. It is the kind of book I find myself thinking about when I am not reading, always the sign of good writing.

    -Brenda

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I read the bulk of the book during the two legs of a plane ride, and couldn’t put it down — also a very good sign!

  • http://smultronsoul.blogspot.com/ Divya

    Hey! Prune is also great for brunch, you should try it next time – the spicy stewed chickpeas come with ‘butter crumbed egg’!

    Thank you so much for writing about the wonderful bakeries around Paris. I followed some of your suggestions when I was there earlier this month! I also went to the Algerian bakery but it was really hard to know what to get since there was so much to choose from, but it was really worth the visit!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you Divya! And I agree, Kenza really warrants multiple visits. :)

  • http://www.chocolatecoveredkitchen.com Janice Harper

    I haven’t yet read it, but what intrigues me isn’t so much the food writing, as the rising from the bowels of life angle. “Careers” are so often painted as near-perfect trajectories when the reality is that they are very often bruising struggles that may or may not untangle us from life’s knotted webs. From the reviews the book’s been getting, it sounds as if she’s risen from the ashes and I’d love to take her ride!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I agree — it’s both reassuring and disheartening to see that some of the most successful professionals have had such a rocky ride getting to where they are.

  • http://tetellita.blogspot.com Estelle

    I could not agree with you more about the French typos in English publications!! The latest to date was in Organic Gardening, there was one word in French (ONE!) in the whole magazine and they managed to mispell it: OUEF! That made me cringe! I love the magazine but I thought… COME ON! I am debating whether I should contact the magazine or not.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I’m not surprised you find yourself in the same situations as I do. :)

      I debated getting in touch with the editor of the book myself, but I didn’t make notes of the errors I spotted as I went along, and in the end I couldn’t justify taking the time to go back and list them for this little unsolicited advice of mine.

      But if you know where that error is and you have a few minutes to report it, I think you should — kindly of course, but I’m sure they’ll find this kind of feedback is valuable.

  • msue

    Clotilde, thank you for sharing a heartfelt and literate review of this new book. How refreshing it is to read a balanced review that identifies both strengths and specific concerns! Your respect for this author is clear, and I wonder if she will doubly value your perspective as a published author. Your very fair review is the first I’ve heard about this book, and I can’t wait to read it now! Thank you so much!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you Mary Sue — I hope you enjoy the book!

  • http://bulleetblog.canalblog.com Anne-Liesse @ Bulle & Blog

    You know how much I like pointing out mistakes and typos ;-)), but A/ you hardly ever make any, B/ I so agree with your comment on French phrases in English books. I also find mistakes in French in French books… It makes me mad every time I see them.

    Did I ever tell you how well you write ? I know I have. But I love that it’s been that way for years and I’ve never been disappointed. I look up to your writing… and am not sure I’ll ever dare write my blog in English considering what you do… I love that your writing is always so precise and nuanced, and personal, that your vocab is so varied. OK – I shall stop here for fear that this look like a regular “cirage de pompes” !…

    The book sounds quite interesting. Thanks for pointing it out.

    And now it’s time to get out and enjoy the fab weather !

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you, Anne-Liesse, that means a lot. And a little shoe polish always brightens the day. :)

  • http://bulleetblog.canalblog.com Anne-Liesse @ Bulle & Blog

    I just downloaded the NPR interview – so good to listen, to NPR, which I listened to a great deal when I lived in the US. Just hearing the 1st few seconds brought me back to my sweet KS college years. Thanks !

    And I’ve read the comments and wrote down all the book suggestions. I wish I could share books with you and Flo since there are so many I want to read !

  • http://tetellita.blogspot.com Estelle

    I think I will, I love the magazine and I could always act as a pro-bono French consultant :)

  • http://bewitchingkitchen.com SallyBR

    I haven’t read it, but have the book on my bedside table. Unfortunately, my life at the moment is beyond frantic, so I have very little time to read anything not related to work. Except food blogs, life is too short to skip them! ;)

    but I’ve read a few reviews of the book and look forward to indulging in it. I am a big fond of memoirs…

    thanks for reviewing it, I am even more eager to read it now

  • http://www.foodhuntersguide.com The Food Hunter

    Thanks for the review. I need to get myself a copy of this one.

  • http://ciaochowlinda.blogspot.com Ciaochowlinda

    I finished the book two days ago and have to say it held me in its grip constantly. She is a tremendously good writer and has lived quite an unconventional and interesting life – filled with plenty of highs and lows. The book did leave me wondering though, why she really married the guy. Was it strictly for him to get a green card? Also, there were plenty of mispelled Italian words and phrases as well, but maybe she was aiming for that, since she admits she couldn’t communicate so well at first with the language – or maybe it was the local dialect.

  • Celine

    I get as annoyed as you do by typos in French or German phrases in English books, or by supposedly French characters in English-speaking movies/series who have such an obvious accent that I grumble and think to myself — come on, couldn’t they find a genuine French person to play that part?

    On n’est pas soeurs pour rien… ;-)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I’m not surprised: I’m pretty sure our father is the same, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. :)

  • http://www.storyofakitchen.com Story

    As much as I was looking forward to a recipe today, your post and the comments have been the best thing I’ve read all day. I agree with many of the other posters: your English is MUCH better than most native English-speakers. It is always a joy to read your posts, Clotilde. Most recently in the salt-crusted chicken recipe, I love how you say “lift the whole thing carefully but with determination….” Determination is exactly what I needed here. So well put!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you, Story, that’s really kind of you to say.

  • http://simplycooked.blogspot.com sarah, simply cooked

    I loved Hamilton when I read her piece in the New Yorker a couple of months ago. I belong to an online food book club called The Kitchen Reader and we are reading this book in June. Any who wants to join in with us would be most welcome! I’m really looking forward to it.

  • http://noshesthoughtsreves.blogspot.com Lady Amalthea

    What a pleasure to read such a thoughtful review! I get very frustrated when reviews are only “good/bad; yes/no” and then talk about the author of the review for the rest of the time. You give your readers enough information and then it’s up to them whether it sounds “good” or not. Brava!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you! ^_^

  • http://www.cooktestant.com Cooktestant

    I just bought the book! I can’t wait to read it! I read The School of Essential Ingredients about a year ago, and while it was not the best book ever, I tore threw it in one night and it inspired me to pursue my ambition to start a cooking blog. Thanks for your post! I love you blog.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I hadn’t heard of that book, thanks for letting us know about it!

  • http://www.bighugstudio.blogspot.com Ella

    I saw this profiled and reviewed in the New York Times and I can’t wait to read it too…

  • Michelle

    Here is another interview with the author from March 23 in the Globe and Mail (Canadian newspaper).

    Thanks for the great reading suggestions.
    I always enjoy your tips for sites/podcasts/books to check out.
    Keep them coming!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Great, thanks for the link, Michelle!

  • http://www.ijustwannablogtoo@blogspot.com maria

    i am almost done with “kitchen confidential” and will probably tackle this one next! it will be interesting to read from a female perspective in a very male dominated world – especially after reading anthony bourdain.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Those two books definitely offer different perspectives on the same industry. I hope you enjoy Hamilton’s!

  • http://eatandrelish.com Cory @ {relish}

    First…I LOVE (love,love,love) Prune. the food is so inventive, yet still maintains a sense of honesty and simplicity. Brunch at Prune is outrageous!

    Second…I just ordered this book on my Nook. I almost am excited for the NYC forecast this weekend (umm….snow….really???) so I won;t feel so bad curling up inside reading it.

    Clotilde – loving your blog for over 2 years now and it’s about time I comment!!

    :)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thanks Cory, and stay warm this weekend!

  • Maria S.

    Just finished and loved the book, but felt the beginning was richer than the end, almost like she spent more time on it, then rushed through the rest. It really left me wanting more: why did she not see her mom for 20 years? What’s with the husband? I wanted them to work it out, but from the links I feel they haven’t. I wanted more of everything: more food memories, more personal details. More, more, more. I guess her writing is like a great meal – leaves you dreaming of more!. It’s kind of an impressionist memoir – a little of this, a little of that, but wonderful all the same and honest and funny.

    I used to live in the East Village, but I don’t think her restaurant had opened before I moved to Los Angeles. I am dying to go back and try it.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Maria, I agree on many of the points you’re making.

  • http://www.roseannepereira.com/blog/blood-bones-butter-book-report-plus-prune-visit/ Rosie

    Clotilde,

    Love your blog — have been getting the e-mail updates in English and French (first attempt to read French, then read the English…) for years!

    Anyway, just felt I had to write because I read the book, went to a Gabrielle Hamilton reading, and ate at Prune all in the same week! I thought Hamilton was so fearless in her book, like even when she was doing the wrong things, she was doing them all the way. Did you get that vibe? In addition to the gaps you mentioned in terms of her relationships, I also wish she had talked more about what drives her…(why did she take that world travel trip, why write the book…)…

  • http://www.SalenaLettera.com Salena of The Daily Rant

    I’m with Griffin. Waiting…

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you Salena! ^_^

  • http://www.SalenaLettera.com Salena of The Daily Rant

    I just, two days ago, finished listening to the unabridged audio version of this book – I am an over-the-road truck driver and this is how I get much of my “reading” done.

    I found the book to be less foodie oriented and more life centric. I did like the uncensored telling of her experiences, while at the same time thinking, “boy, this chick was/is really f’kd up.”. It made me wonder if one had to have a more than vanilla life to write an interesting memoir.

    Her passion for food is evident and my favorite part was the last section, specifically detailing her time in Italy and the relationship with her mother-in-law. It made me crave a European existence, which is so different from that in America. I’ve been to Italy only once, but her telling of the way they live is always what I’ve envisioned.

    The book is read by the author and although it was a pleasant enough listen, and felt personal because she was in fact telling her own story, I didn’t hear the “passion” in her voice. She didn’t breathe life into the words as I know I would have “felt” had I read them myself. She was monotone and flat.

    As for the French words and phrases…her pronunciation was impeccable…to my “I don’t know what the hell she’s *actually* saying” ear. By that I mean I don’t speak French, but I’m pretty good with languages and I do know many of the food or terms she used and have hear them said before, and they just sounded right.

    This was a different subject for me and it piqued my interest in food/chef memoirs. Yours would certainly be first on my list. I can only echo what others here have said about your writing. I’ve been reading you for years (but almost never comment) and already own your first cookbook.

    Thanks for a great review of this book. Now get writing! Griffin and I aren’t the only ones waiting!! :)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you for sharing your review of the book, Salena, I very much enjoyed reading your thoughts!

  • Nana K

    I really enjoyed your book on many levels. My book club chose B,B,& B to read this month. I cannot find any group or book club discussion questions for your book. Is there something I am missing? I have read several blogs and reviews. Are there any discussion questions? Or am I missing the boat…

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