Book Review: Season to Taste by Molly Birnbaum
July 26, 2011 21 Comments
And yes, it turned out to be a very interesting memoir. It’s more about smelling than cooking, though.
Season to Taste: What it is about
The author, Molly Birnbaum, secured a place at a chef’s school, a great dream of hers. Before she could start she need to get some experience in a professional kitchen, and so, she spent some time working in a local restaurant.
Then one day, before she took up her place at school, she was in a car accident. After she recovered, she found that she couldn’t smell anything. As it was, she couldn’t do any cooking, let alone start her course at cooking school.
Really worried, she realized that chances were slim that she would be able to fulfil her dream to become a cook. She wrote to doctors and scientists that study olfactory science to get some idea of the possibility of ever recovering her smell.
In the book, she alternates descriptions of her daily life with her findings. First, she gives an outline of how the olfactory system works, then she reports on her meetings with various people, amongst which the famous Oliver Sachs, as well as other patients with a loss of smell, perfumers and a chef for whom smell is a major part of any meal.
She also discusses interesting facts about pheromones, how smells may evoke memories, flavor and smell, emotion and smell, and training the olfactory system.
She also falls in love, moves in with her boyfriend, and starts cooking again.
Season to Taste: What I thought
I’m attracted to stories about cooking (and cookbooks) and that is what I expected to get. Instead I got an interesting story about losing the ability to smell. That was fine too, it turned out.
The book was quite an easy read, except for some of the science bits, which may put some people off. Read on, skip a paragraph, and you’ll likely find the next bit interesting again.
I had never really thought about smell, how it affects so many things in my life (such as taste, attracting a partner, knowing the next room is on fire, etc.). Birnbaum discusses quite comprehensively (but not tediously) all aspects of smell in an easy to understand and personable way.
I did felt a little cheated when she started to contact all kinds of professors and doctors, knowing that she probably did so because she was already writing the book or thinking of writing one. Does the average non-smelling person get access to all kinds of professional people with little time on their hands? Probably not.
Thus, without mentioning it, the process of writing the book was in some way also discussed in this book, which did not feel right. A memoir should be about the author dealing with her affliction, and not with her finding material for her book. Anyway, that was only a small point of critique because I enjoyed reading the book a lot.
I got this book: from Ecco (a HarperCollins imprint) for review, uncorrected proof copy
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 320
First published: 2011 (July)
Genre: memoir, science