Pink Lady® Sensational Reads: our book club reading list

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We are very excited to announce we are launching Pink Lady®’s Sensational Reads, a collection of some of our favourite books which are all full of flavour. We have teamed up with novelist and journalist Caroline O’Donoghue to create this reading list, featuring 8 books which all feature food in fascinatingly different ways.

Here are the 8 books on the list, with insight from Caroline O’Donoghue about why she selected each one to be a Pink Lady® Sensational Read.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly - Sun-Mi Hwang

“I’ve got to have some form of order to this list, so let’s do it chronologically. Not by date the book came out, but by what comes first in the food-making process. And what comes first is a chicken.”

Whenever she saw the yard hen, Sprout couldn’t stand it – she felt even more confined in her wire cage. She, too, wanted to dig through the pile of compost with the rooster, walk side by side with him, and sit on her eggs. She couldn’t get to the yard where the ducks and old dog and the rooster and the hen lived together no matter how far she stretched her neck through the wires; they just plucked her feathers. Why am I in the coop when that hen is out in the yard?

“This Korean fable that sold millions of copies worldwide tells the story of Sprout, a battery hen who is determined to be a mother. After an escape from her coop she finds herself in possession of a duck’s egg, and risks life and limb to incubate and raise a duckling. This book will only take you a morning to read, but will stay with you for a lifetime.“

Midnight Chicken - Ella Risbridger

“As much as I hate the thought of Sprout being made into dinner, there’s no nobler death than to be made into Ella Risbridger’s Midnight Chicken. This cookbook is part recipes, part essay collection, part memoir and part coping mechanism for the anxiety and depression Risbridger was battling while learning to cook.”

I want to make this very clear, right now, at the beginning: I’m a cook, I suppose, but a slapdash, bottom-of-the-vegetable-drawer cook. A buy-first, Google-later, cover-it-in-Parmesan cook.

“It’s fun, funny, immensely practical, and the recipes actually work. And trust me: you will never Google another roast chicken recipe again.”

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

“Here we go, from roast chicken to roast duck. This debut by Lillian Li details the lives of the waiting staff at a Chinese restaurant in Maryland, and is equal parts soapy drama and a literary story of Chinese-American life.”

The waiters were singing Happy Birthday in Chinese. All fifteen of them had crowded around the party table, clapping their hands. Not a single one could find the tune. A neighboring table turned in their chairs to look. Their carver kept his eyes on the duck. The song petered out. The customer blew out the candle on her complimentary cheesecake, and, still applauding, the waiters scattered back to their tables, speaking the restaurant’s English again.

“I love this book because it takes a world we are very used to seeing in popular culture – the Chinese restaurant – and delivers a perspective we’re rarely permitted to see. The complex relationships of several different interweaving families over multiple generations makes this relatively short book feel epic in scale, while still maintaining a wry humour.”

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

BITTER: always a bit unanticipated. Coffee, chocolate, rosemary, citrus rinds, wine. Once, when we were wild, it told us about poison. The mouth still hesitates at each new encounter. We urge it forward, say, Adapt. Now, enjoy it.

“With Sweetbitter, we’re bouncing from a Chinese restaurant to haute cuisine in New York City. Tess, a recent college graduate enters the cut-throat world of a Michelin-guide restaurant. She watches from a dispassionate distance as expense accounts (and countless bottles of Chardonnay) are drained, falling in love with both her worldly mentor Simone and James Dean-ish waiter Jake. Danler’s book came out in 2016 but has already achieved the status of cult classic, and it’s not hard to see why. The sorcery that beautiful food is able to weave over this book is fascinating: wars begin over oysters, love affairs over bottles of wine.”

Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin

The cakes sizzled in the pan. Mae held a spatula poised, ready for the flip: no magic wand here. She opened her eyes a little wider, unsure of what she was supposed to be looking for. Her hands gave a shimmer amidst the rising steam. Three thick halos edged the boxty now. She flipped them, one, two, three. The past, the present, the future. As Mae looked into the pan, for a second, she saw something on the crisp moons. The disks winked up at her, glistening with hot oil.

“If Sweetbitter shows us the power that food can have, then Other Words for Smoke takes that concept and runs with it. Sarah Maria Griffin’s second novel is a wild, hypnotising, work of magical realism, thrumming with sex, magic and innocence turned rotten. Mae and Bevan are two witches-in-training who use recipes and cooking as practice-areas for spellcraft. Bay leaves are bound together for protection, potato cakes sizzle on the pan while issuing magical warnings, moths are plucked from the air and eaten whole. Other Words for Smoke may not be specifically a “food” book, but it is a “feeding” book: it analyses the parts of ourselves we give to others, so that they can feel full.”

The Mistress of Spices - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.

“In Mistress of Spices, a woman called Tilo quietly runs a Californian spice store frequented by homesick Indian ex-pats. But it’s not as simple as that. Nothing is, in this book: a spice is never just a spice, a plant is never just a plant. Everything the Mistress of Spices touches turns to magic, with layers of poetry and ritual wrapped around every word. Here, food feels most like sorcery, with as deeply feminine and complex a history as witchcraft does.”

Supper Club - Lara Williams

Don’t believe vegetarians who tell you that meat has no flavour, that it comes from the spices or the marinade. The flavour is already there: earth and metal, salt and fat, blood.

“Supper Club is Lara Williams’ first novel after two short story collections and is a mouth-wateringly delicious novel about a group of women who decide to host monthly Bacchanal-ish dinners, assembled from dumpster-found food at illegal locations. Comparisons to Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club will be inevitable, but Williams’ version feels more grounded and lived-in. The women of Supper Club toy with ideas of world domination, but fall victim to the same things that most anarchy’s do. Namely: in-fighting, crises of confidence, and simply wandering off when you lose interest.”

The Gourmet - Muriel Barbery

How ironic. After decades of nosh, deluges of wine and alcohol of every sort, after a life spent in butter, cream, rich sauces and oil in constant, knowingly orchestrated and meticulously cajoled excess, my trustiest right-hand men, Sir Liver and his associate, Stomach, are doing marvelously well and it is my heart that is giving out. I am dying of heart failure. What a bitter pill to swallow!

“We started with a chicken in a coop; we end with a food critic on his deathbed. Pierre Arthens is France’s most celebrated food critic, a person who has both ruined careers and made them, and in the days before his death he relives the most delicious meals of his life. But, as we are told on page one, absolutely nothing comes close to the majesty of Pierre’s favourite dish of all: power over other people. This blackly comic novel is only 121 pages long, but denser than a gourmet meal – as well as being laugh-out-loud funny.”