Book News

Christensen has written a fun, energetic book that more or less follows her life, recording the more interesting details, but also stopping for meals along the way. Thus we are treated to feasts in Berkeley, Wildermuth, San Miguel, Verde Valley and Spring Valley, France, Upstate, Oregon, Iowa, New York, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Monitor Street, and New England. We assume that as Christensen is still young, there will be more adventures, more cities, and even more great chow. Annotation ©2014 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Booklist Reviews

Novelist Christensen (The Astral, 2011) pegs her tangy memoir of a peripatetic life to the endless quest for sustenance and the nurturing of the self. In her first food memory, she's just eaten her favorite breakfast, soft-boiled eggs, when her father viciously attacks her mother. An "anxious and overly responsible" child, she vows to help her mother and relies on books for solace and enlightenment. "I began with eating and moved on to cooking just as I began with reading and moved on to writing." Christensen tracks her food and literary adventures from California to Arizona, France, upstate New York, Oregon, Iowa, New York City, and New England, through tumultuous relationships and jobs as varied as short-order cook and corporate secretary. Harmonizing with her nostalgia for childhood comfort food, or "blue plate specials," Christensen writes with savory, home-cooked clarity as she digs deeply into the pleasures and dangers of food, charting the culinary fads of the 1960s on as well as changes to women's lives while zestfully telling intimate, harrowing, and hilarious tales of appetites corrosive and nourishing. Recipes included. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Appetite for reconstruction

Blue Plate Special began as a series of autobiographical blog posts about food, which Kate Christensen jokes she wanted to write even if her mother were the only reader. The responses to these posts were so enthusiastic that Christensen, author of the acclaimed novels The Astral and The Great Man, among others, knew she’d found the topic of her next book, a mouthwateringly good story that begs to be read and shared.

Blue Plate Special follows the unusual—even eccentric—development of both Christensen’s palate and her very identity. It’s a story full of delicious indulgences and tasty descriptions of fried chicken, fresh produce and cheese. Simple recipes are included throughout, and it is well worth trying a few. (I can personally attest to the tastiness of the spinach pie.) Like many foodies, Christensen’s palate truly awoke during a year-long stay in France, and the stories of her simple meals in the French countryside alone are worth the price of the book.

But her story is also one of deprivation, determination to lose a few pounds, troubling thoughts about wide backsides and what her mother called “huskiness.” Christensen, a passionate and charismatic personality, vacillates between gorging herself on whatever her fancy may be at the moment—say, burritos with fried-up canned beans—and starving herself on diets that involve dipping a carrot in olive oil and calling it lunch. She seems to profoundly understand how she came to be herself, and she shares her insights simply and movingly.

Consider, for instance, her reflection on witnessing domestic violence between her parents in early childhood. “This particular wrecked breakfast,” she writes, “is imprinted on my soul like a big boot mark. It became a kind of primordial scene, the incident around which my lifelong fundamental identity and understanding of the dynamic between women and men was shaped, whether I liked it or not.” This frank insightfulness flavors all of the chapters, which are organized chronologically and span a wide geography, both literally and metaphorically.

For much of her life, Christensen writes that she was “a hungry, lonely wild animal looking for happiness and stability.” Readers will celebrate that she, at long last, finds both.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

A novelist's deliciously engrossing exploration of her life through the two major passions that have defined it: food and writing. For Christensen (The Astral, 2011, etc.), memory and food are inextricably intertwined. Her book begins with the recollection of a violent argument between her parents over an egg-and-toast breakfast. This scene reminded her of not only the simple comforts of her mother's "blue plate special"–style meals, but also of the troubled dynamic that seemed inherent in male-female relationships. Not long afterward, her mother divorced and took the author and her sisters to Arizona. In this "wild, strange place that was so profoundly different from Berkeley," Christensen suddenly became aware of "taste and texture, flavor and smell" and began reading as voraciously as she ate. Later, drinking became another source of comfort. In between attending classes at a New York arts high school, Christensen overate, crash dieted, and then wrote about her hunger and her loneliness. She refined both her palate and her cooking abilities during a year spent in France. But it would be comfort food and hard liquor that would comprise many of her meals during the vagabond life she led afterward, first at Reed College and then at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she reignited a childhood passion for food in literature. A few alcohol-soaked, undernourished years later, she met her first husband, who "taught [her] how to enjoy food without guilt or remorse or puritanism," but with whom she fought constantly. Middle aged and unwilling to try out the "strange new world of hookups and sexting," she found unexpected love with a man 20 years her junior who fed her soul with the peace she had craved all along. A Rabelaisian celebration of appetite, complete with savory recipes, that genuinely satisfies. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews

PEN/Faulkner Award winner Christensen doesn't just write fiction (e.g., The Great Man); she writes about food on her eponymous blog. In this memoir, an in-house favorite, she talks about food to relate, more broadly, her off-kilter upbringing and current, reportedly happy life. Pitched to fans of Ruth Reichl and Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter.

[Page 73]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Novelist Christensen (The Great Man) describes her 1970s upbringing in Arizona in this unpretentious memoir. The oldest daughter of a Marxist lawyer and Waldorf-educated cellist, Christensen always modeled herself after her tough, uncompromising, iconoclastic father, whose manic rages nonetheless ruptured the family, sending the Christensen, her mother, and two sisters to start life in Tempe, Ariz., where her mother took up graduate studies in psychology. The three girls flourished, immersed in the era's consciousness-raising feminist literature and instant or experimental food, recipes for which Christensen dandles along her narrative without much ado (e.g., "farmers fritters," "camping peas"). Her efficient, chronological chapters treat some of the details those years, such as her mother's boyfriends and her own crushes, even the sexual predator at the Waldorf school she attended briefly in high school in Spring Valley, N.Y., but mostly the undercurrent eddies around the author's persistent loneliness, which she indulged by solitary writing and gorging on comfort food like bread and granola. A stint in France ("flageolets en pissenlits"), followed by college in Portland at Reed, graduate school in Iowa City, and work in New York round out this frank memoir, with appropriate culinary offerings for the writer's darker moods ("Bachelorette puttanesca"). (July)

[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC