Book clubs cannot live by bread and cheese alone, which is why any guide that prescribes good reading and good recipes has a built-in audience. If you’re in a literary group that meets at night around the dinner or cocktail hour, eventually the potluck approach and Costco platters just won’t do. Truth is, people like to cook for a small, appreciative crowd. They might not finish the assigned reading, but they will show up with something they like to eat.
Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, co-authors of “The Book Club Cookbook,” first served discussion points with dishes in 2004, in a volume as thick as double-porterhouse steak. Here’s how their system works: Chapter by chapter, they deliver enough detail about each book to whet your appetite. An accompanying recipe or two connects food to the characters or setting. Sometimes, they sweeten the deal with an explanation of a key ingredient’s origins.
In this even meatier, revised edition, Gelman and Krupp have filled out the menu options considerably and stirred different book titles into the mix of 100 or so. Some of the featured authors have contributed their recipes as well. Often, the cookbook chapters end with a thin mint’s worth of description about the ways book clubs across the country have been inspired to feed their members.
Sometimes, the food pairings are obvious, such as the buffalo wings that are a favorite of the protagonist in “The Coldest Winter Ever,” by Sister Souljah. Thankfully, we’re spared trail mix for Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”; instead, we’re treated to the dessert of his dreams while he was on the long march: lemon meringue pie.
But what could complement, say, the author’s low-wage existence in “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America,” in which Barbara Ehrenreich cannot muster the means to make lentil stew? Mozzarella sticks — a fried, gooey day’s nourishment for her co-workers (with marinara sauce served a la “Mystic River”). Or the fruit-induced maladies of the soldiers in “The Killer Angels”? A cherry-apple cobbler with sweet vanilla custard, hold the dysentery. Overall, the pairings call for imagination, which makes this a cookbook that covers a lot of culinary territory.
And because it’s a volume of reference, it needs an extensively cross-referenced index. In this matter, “The Book Club Cookbook” does not disappoint. Ingredients, authors, book titles and book genres are easily searchable, with resource lists specific to book clubs. This time around, the publisher has added a slim collection of photos that highlight some — but not enough — of the recipes. Cookbooks are a visual medium, after all.
Benwick is interim editor of The Post’s Food section.
THE BOOK CLUB COOKBOOK
Recipes and Food for Thought from Your Book Club’s Favorite Books and Authors
By Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp
Tarcher/Penguin. 486 pp. $21.95