Ruth Reichl, a former New York Times restaurant critic and the last editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine, has always been a voracious fiction reader. After savoring all those novels she decided it was time to write one, “Delicious,” about a Californian who lands a job at an iconic New York food magazine. The Harvard Book Store presents the author in conversation with chef Barbara Lynch at 6 p.m. Friday at the Brattle Theatre. Tickets are $28 and include a signed copy of the book.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
REICHL: Just this morning I started Elizabeth McCracken’s collection of short stories, “Thunderstruck.” I loved “The Giant’s House.” It made me want to read everything that she wrote. I also just finished “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” a wonderful book by a British writer named Rachel Joyce about this old guy who goes to mail a letter to an old friend who’s dying and ends up walking across the country to see her.
BOOKS: How do you pick books?
REICHL: I just sort of munch around at books. I spend a lot of time in bookstores. When I lived in Berkeley and had no money I’d go to the library everyday and wander the shelves. I found “Crossings” by Chuang Hua there. It’s a really great book about the Chinese experience in America. It has some of the most remarkable, mesmerizing writing about cooking, say about buying a chicken.
‘My father would open a book and pet it lovingly. So you won’t find a lot of grease stains in my cookbooks.’
BOOKS: What have been some favorite recent discoveries?
REICHL: Chef Dan Barber has a book coming out called “The Third Plate.” He is the most articulate writer on food. It’s a readable, all-encompassing book about where we are with food right now and where we will be in 50 years. Another wonderful book coming out is “The Big Fat Surprise” by Nina Teicholz. It takes on everything we know about nutrition and examines it.
BOOKS: Do you read a lot about food?
REICHL: Probably not as much as I should. I have thousands of cookbooks. They are around my house, in my kitchen, and in my writing studio upstate.
BOOKS: Which of your cookbooks have the most grease stains on them?
REICHL: I’m very cautious with my books because of my father, Ernst Reichl, who was a book designer. He started at Doubleday in 1926 and worked until 1980. He did the first American edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and did a lot of Gertrude Stein’s books. My father would open a book and pet it lovingly. So you won’t find a lot of grease stains in my cookbooks. Lots of cookbooks don’t work very well so the ones I have out do work well like Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks, Marion Cunningham’s “The Breakfast Book” and Paula Wolfert’s books.
BOOKS: Did your dad’s work affect your relationship with books in any other way?
REICHL: Absolutely. I grew up in publishing. My father’s office was above the Gotham Book Mart. The owner, Frances Steloff, used to babysit me. All my parents’ friends were in publishing. I always thought books were the highest calling.
BOOKS: Have you ever been so busy that you didn’t have time to read?
REICHL: Never. I cannot imagine a day without reading something. I have become a real fan of audio books. I listen to books while I’m driving, on the subway, and when I’m cooking.
BOOKS: Do some books make for better audio books than others?
REICHL: Definitely. For instance, I found Hilary Mantel much easier to listen to than to read. Sometimes I’ll read the physical book and listen to it. After I read passages in Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” I would listen to them because she writes so much for the ear. Some of the main character’s speeches that didn’t work that well on the page for me were brilliant to listen to.
BOOKS: You can listen to a book while cooking and not make mistakes?
REICHL: Not if I’m trying a new recipe, but if I’m cooking the ones that I’m really familiar with I can. You can do it while chopping onions or cleaning lettuce. It’s really wonderful to have someone read to you while you do that.