Review: Relish, Lucy Knisley

I had a dream the other night where NetGalley had changed the way its Dashboard looks so that when you logged in, it had a list of all the books you’d requested and whether you’d reviewed them. And it was like, color-coded as it went down the list, in increasingly angry colors, to indicate that if you ignored THIS book you’d have reviewed half the books you requested (yellow), if you ignored this book too it would be forty percent (orange), and so forth down the list, in darker and angrier shades of orange and red. It was intense.

(Sometimes my subconscious tells me really obvious stuff, like, hey Jenny guess what? You feel guilty about not reviewing things promptly! and then I wake up and I’m like, Yeah, I already knew that, asshole, can you let me sleep in peace? Last month I had a dream that I was living in a really grody apartment with no private bathroom and I was a teacher and I had lost all ability to recognize the faces of the children in my class and I had enormous pimples all over my face and my contact lenses started peeling out of my eyes and when I went to the grocery store I discovered I had no money in my bank account. Why, yes, subconscious, those are all things that would make me feel terrible. Thanks for the reminder.)

Long ago I read Lucy Knisley’s first book, French Milk, and I was inspired to embark upon a similar journey of my own, except to London rather than Paris. This was an excellent idea by me! Mumsy and I ate chocolate twists every day and drank coffee out of big mugs, and I saw my friend Sazzle and my adjunct sister Catin.

Relish, though also charming, did not inspire in me a comparable desire to imitate Lucy Knisley’s life.

Lucy Knisley, that lucky duck, had one parent who was fond of fine dining (her father) and one parent whose life basically was all about producing fine dining. From her earliest days, then, she can remember being wrapped up (not literally, that would be gross) in food. Relish is a graphic memoir of food anecdotes from her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, punctuated with illustrated versions of some of her favorite recipes. As in French Milk, her drawings are simple and charming, with crucial details indicated by arrows lest you miss what is going on.

Knisley is at her absolute best when she’s evoking a sense of place. Early in the book she talks about spending time as a child at her uncle Peter’s food shop, which was mostly staffed by young writers, musicians, and artists, who would ply their trades in and around the shop.

Spraying leaves

Details like this make it feel like someone’s life. Another high point is the whole sequence in which she and her friend Drew and their mothers all head to Mexico for a vacation. On this trip, she gets her period and Drew discovers porn, and they spend all their time in Mexico trying to conceal their secrets from their parents and eating all the Mexican food available to them. As in French Milk, Lucy Knisley is just really good at pointing out the small, ordinary things that make a place memorable.

Mmmm guacamole

(Or it could be I just like knowing what kind of food I would get if I went to various different places. Especially if one of the foods in question is guacamole because dear GOD guacamole is good.)

At other times — when Knisley is devoting herself to telling a story rather than giving pictorial details of what it was like living in a certain place at a certain time — the book is less successful. She has the knack for picking out worthwhile place details but not necessarily worthwhile story details. And in some places it felt more like she was telling cocktail party stories than writing a book.¬†Eh, fine. You saw Kate Hudson and she was cold.

Kate Hudson is cold

An absolutely delightful feature of this book was that at the end of each chapter, Knisley includes a recipe relating to what she’s just been talking about. A chocolate chip cookie recipe follows the junk food chapter; a recipe for sushi follows the chapter about her adventures in Japan as a young teenager. I wish Lucy Knisley would write an entire illustrated book of recipes she enjoys. That would be great.

Sushi

Haha! I don’t need Lucy Knisley to tell me how to make sushi, although her sushi sounds really delicious. Believe it or not, I know how to make sushi and have known how to make it for longer than I have known how to make anything else except hashbrowns. Indie Sister showed me how, lo these many years ago. It isn’t that hard. Rolling it up isn’t that hard either. Cutting it is trickier, and Knisley tells you tricks for how to do that properly.

This book has wonderful sections — mainly the ones where she’s talking about new experiences in foreign climes, because Lucy Knisley just is great at writing and illustrating travel — and less interesting sections. Generally it was a fun read, and it’s nice to see that Knisley is still in the books business, because she is always a wry and charming pleasure.

(Seriously, I would love her to do an illustrated recipe book. I hope that can happen.)

I received this e-book for review via NetGalley.

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15 thoughts on “Review: Relish, Lucy Knisley

  1. Hmm, interesting. I’ve never really been into graphic novels or comics… and an illustrated book (that’s not for children) feels weird to me, but obviously it works for some people since she’s done more than one.

    (I’m kinda curious as to what the asterisk by the drink was for… I’m assuming something along the lines of “optional, but recommended.”)

    • Indeed not? You should try some! Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is awfully good and a fairly easy way into comics if you aren’t used to reading that way.

      (Yes, that’s exactly what the asterisk was for.)

  2. Why was the drink asterisked? I want to know the asterisk detail. Also, you should make that guacamole recipe I sent you (although it is a pity you would have to leave out the diced English cucumbers.) It is fantastic and people rave, especially when you combine it with the chipotle-honey shredded chicken. In toasted pita! mmmmmmmmm

  3. I haven’t read French Milk but maybe I should. I hope Knisley listens to you and make an illustrated cookbook. That would be awesome. Sam’s right, if NetGalley reads this post and starts getting ideas, we’re all screwed.

    What’s up with your crazy dreams? I’m surprised that you don’t try to stay awake all night, every night.

  4. I only belatedly realized that Relish and French Milk are authored by the same person. I completely get your comments on this book – it wasn’t really deep and I’m not sure it is one I’ll remember long-term, but I enjoyed it. I think I also liked the way Knisley referenced places in Chicago that I know.

    I shall obviously now seek out French Milk. And totes agree with you on an illustrated cookbook!

  5. Just read this, but I’m stuck with your first paragraph, because Netgalley makes me feel like this, too. I have to do a post about this, because it’s causing me serious angst.

  6. Pingback: Book Review: Relish by Lucy Knisley | roodonfood

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