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.


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.

French Milk, Lucy Knisley

This was a gift that I bought for someone’s birthday, and I read it before I gave it to my friend.  I’m sorry! In my defense, I read it incredibly carefully.  I mean just incredibly carefully, you have no idea, I practically had to poke my nose inside the book, because I was opening the covers only the littlest possible bit. Whatever, there is no excuse for me.  This is fine when I do it with my friend tim, or my Indie Sister, or even my mother, because I know they are all doing the same thing with (at least some of) the books they give to me.  But I should not make a habit of it.  Bad.

French Milk is a graphic memoir.  When she was twenty-two, Lucy Knisley and her mother spent a month in Paris, eating the foods and seeing the sights.  It’s simple black and white drawings, with everything labeled, just a journal of the things they did and saw, and Lucy’s struggles to be, you know, a grown-up.  It’s tricky.

They went to see Oscar Wilde’s grave!  She knows who Ada Leverson and Robbie Ross are!  Ada Leverson and Robbie Ross are two of my most favorite people of all time!  Robbie Ross was such a darling darling darling dear, and Ada Leverson was witty and clever and nice and cool.  I squealed like a little fangirl when I saw the picture of Oscar Wilde’s grave – she even said what it says on the grave, and I love those last two lines, “For his mourners will be outcast men / And outcasts always mourn.”  There were smoochy lip marks all over the photograph of the grave.  I want to visit Oscar Wilde’s grave.  I love Oscar Wilde.  I love him.

(I wrote “I love him” like four more times, and I had to go back and erase them.  I kept thinking of other cool things Oscar Wilde had done, like that time that he fixed that woman who was sad, or that time that Bosie’s wretched father wanted to meet him, and Oscar Wilde charmed the shit out of him BECAUSE HE HAD THE POWER TO DO THAT WITH HIS CHARMINGNESS, or that time, oh my God, that the Christian Scientists thought that mean guy was the Messiah so they wanted to breed little Messiahs.  Oh, Oscar Wilde, you bring happiness to my life.)

For a lot of the trip, Lucy was unhappy and worried – she was twenty-two, and trying to see where her life was going to go.  At one point she said, “I QUIT ART,” which was so funny to me because I am constantly feeling like that.  I will often read a book or a play or something, and be like, OH THIS IS POINTLESS.  I QUIT WRITING FOREVER.  Besides, I am always wondering where my life will go, and I could identify.  I enjoyed her wry remarks about the sights of Paris, and her helpfully labeled drawings.  Plus, I am grateful to her for writing this, because it gave me the idea of going to London with my mother, which I am departing to do in two weeks.

(Two weeks!)

Thanks to A Life in Books for the recommendation!