Food for mind, body and spirit

Read It and Eat is a reminder that human sustenance takes many forms - among them books, conversation and recipes.

Published October 27, 2005

Wisps of emotion float through Sarah Gardner's Read It and Eat, a collection of book club selections, complete with discussion questions and menus.

Gardner waxes lovingly about childhood favorites such as The Wind in the Willows and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The author's acknowledgements are poignant and emphatic: Her spouse is "by far, the kindest, most caring, patient husband and friend anyone could ever ask for."

As she wrote so adoringly, she was having contractions . . . and sobbing. Sentimentality is what you get when you write a book while you're pregnant, she says.

That night, a book was born, and the next day she gave birth to her first child, three weeks early.

Gardner, who lives in Sarasota with her husband and 1-year-old son, says she didn't notice how much the book reflected the state of her pregnant mind until after it was published in June.

"I think my book choices skewed toward nostalgia," Gardner, 31, says. "I was so homesick for Buffalo, N.Y."

Gardner's path to published author was slightly charmed, though she does have tales about tough editing and a bruised ego. Editors from Hudson Street Press found Gardner through her Web site, the Literary Gathering, which also suggests books and menus for book clubs. At its height, there were 800 subscribers.

The site, www.literarygathering.com is being reconstructed and its future is uncertain as Gardner decides where to devote her time. Besides raising her son, she works full time in employee health services at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Another book, whose topic she won't reveal, is in the works.

Because Hudson Street approached her about writing a book, Gardner did not go through the arduous proposal process. Still, the writing and subsequent editing were challenging.

"I would tell anyone writing a first book: The first round of edits will crush you almost to the point of being broken, but they can only make you a better writer," Gardner says. "There will be a lot of tears."

To come up with 64 book suggestions, Gardner drew on her lifelong love of reading and a literature degree from State University of New York, Fredonia. She also read (or reread) 90 books. Cooking and menu development came naturally, she says, to the daughter of a home ec teacher.

Gardner says that food, especially when it's themed to a book, promotes discussion and provides another way to discuss plot and character. For example, Chicken Piccata is a clever accompaniment to Laurie Notaro's Autobiography of a Fat Bride, a collection of humorous essays. Notaro claims in one essay that the only wifely skill she has is making cutlets.

Many women join book clubs to connect with other women in the way they might have 50 years ago over the backyard fence, Gardner says. (She hasn't come across many men's book clubs.)

Yes, the discussion often ranges away from literature - or pulp fiction - to include what the kids did (or didn't do), work irritations, in-law troubles and, of course, men.

The best book club book opens the door to conversation. Sometimes the talk is personal, other times political. Gardner warns of trite themes and difficult reads.

"Some books are like trudging through rubber cement."

Though she has been in about six book clubs over the years, her current group doesn't require leaving the house or even bringing a covered dish.

"I'm in a modified book club with my mother, sister and two aunts. We discuss books by e-mail," she says. "It's tough finding the time with a full-time job, a 1-year-old and working on a second book."

Sounds like Gardner's virtual book club should read Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It. And order out for pizza.


Sarah Gardner, author of Read It and Eat, appears at 1:45 p.m. in Davis Hall 130. She will sign books at 2:30 in Authors Alley South.