Ray McVinnie is one of New Zealand’s most respected food writers, has been the Food Editor for Cuisine, Best Food Magazine, World Food Media Awards, the judge of Masterchef NZ and here he talks about the nourishment to be found in books…
The books that got me to love reading:
As far as I’m concerned, babies should be well attuned to the idea of books by the time they start walking. I’ve yet to meet a child, (or an adult for that matter) who could resist a well-written story of any kind, especially when read aloud with conviction. I think something in our blood predisposes us to stories and storytelling, forms of nourishment books are generally much better at supplying than television. I lapped up the usual stuff of early childhood, read to us over and over again with no apparent diminishment of enjoyment on our part. Of course many of these titles are now condemned as incorrect or contaminating. They’ll perhaps survive as anthropological curiosities, minutely examined by future scientists and students of sociology who will regard my generation as dark ages pond life. I still have my old copy of Little Black Sambo, and a Henrietta Hen title. Most of this stuff was from overseas, as New Zealand’s childrens’ books behemoth was still just a toddler itself. We swung wildly from the Caribbean with its slave-driving matriarchs and its exploding muggers (crocodiles) to the benign fields of rural England and the wild Russian steppes, to equatorial Africa with its terrifying jungles and back again. Hard to say what we made of it all at the time. Later stuff absorbed as an independent reader included all the adventure stories – Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Kidnapped and so on, and a healthy diet of classic comics.
Bill Bryson’s Home, a great mix of interesting, not always vital-to-know material heavily flavoured with Bryson’s irrepressible humour. It doesn’t seem to matter what I pick up of his, from popular science to travel writing there’s a mass of information to be extracted with plenty of laughs along the way. Bryson is a polymath, with a huge capacity for researching and sifting information. Predictably enough, Home focuses on the domestic side of life, and proving to be a rich source of inspiration for the gastronomy course I teach at Auckland University of Technology. I have just finished Hans Falada’s Alone in Berlin, A tour de force, a fantastic read that carries you along like a freight train. It repeatedly kept me from more urgent tasks.
The book I’ve reread the most:
Robin Lane-Fox’s Alexander the Great, The Pillowbook of Sei Shonagon, William Boyd’s Any Human Heart. I know this is 3, and these are just a few of those I can recall off the top of my head. These are among the books I’ll take up when I’m feeling let down by a new or unfamiliar title. I don’t finish books I’m not enjoying, but I do have a very high threshold when it comes to rereading books I love.
Favourite film based on a book?
At the moment, The Thin Red Line. This is such a beautifully conceived and produced film, a sort of elegy to the human beings who become entangled in and damaged by war, and an acid commentary on the types that have fed on the ruinous conflicts our era has produced. Apart from anything else it is a film that exposes the viewer to such extremes of beauty, destruction, humanity and horror that it is impossible not to be moved by it.
I’m not a big reader of poetry, but do of course remember bits of the verses of Milton, Keats, Elliot and Yeats and others from late school/early university days. At the risk of sounding like a pompous twit, I enjoy looking at Horace’s Odes from time to time.
Books next to my bed:
Those I’ve listed among my most reread, plus: Anthony Beevor: Berlin, Bill Bryson; At Home, Nial Ferguson: The War of the World, Babur Nama: Journal of Emperor Barbur, Artemis Cooper: Writing at the Kitchen Table, (biography of Elizabeth David). Turin and Sanchez: Perfume, The A-Z guide, Marguerite Yourcenar: Memoirs of Hadrian, Homer; The Iliad, The Odyssey, Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilization, Zola: The Belly of Paris, Graham Robb: Parisians, Wilfred Thesiger: Desert
My idea of happiness:
A beach holiday during the NZ summer, with days of swimming, walking, reading and cooking stretching ahead of me. The zenith of such happiness is sharing these times with family and good friends who have similar ideas about earthly bliss.
My favourite literary quote:
Not strictly literary, but I’ve always loved Dorothy Parker’s telegram home to the States, sent on her arrival in Venice:
“STREETS FLOODED, PLEASE ADVISE”