Tom Parker Bowles: There are lots of pompous food writers
Tom Parker Bowles describes having a very bookish childhood and praises Calvin Trillin's Hemingway-esque prose.
Tom Parker Bowles is a culinary writer and broadcaster. He is food editor of Esquire magazine and has a weekly column in the Mail on Sunday. He is also the author of four books. His latest, Let’s Eat: Recipes from My Kitchen Notebook, is out now.
Boy by Roald Dahl
Growing up, my sister and I enjoyed a very bookish childhood. My mother [Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall] would let us choose whatever we wanted from Waterstones—apart from the time that I put something on the counter by notorious sexual libertine the Marquis de Sade. That was promptly vetoed. Dahl was one of my favourite authors, and Boy, his autobiography, is written in the same unpatronising, clean and sparse prose as his other books. It was so exciting to see where the inspiration for all his ideas came from. From that point on, I started to be interested in the person behind everything I read, rather than just taking a story for granted.
The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin
There are lots of pompous food writers, but Trillin isn’t one of them. His Hemingway-esque prose made me believe for the first time that food writing could be a noble calling. This trilogy is about the pleasure to be had from “serious eating”; seeking out the real food of America, whether it be Southern chicken wings or pot stickers in Chinatown. Like him, I’d rather enjoy the authentic tastes of the culture I’m in than sit in fancy restaurants with thick, starched napkins.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Of everything I read for my English degree, I thought this the most brilliant. It exploded the myth that books have to follow a certain narrative form. Sterne experimented with literary expression in the 1700s in a way that modernist writers would years later. By the very contract of opening a book, you think you should be able to trust the narrator, but Sterne is wonderfully obtuse and bawdy. He goes off at tangents, lying and ranting—he can’t explain anything simply. I loved the literary ride this style took me on.