I've just been out doing last-minute shopping. You're out doing last-minute shopping. Or deciding what to do with the book-buying gift certificates that always make the best Christmas gifts. Here are suggestions I've been meaning to make for too long, offered almost too late--but these are all books you should own, whenever you make your way to a bookstore and however they make their way to your or a worthy recipient's library.
My first love is Italy, so I start with two Italian-themed books you need. The first, La Cucina, is an encyclopedia by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina of over 2,000 recipes that is an essential reference for professional and home kitchens. [...]
Why Italians Love To Talk About Food is another matter altogether, as discursive as La Cucina is, for all its length, terse--a gallimaufry of a book of Italian regionalism, history, and culinary traditions. "Gallimaufry" is usually a fancy way to say "hodgepodge," and indeed there are mini-chapters within each section on subjects like Pasta or Democracy. But on initial reading, the book by an essayist and translator named Elena Kostioukovitch, looks to be a series of very wide-ranging essays divided by region, in essence trying to see the country's soul through its food. As my esteemed friend and authority Carol Field says in her foreword, "Italians talk constantly about food even when food isn't the subject." She, too, likes what she calls the "interstitial" chapters "that deal with subjects as diverse as pilgrims, the liturgical and popular calendar, democracy, slow food, Jews, primary materials, eros, and restaurants." This is a work of scholarship written to be as engaged and engaging as it is informative, and will make a very good travel companion, in advance of or after an excursion.