Food, memories and emotions are closely linked in our brains. A taste of something can transport you to another time and place, or maybe you avoid certain foods based on past experiences or connections. In addition to cooking, I also enjoy reading about cooking because everyone approaches it in different ways: through passion, survival, nostalgia, or luck. My friend taught a culinary writing course at Portland State University recently, and many of the food memoirs I read in 2021 are included in the course reading.
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Whatever grand plans I originally had about the books I was going to read in 2020 went entirely out the window about halfway through March, along with many other plans. I still tried to focus on authors who were Black, indigenous, immigrant, queer or part of other marginalized groups, but when the libraries unexpectedly closed, my reading options was suddenly limited to whatever I bought from my local bookstore or was already in the house. These 42 books span 81 years, from 1939 to 2020. Several of the books link to comparisons of the original texts and film adaptations.
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The Color Purple is a 1982 novel by American author Alice Walker. The book was adapted into a 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. The book has also been made into a Broadway musical that was nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2006, as well as a radio serial adaptation for BBC Radio 4. It was recently announced that a film adaptation of the musical is in development that will be produced by Spielberg, Winfrey, Quincy Jones and Scott Sanders.
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The Joy Luck Club, the debut novel of American author Amy Tan, was published in 1989. It has been adapted into a stage play that premiered at New York’s Pan Asian Repertory Theater, as well as the 1994 drama film “The Joy Luck Club” directed by Wayne Wang. The film’s screenplay was written by Amy Tan and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ronald Bass.
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“Native Son,” written by American author Richard Wright, was published in 1940. Wright’s published works of revolutionary poetry, novels and short stories have elevated him alongside other African American icons of literature such as James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes. “Native Son” has been adapted for the screen several times, most recently the 2019 version for HBO that is a directorial debut from Rashid Johnson.
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“To Kill a Mockingbird” is the first novel by American author Harper Lee, published in 1960. The book was adapted into a 1962 drama that was directed by Robert Mulligan, starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham. Arguably one of the most influential and beloved pieces of 20th Century American literature, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is still widely taught in schools more than 50 years after it was first published.
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“The Secret Life of Bees” is the first piece of fiction by American author Sue Monk Kidd, published in 2001. The story is set in the American South of 1964, and follows fourteen-year-old Lily as she searches for clues to her past and discovers the power of divine femininity. The book was adapted into a 2008 drama that was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, and stars Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys.
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“Go Tell It On the Mountain” is the 1953 semi-autobiographical novel by American author James Baldwin. The book is a coming of age story about a black boy growing up in the 1930’s during the Harlem Renaissance, and struggling with themes like religion, family, guilt and sin. The book was adapted into a made-for-television movie by the PBS in 1984 that was directed by Stan Lathan and starred Paul Winfield.
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“Girl, Interrupted” is the 1993 memoir by American author Susanna Kaysen. The title comes from the 1658 painting created by Johannes Vermeer called Girl Interrupted at Her Music – the author visits the painting at the Frick Collection in New York several times in the book. The text was adapted into a psychological drama film in 1999 that was directed by James Mangold, and starred Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie and Clea DuVall.
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“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is the 1955 psychological thriller by American author Patricia Highsmith. This is only the first book featuring the character of Tom Ripley; the author went on to write a series of four more crime novels between 1970 and 1991 which are collectively known as the ‘Ripliad.’ The book was made into a 1999 psychological thriller that was directed by Anthony Minghella, and starred Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow.
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