Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Apocryphal Cookbooks of Famous Novelists

LAWRENCE, Cynthia [pseud. of Lillian Hellman?]. Barbie's Easy-As-Pie Cookbook.
New York: Random House, 1964.
Though she preferred anonymity, we're pleased that the Unfinished Woman
had time to finish this book, attributed to her based upon its Stalinist sympathies.

Recently, Kelvin Johnson, an adult-bookstore clerk in Baltimore, MD, bought the contents of a self-storage unit at auction. Within was box of books that upon close examination inspired Johnson to contact lawyers, accountants, and rare book dealers.

“I’m not much of a vanilla-book person,” Johnson said, “but I do know that none of these authors were known for their work in the kitchen. They’re all cookbooks.”

The news has rocked the literary establishment.

“We all feel like we’ve been kneaded, and flattened with a rolling pin,” Marilyn Bagley, Professor of English Literature at West Covina Community College in Southern California and author of Heavy Metal and Hip-Hop Motifs in Victorian Novels 1840-1860: The Foreshadow of Ozzie Osborne, Original 50 Cent, and the Quest For Bling Within the Works of William Thackeray and George Eliot, reported. “All our bubbles have been squooshed.”

Basil Pine-Coffin, a literary forensics specialist and rare book dealer that Johnson has hired to appraise the books, said, “stylistically, they’re spot on; there’s no question in my mind that they are genuine. They appear to be vanity editions, and one-offs – unique. They have certainly never been heard of or seen before. This is an amazing discovery that will provide scholars with plenty to chew on for many years to come. The books are priceless - but we’re working on it.”

A few highlights from the trove:

Mark Twain married his interest in gastronomy with his affection for the vernacular and erotic, and thus brought A Tramp, A Broad, and Huckleberry Pie out of the oven and onto the dessert tray.

Who knew that Charles Dickens was a closet chocolatier? Barnaby Fudge melts in your mouth.

Was Edgar Allen Poe a secret Jew? No one has ever imagined it. But The Tell-Tale Calves Liver, a tract on trayfe (non-kosher), strongly suggests that the idea ain’t just chopped liver.

William Styron suffered from depression for much of his adult life yet he, apparently, found joy in the simple pleasures and so bequeathed Sophie’s Choice Brisket to us.

Portrait of a Lady Finger is surely Henry James’ lightest confection.

We now know what drove F. Scott Fitzgerald to drink. The Beautiful and the Damned Angel Cake is a bittersweet tragedy.

True, she didn’t write fiction. Yet environmentalists and litterateurs will be seared when they learn that when not spraying the truth on pesticides Rachel Carson tacitly wrote The Silent Spring Chicken. No comment on this understated gustatory salute to Cornish game hens and the many ways to prepare them, sotto voce, and hormone-free.

It is likely that no one will ever tackle James Joyce’s contribution to the dinner table. No kitchen consultants have been able to make head or tail out of Finnegan’s Cake, much less bake it. But that shouldn’t stop it from winning the Pillsbury Bake-Off; it’s a modern classic that will be much admired though rarely eaten.

William Faulkner, it turns out, spent as much time with a baking sheet as a sheet of paper. One afternoon, he asked his Hollywood employer, studio-chief Jack Warner, if he could finish writing at home. Warner looked at his watch and said, sure, go ahead. A week later, Warner was pissed-off. “Where the fuck is Faulkner?” Turns out, Faulkner had something in the oven – at home in Oxford, Mississippi, where he apparently fled to compose the following soufflés: The Sound and the Fricassee; As I Lay Frying; Intruder in the Crust; Requiem For a Bun; and Albacore, Albacore!

Johnson is very excited. And the stakes are high. At a press conference this morning his team announced their appraisal of the collection, a staggering $200,000,000.

Yet all is not well in the world of literary dishes - instant riches.

James Salt, the respected rare book dealer that Johnson originally brought in to help with the project, excused himself early on. He believes the collection may only be worth $200, at best.

“I smell fish,” Salt sniffed, “and I’m not talking about Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea Bass: 20 Lite N’ Easy Meals.

“While it’s true that Tolstoy hated Italian food I seriously doubt that he would devote his time and labor to a 1,000 page book about his struggle with it. I don’t care how many so-called experts assert otherwise, I will never be convinced that he wrote War On Pizza.”

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