WSIRN Ep 94: Paris epiphanies (and other bookish destinations)

Today’s guest is Esther Dairiam, who I first connected with when my husband and I stumbled into her store* Read It & Eat, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, when we had a half hour to kill before a dinner reservation.  We’d never been anyplace like it, and were wowed by her concept, her kitchen, and her broad selection of both culinary books and live events.  

In today’s interview, I got to hear the rest of the story—and it’s a good one. Esther’s professional background isn’t in food or books, but in management consulting. But like so many good stories, Esther’s turns on an epiphany she had on a trip to Paris five years ago. She left convinced that what her adopted city of Chicago needed was its own destination for culinary books and events, and not finding anything like it already in business, she sought to open that business herself.  

We talk about food, of course, and the way it brings people together. You probably won’t be surprised to hear us mention cookbooks and food titles today, but we also discuss the characteristics of a great memoir, the inclusivity of food AND books, and the favorite books of her childhood.

Let’s get to it.

What Should I Read Next #94: Paris epiphanies (and other bookish destinations) with Esther Dairiam

Photo credit: Frank Ishman.

*Read It & Eat is now an online store: connect with Esther and her shop Read It & Eat: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website

Books mentioned in this episode:

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The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food & Hustle in Harlem, by Marcus Samuelsson
• Author Enid Blyton
• Give a Girl a Knife, by Amy Thielen
• Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, by Joshua McFadden
• Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat 
• Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts, by Stella Parks
• Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, & War, by Annia Ciezadlo
• Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jaber
• The Hundred Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais
• Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
• Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin
• A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table, by Molly Wizenberg

What do YOU think Esther should read next? Let us know in the comments!


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  1. Jo says:

    Oh wow, I didn’t know “The Hundred Foot Journey” was a book, watched the movie on Netflix a few months ago and I can’t wait to read the book now. What a fun interview. 🙂

  2. Congratulations to Esther for adding to the spice of the Chicago literary scene. It sounds like my kind of bookstore.
    For a French food epiphany, I highly recommend anything by M.F.K. Fisher and any cookbook by Patricia Wells (though the one I use most is “Vegetable Harvest”).

  3. Valerie says:

    I love Esther’s bookstore concept, wishing I lived closer; maybe on my next indie bookstore road trip!
    Of the books she talked about, I took away (well, many) a book “Six Seasons” for a Christmas gift for my sister who loves to cook vegetables in season.
    At any rate, what should Esther read next, “The Hundred Foot Journey.” I myself am intrigued, will also be reading that.

  4. Emma says:

    Anne, you really should try Laurie Colwin’s fiction. “Happy All the Time” is a book I have re-read more than once, and I rarely re-read books. And yes, I enjoy all your podcasts!

  5. Meg says:

    I love that she referenced Enid Blighton. That was referenced at the beginning of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, and now listening to her made me want to read them!

    • Jo says:

      My husband grew up in Kenya and loved Enid Blyton as a kid. Our kids have read quite a few of them as well, and the few I’ve read I really enjoyed. E.Nesbit is also a favorite – another British children’s author that we just can’t seem to get in the US.

      • Kate says:

        I shrieked out loud when Esther mentioned Enid Blyton! I still have my original Secret Seven books and have slowly rebuilt my Famous Five collection, along with the St. Clare’s and Mallory Towers school stories. One of the things I loved about these books as a kid was how she would describe all the food in so much detail, from the “slabs” of cake to the bottles of ginger beer!

  6. Julie says:

    Hello, Anne! I just discovered your podcast! So lucky me, I have a hours of listening to the back catalog ahead. Anyway: this most recent episode was my first. I cheered “Yea!” in my car when you mentioned Laurie Colwin and when you said you hadn’t read her fiction, I exclaimed a wistful “Oh!” I had to figure out how to reach out and tell you, as Emma does above, that you really should! I don’t think enough people know about her. Happy All the Time is also my favorite of those I have read. so there’s two vote’s for Laurie’s fiction and Happy All the Time!

    • Kate says:

      I saw Happy All the Time in a used bookshop recently and am still kicking myself for not buying it. I love her two essay collections.

  7. Jana says:

    Esther was a great guest! She probably already knows these books, but just in case, here goes: 1. “Farm City” by Novella Carpenter is a memoir of a woman who raised all her own food while living in Oakland – very innovative and captivating true story. 2. “Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally” by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon – how a couple kept their food consumption to things produced within a 100 mile radius (they lived in Vancouver, B.C.) for a year, complete with recipes – might be a little preachy but still quite interesting. Alisa and J.B. alternate chapters. 3. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. Since Kingsolver is such a good storyteller, I loved this non-fiction work of hers that followed the same concept as book #2.

  8. Katie says:

    I recently finished Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I hadn’t thought of it as a food book, but while I was listening to this episode I kept thinking of how often food came up and what it said about the character who were eating and preparing it. It’s a great read with some subtle food messaging as a bonus!

  9. Shelly W. says:

    Loved this episode! I took a pie baking class at Read It and Eat last spring and had a blast. This is a special little shop that I will definitely return to. As a farm girl I just have to warn people who may want to make hay ice cream–hay is the green stuff; the yellow stuff is straw. Hay is made from alfalfa, clover, and grass (yummy!); straw is basically the dried out stalk of wheat (not good for eating!).

  10. Cliff C. says:

    I’m a big fan of this show and this episode was one of my favorites. I love cooking, books, and cookbooks, so this episode was the perfect combination of all of those.
    Another book recommendation I would add, based on Esther’s interview, is The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. It’s not strictly a novel about food. Instead a dish that is loved by one of the characters is used as a plot device to bring the pieces of the story together. The ingredients for the dish are used as the chapter titles. It’s a really fantastic book.

  11. Christine says:

    Hi Esther,
    Have you ever read “Babette’s Feast” by Isak Dinesen? It is a great story that revolves around food but isn’t really about the food itself, just what it represents.

  12. I just finished Home Cooking (LOVED it), and my mind flashed to that as soon as you mentioned Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. Sure enough, the book title is also the title of the opening essay…which Laurie Colwin wrote!

    For Esther I would recommend any of M.F.K. Fisher’s foodie books. How to Cook a Wolf, written in the deprivation of WWII, is excellent.

  13. Michele says:

    Great story & reviews. I really enjoyed “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School,” which one of your guests suggested this summer. Looking forward to checking out this week’s suggestions.

  14. Jamie says:

    I recently finished An Everlasting Meal and thoroughly enjoyed it. Think MFK Fisher-inspired essays, plus yummy recipes, and some foodie humor thrown in for good measure (pun – ha!)

  15. Maggie Holmes says:

    I might label our library’s copies of Six Seasons and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat as recommended by Read It and Eat’s owner.
    I hope Esther can expand her reading to include some fiction. Martin Walker’s mystery series set in the Perigord region of France make me salivate as I read and wish I could concentrate long enough to cook. Somehow I keep getting distracted by the book I’m reading.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Esther, if you’re looking to expand you fiction reading, I think you might enjoy the novel “Lizzy and Jane” by Katherine Reay. One of the characters is a chef, and the cooking scenes in the book kept making me want to head into the kitchen. It might seem like lighter chick-lit from the cover summary, but Reay deals with some heavier themes like loss and cancer and the ways we use food to connect with others. Bonus: Reay lives in the Chicago area.

  17. Yvonne says:

    First, thank you Anne for highlighting this shop. A food and book lover friend and I were in Chicago for a weekend recently, went to Read It and Eat, and spent a very happy 2 hours browsing, reading, choosing, and ultimately purchasing (and now enjoying) a new book that I never would have come across otherwise. I second the recommendation for “Lizzy and Jane” – a great story. The two books that kept coming to mind while listening to this episode were “Stir” by Jessica Fechtor and the Louise Penny series of mysteries. I am always amazed how much food plays a role in Penny’s books, and yet aren’t center stage. Thanks for all the suggestions too – can’t wait to try a number of new books!

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