Back then they asked David and me to judge contributions based on Andrea Camilleri's The Shape of Water (the book, not the current movie by the same name, which bears no relation to it). Here's what we decided, and wrote.
Ever since, I've been reading their bimonthly emails announcing more books and more recipes. In February I noticed that they were featuring The Discovery of Chocolate by James Runcie (author of the books that inspired Grantchester, for you James Norton and Masterpiece fans), so I immediately ordered it. If, in the intervening weeks, I hadn't also acquired a new puppy, had a family reunion, celebrated 50 years of marriage, and survived Easter while being married to a church music director, I might have blogged about The Discovery of Chocolate in time to join their contest. I liked the book more than any of their contestants did (and I'll tell you why), and I have a couple of killer chocolate recipes.
About the book:
I've read a lot of comments from people who hated it, or were mystified by it, or were bored by it, or thought it should have been written differently. As a former editor who helped authors develop their books in hopes of getting people to buy them, I respect those comments. Runcie's book fits no categories - not even magical realism, which many commenters think it is. It could be a hard sell.
But as a big fan of Voltaire's Candide, I chuckled all the way through Runcie's mash-up of impossible stories.* Candide is a classic and The Discovery of Chocolate is a bit of fluff, but both books are wickedly funny, both authors wink as they toss out allusions for readers to recognize, and both sweetly expose cruelty, pomposity, and hypocrisy through the naïve observations of their credulous protagonists.
Like Candide, Diego voyages throughout the world, having one bizarre adventure after another. Both characters are inspired by love, and both witness actual historical events. Unlike Candide, however, Diego also voyages through time. He's a gourmand, not a philosopher. He ends up at a Día de los Muertos festival, not in a garden. And he has a dog.
Also, the book is about chocolate.
There's something called red velvet cake that I didn't discover until I moved to Maryland. Apparently it's a Southern thing. They think it's chocolatey. It is not.
There's something called a Texas sheet cake that is slightly more chocolatey, but it's still pretty wimpy.
|[Flourless chocolate cakelet. |
Raspberries and candle are optional.]
Back in 2009, I posted a recipe for a seriously fortified Texas sheet cake. The previous year I posted a recipe for flourless chocolate cakelets, whose chocolate content is even more intense. Both recipes still work. Try them. I can't promise that they'll make you immune to death, like Diego's elixir in The Discovery of Chocolate, but who knows?______________
*Clarification: I have degrees in French; Runcie earned a first in English from Cambridge University. I'll bet he was thinking, not of Candide (1759), but of Gulliver's Travels (1726). It's possible that Voltaire was thinking of Gulliver's Travels too--he was living in England when it was published. Take your pick. The point is, The Discovery of Chocolate is an 18th-century novel with sly 21st-century allusions. And it's about chocolate.