As the TV & Film Department Editor at The Donnybrook Writing Academy, I've covered the Simmons-judged food competition series Top Chef for the past few years now, so cracking her book open and giving it a read seemed like a logical choice for my first foray into Book Reviewing, especially given the fact that I also catch Gail on the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate -- I know, I watch too much television, hey, it's my job! But I'm also well-read, I swear. Don't judge me.
So, for those who don't watch either of these shows -- there's sort of like two different Gail Simmons: on Top Chef we see more of "Serious Gail" as she's there to judge the cheftestant's and help determine their fate in the competition alongside host Padma Lakshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate "Fun Gail" shows us a much lighter side -- she's passionate as she describes her favorite eats, she laughs, cracks jokes -- she's much more relaxed, and I believe that's probably because she's sitting in a room with one or two people taping her and there's less pressure as opposed to being on the Top Chef set.
Oddly, both Gails are writing this book, and the juxtaposition between the two just didn't quite work for me. Here's the thing -- there are so many parts about Talking that are stellar -- most notably her introductions at the start of each chapter when she writes in a more creative, almost poetic/prose-kind of voice to describe some of her favorite dining experiences. These passages, which range from a paragraph to a page, are really bright spots in Talking that make you sit up and start enjoying her life story.
But then that's where I run into problems with this book. Her story is interesting -- she had this really cool childhood in Canada (great food, trips to Switzerland, that kind of thing), and she opens up about her family's struggle learning to live with her brother's psychological issues, and she recounts how she rose from a line cook to become one of the most well-known faces in the food industry -- but to be honest, there were a few too many passages that I found myself thumbing through to get to better parts for me to be able to give this a completely positive review.
Recently I was talking with a friend and dropped the word "perfunctory" on him when talking about someone's speaking style. He scratched his head, made me explain myself, and then told me I was a word-snob, which is probably true. Why is that important? Because once the word got stuck in my head, it was all I could think of as I read some parts of this book. There are passages that at times felt obligatory, some of the childhood memories just felt like they were added because she thought they should be in there, not because they were all that particularly interesting -- I think anyone who isn't a diehard Gail fan can probably skip right to chapter 7, after reading the more creative intro pieces at the start of chapters 1-6 -- and they'll miss very little of her story.
Please don't get me wrong and think I'm totally trashing this book -- I wanted to like it as much as I like her, but I find myself a little confused as to why she chose to start each chapter with these incredibly vivid and well-written pieces that end after a few paragraphs, only to jump into a more matter-of-fact tone. While the book always remains cheerful, it was sadly just a little disappointing, because in a way she shoots herself in the foot by choosing to include these creative passages. By reading the intros to the chapters I know she can write passionately, only to then read the rest of the section which comes across as a little dull in comparison. I just don't get why Simmons didn't write the whole book in that more electric voice - as a fan of hers, I really wanted to enjoy the whole book!
So really, I'm not trying to sit here and slam her or her first book at all -- she gives us some neat tidbits about the inner world of restaurants and food competitions and has nothing but fantastic things to say about her fellow judges. But I was left wishing she'd taken the whole thing in a more creative direction as she did in those introductions. I'm not sure if it was her intention to write in the voice of "both Gails," the serious and the lighthearted, but that's what it came across as, and while the whole thing was a pleasant read, I really wish that "Fun Gail" had been the only one to show up to the party.
Hyperion, Publication Date: February 21, 2012
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