If you’ve been reading along with my… well, reading along, you’ll have noticed I have something of a soft spot for food memoirs. So, I duly picked up David Leite’s Notes on a Banana from my library’s new book shelf a couple of weeks ago. Leite is a food writer, author of The New Portuguese Table, and the founder of the James Beard Award-winning Leite’s Culinaria (which I’ve run across before when looking at recipes but never looked through closely).
And as a side note: There’s much more depth to Leite’s Culinaria than I was aware of! As Leite writes
…at Leite’s Culinaria, we’re not just about recipes. We’re about all the countless and crazy ways food intersects our lives. As such, you’ll find a lot of thoughts and reflections and musings and even a rant or two on food on our pages.
The site is definitely worth a browse whether or not you get around to reading the memoir; Leite has an amazing way with words both off- and online.
But back to our regularly scheduled book review…
Now that I’ve spent too much time reading blog posts and recipes on Leite’s Culinaria, let’s get back to his memoir — which is titled Notes on a Banana because his mother used to leave him encouraging notes on his breakfast banana each day, and even nicknamed him “Banana.” (Notes on a banana are a great idea! I’m going to write one to High School Guy later today.) Banana notes, though, are a bright spot in an honest and sometimes heavy book that chronicles Leite’s journey to come to terms with both his mental illness and his sexual identity, all wrapped up in stories of family & food and leavened with a welcome sprinkling of self-deprecating humor.
Leite grew up in a Portuguese Catholic blue collar home in the 1960s, which was filled with love and food but ill equipped to understand either Leite’s battles with manic depression or his attraction to other boys. Notes on a Banana does a masterful job both of describing Leites own struggles and of highlighting his parents’ frustration at not being able to help their son — or even really to understand what he was going through.
From Leite’s childhood preoccupation with “American” packaged foods and pot roasts (as opposed to the carne assada and octopus soup of his family home), to his attempts to deny his sexual identity, to his unflinching descriptions of the black holes of anxiety triggered by his bipolar disorder, every word of Notes on a Banana rings true. If you’ve read Leite’s Culinaria you probably have something of an idea of how the adult David Leite came out the other side, but I won’t list spoilers here other than to say that it’s worth following his journey of self-discovery all the way through. Recommended.
What are you reading this week?
What have you been reading lately? Tell us about it! 🙂 And, you can browse all the What’s Rachel Reading? book reviews here.