Thursday, February 25, 2010

Steven Rinella is becoming one of my favorite nonfiction writers

After I gushed about Steven Rinella's American Buffalo, the wonderful Citizen Reader said the book was good and all, but I should really read the Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine. Well that surprised me as I thought it would be tough to top Buffalo.

Having now read the earlier Scavenger, I can see where she is coming from. I won't say I think it is better overall, as I think the books are both so good it is hard to say which is better, but it is built better in certain ways.

Buffalo is about Rinella's fascination with a buffalo, which leads him on a quest to learn more about them and eventually to hunt one. The bit about hunting will probably stop some readers in their tracks, but he convincingly argues that if you are going to eat meat, it is best to get it yourself rather than relying on industrial sources. He does an excellent job weaving in a variety of information but keeping the story focused on his hunt.

Scavenger benefits from Rinella's telling a variety of stories that range from madcap to touching. Having stumbled upon Escoffier's massive cookbook, he decides to create a feast out of the animals and animal parts that American tables rarely see. Not only will he serve them, but he will find them himself. Just as in American Buffalo, Rinella shows himself as a capable, but self deprecating hunter, not afraid to tell you of fears or his shame, as when wonders if he is too old to hunt frogs in a chilly marsh.

The stories are wonderful and I think they are better tales than the ones told in American Buffalo. His quest to capture and keep pigeons so that he can breed them and eat their babies runs into all the trouble you might expect including helpers that come to love the birds and refuse to give them up for butchery. Where American Buffalo rises above the Scavenger's Guide is in its' more thoughtful meditations on how we can stay connected with nature. Read both of these books, I have not seen their like.


Citizen Reader said...

I'm SO glad you liked it! I think now I have to read it again.

Rinella is, in my humble opinion, a super-talent who deserves a lot more attention than he gets. Thanks for reviewing him here!

Tripp said...

You are welcome CR, thanks for pushing me to read this one! I sometimes am leery of reading author's earlier works, thinking they won't measure up. Not in this case!