Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kathleen Collins' "Watching What We Eat"

Kathleen Collins is an experienced author and researcher who has studied and written about television, media history, popular culture and food. Her work has appeared in the magazines Working Woman and Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture and in the anthology Secrets & Confidences: The Complicated Truth About Women’s Friendships.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Watching What We Eat: A Long Look at Television Cooking Shows, and reported the following:
I’m always glad to read a random page from my book and to try to be objective for as long as it takes to read it. I would like to imagine what a reader experiences reading my words. Of course, it’s impossible to do so – but it’s still fun to try. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being “This is the one page of my book that I want everyone to read!” and 1 being “This is the worst possible page to choose from my book; no one will ever want to read more.”), page 99 of Watching What We Eat is about a 7. This page comes near the end of chapter 3 which is titled, “Julia Child and Revolution in the Kitchen.” In these 2.5 paragraphs, I’m discussing the cultural changes going on in the U.S. in the 1960s that made a hospitable environment for “The French Chef” and the enormous impact Julia had on the way we Americans eat and cook – and live.

Here’s an excerpt: “Increased self-awareness, both on the societal and individual levels, seemed to express itself in a global sense as well. In addition to a more pronounced and objective interest in American culture and society—coupled with increased international travel—Americans also looked beyond their backyard fences and national borders with more curiosity. The insularity of the 1950s began to dissipate.”

What is representative about this page is that my approach throughout the book is to trace the evolution of the cooking show genre as it corresponds to changes in society. So, that’s good. What is missing on this page is a taste of what I consider to be the really lively bits where I describe the personalities and mannerisms of some of the TV cooking show hosts. There’s lots on Julia Child, for example, just before p. 99. And Joyce Chen, a Chinese host who used the exact same set as the much taller Julia.

In general, the page includes a good sample of my tone and level of discourse. One reviewer described the book as “somewhat scholarly” which I think is dead on. That’s me! It’s a book not just for people who love cooking shows (though it is for them), but for anyone interested in 20th century social history and popular culture in America. I address the topic with this reader in mind: someone who listens to NPR but is overjoyed at the sight of a People magazine in the doctor’s office.
Read an excerpt from Watching What We Eat, and learn more about the book and author at the Watching What We Eat website.

--Marshal Zeringue