I have to confess to being completely guilty of judging a book by its cover. In this case it was Richard C. Morais’ novel The Hundred- Foot Journey. At first I passed it over on the library shelf, only because the title didn’t really grab me. But since I really wanted a book and nothing else caught my eye, based solely on the girly hand-lettered looking font and the warm terra cotta background color, I picked it up. And there – right on the cover – were the words of my absolute favorite overly-opinionated food-oriented personality Anthony Bourdain whispering to me, “Easily the best novel ever set in the world of cooking.” I turned the book over and immediately noticed that Susan Orlean, an accomplished writer of whom I’m a huge fan, agreed with him. She called the book “A gorgeous novel, vivid and intimate, tracing a journey from kitchen to kitchen, from culture to culture, with a perfect touch.”
I still had no idea what the novel was about and no knowledge of the author, but the recommendation of two favorite writers sealed the deal. I checked out the book and dove in. And Anthony and Susan and all the others who blurbed on the cover were absolutely right. It IS a gorgeous novel, a story that traces the journey of Hassan Haji from his boyhood in India to his “chefhood” in France. Food gives the novel texture, but it’s far from the only ingredient. Morais mixes in themes like family relationships, tragedy, racism, politics, and cross-cultural differences for a completely engaging and satisfying tale. Not to mention well-written but completely accessible. Or, as Padma Lakshmi blurbed, “A delicious culinary romp from the beaches of Bombay to the peaks of Paris haute cuisine.” Yes, indeed.
This book was late going back to the library and so I went and bought myself a copy for my own collection. It’s definitely one to share and to read again, and I’m a bit ashamed to realize that I probably wouldn’t have read the book if it weren’t for the jacket blurbs. In this case, judging a book by its cover worked well for me, but I know I’ve passed many gems by because of the title, font, or cover art of a book. Let this be a cautionary tale to be a bit more careful about how we choose our stories.