Friday, September 20, 2019

Booknote: The Gallery of Regrettable Food

James Lileks, The Gallery of Regrettable Food. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001. ISBN: 0-609-60782-0.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: humor, retro, cookbooks, food
Format: coffee table style hardback
Source: Borrowed from the Madison County (KY) Public Library

At the time I checked this book out of my local public library, I wanted some light humor, and this book fit the bill nicely. The book is a bit like a coffee table book in terms of size and format.

The author began his work and calling when he found an old recipe book in his mom's house: Specialties of the House by the North Dakota State Wheat Commission (you can actually find copies of this on Amazon and Ebay. I tried to find a free copy; that was not an easy task. Apparently the book is somewhat collectible now, and no one has scanned it). By today's standards, the recipes in that book look and appear atrocious; one has to wonder about they ate back then. The author did, and he began collecting old cookbooks, sharing recipes and photos and art from these "trade groups." These books try to appear "official" or even government-approved, but in reality they are made by "trade groups" trying to get you to use their products, often with truly ghastly results. To top things off, Lileks not only shows the recipes, photos, and art of the time; he also adds his seriously sarcastic, humorous running commentary. Additionally, he displays his work on his own website ( So yea, this book is yet another Internet page/project that got a book deal. On a positive note, this book is much better than most entries in the "internet/niche blogger" book deal genre.

One strength of the book is in the art and photography. Some of the photos and/or recipe art look like things you would not feed a dog. Lileks captures them in all their glorious and horrifying splendor.

Another strength of the book is his humorous commentary. However, this can be very inconsistent. When he gets it right, it's funny and can make you laugh. The problem is Lileks can have a tendency to overdo that humor, and when he does it, he beats it into the ground to the point of annoyance (often, for a reader it becomes "yes dude, we got the joke five pages ago, shut it and move on already"). This inconsistency is why I could not rate this book higher than I did. Still, overall, it is a good, entertaining work of retro humor.

The book is simply arranged with a preface and 27 short chapters. Some chapter topics are:

  • "What's Black and White and Dead All Over?"
  • "Cooking with 7-UP" 
  • "The A.1 Guide to Better Sex"
  • "Glop in a Pot"
  • "Famous Chefs Forced to Use Marshmallows"

In the end, I really liked the book despite a flaw or two. If you want to buy your copy, go ahead, though I'd suggest borrowing it or getting it second hand if you must.

4 out of 5 stars.

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