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An ode to the oyster

Have trouble telling Malpeques from Malaspinas? It's no wonder: The naming of oysters is so complicated it can make memorizing the vineyards of Burgundy seem like child's play. Oysters can be named by species, by growing area or by a combination of the two. But never fear: Rowan Jacobsen's "A Geography of Oysters" is the book for you -- and it arrives just in time for prime oyster season.

It's hard to imagine an aspect of oyster lore that Jacobsen has left uncovered. Oyster history, modern aquaculture, pollutants and other health concerns, serving suggestions, and, of course, the differences among species and growing areas all get a careful explanation. No doubt that for most of us the biggest pleasure will be his oyster-by-oyster tasting notes, which are terrifically written and really convey the nuances of flavor and texture that make each oyster so individual.

To have written such a thorough book, Jacobsen is plainly an oyster geek of the first order. But what separates him from the herd is his uncommonly graceful writing style and wit. Even someone who is not in love with the bivalve can't help but be charmed by Jacobsen's prose.

"A Geography of Oysters," by Rowan Jacobsen, $24.95.

-- Russ Parsons

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