For Thanksgiving, gorge yourself on these 7 food-obsessed novels

Illustration for the review of the book, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender
Dig into Aimee Bender’s “The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake” and more.
(Renee Nault / For the Times)

For lovers of literature, Thanksgiving is about two things: turkey (or Tofurky; you do you) and finding a quiet place away from televisions blasting football and relatives arguing politics to settle in with a good book.

Whether you’re waiting for the bird to be served or you’re slipping into a tryptophan-induced food coma, there are plenty of food-obsessed novels for you to dig into. Satisfy your appetite for quality fiction with one — or as many as you can consume — of these seven books.

“Heartburn” by Nora Ephron. Screenwriter and author Ephron based this 1983 novel on her failed marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein.The protagonist is a food writer, and there are recipes sprinkled throughout the book (try the bread pudding and pot roast).

“Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel. The Mexican author’s 1989 novel, inflected with magical realism, tells the story of Tita, a girl in love but forbidden by her mother to marry. Tita puts her emotions into her cooking, preparing dishes such as chiles en nogada and quail in rose petal sauce (Esquivel includes recipes in the book).


“The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender. Bender, who teaches at USC, published this surreal novel in 2010. It follows Rose Edelstein, a young woman who can tell where food is from just by tasting it and can discern the emotions of cooks by sampling the dishes they prepare.

The Joy Luck Club - 1993
The 1993 film adaptation of Amy Tan’s ‘The Joy Luck Club.’
(Buena Vista/Hollywood/Kobal/REX)

“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. The bestselling 1989 novel follows four Chinese families who have immigrated to San Francisco, as they meet to play mahjong and discuss their families. Food plays a big role in the novel, particularly the dim sum meals featuring dumplings, noodles and sesame balls.

“Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg. The basis for a hit 1991 movie, Flagg’s 1987 novel explores the friendship between middle-aged Evelyn and elderly Mrs. Threadgoode, who tells the younger woman stories about her time running a soul food joint in the 1930s. (The Whistle Stop is based on Alabama’s Irondale Cafe, where you can still order those tangy tomatoes.)


LOS ANGELES, CA-JUNE 24, 2015: Author J. ryan Stradal is photographed at Stories Books and Cafe in
J. Ryan Stradal, author of “Kitchens of the Great Midwest,” at Stories Books and Cafe in Echo Park.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal. Although Stradal lives in Los Angeles, he set his breakout 2015 novel in Minnesota, where protagonist Eva opens a pop-up supper club that becomes a huge hit because of her talented palate. It’s also a love song to the food of region: Lutefisk, anyone?

“Sourdough” by Robin Sloan. Set in San Francisco, Sloan’s quirky 2017 novel follows Lois Clary, a software engineer who learns the joys of baking the titular bread — and some unusual secrets — after she inherits a sourdough starter from a nearby bakery.

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