Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
Feeding the stomach, feeding the mind

When Massachusetts writers Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp set out to pair good food with good literature, they discovered that their idea wasn’t as novel (no pun intended) as it seemed. Beating them to the punch were hundreds, even thousands, of people, members of book clubs around the country who had long since discovered that nothing feeds literary conversation like, well, food.

Shifting course, Gelman and Krupp created The Book Club Cookbook, a fascinating collection of recipes with thematic ties to 100 great books.

Some are classics, some contemporary. But each comes with the recommendation of a different book club, including a local one with ties to Changing Hands Book Store in Tempe.

Kyrene Corridor residents who turn to page 79 will be pleasantly surprised to discover the words of Susan Anderson, whose Contemporary Book Discussion Club gave the thumbs-up to The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.

“The gals who did the book found me online,” says Anderson, who established the group shortly after moving to Tempe in 1983. (Her website is www.carcinoidinfo.info.)

The women of the club convene once a month to discuss a title from contemporary fiction, biography, women’s studies or Arizona literature.

After a morning of stimulating discussion, they adjourn to lunch at a local restaurant. When convenient, their menu choice reflects their reading selection: the group had Chinese food after reading Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China and Mexican food after Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

(Anderson doesn’t recall where they ate after discussing The Color of Water. But for this story of a Black man and his Jewish mother, Soul in the Hole, on Arizona Avenue in Chandler, or Chompie’s Delicatessen, on University in Tempe, are two plausible picks.)

Book clubs satisfy a persistent hunger for Anderson, who organized her first club in Missouri in 1962.

“I feel if I’ve had a really nice, good discussion, I’ve recharged my batteries each month,” she says.

And the sociable character of the Contemporary Book Discussion Club suits her particularly well. Anderson started in Tempe in a library-based book club, but found that “no one wanted to go get a cup of coffee afterward.”

Anderson and her fellow voracious readers generally don’t cook for their get-togethers. Their profile, however, appears in The Book Club Cookbook next to an enticing recipe for peanut butter pie, supplied by a book club member in Indiana.

Peanuts are a recurring motif in The Color of Water, which, though largely set in Brooklyn, is steeped in the culture of the South.

Anderson says the club was “very, very impressed” by McBride’s mother, who married a Black man and moved to a small Southern town at a time when her actions brought shame and censure.

“She was able to turn her back and close her ears to things that were said,” Anderson says, noting further that McBride’s mother successfully encouraged each of her 12 children to attain an impressive education.

You can pick up The Color of Water, The Book Club Cookbook and other recommended reading on Monday, May 17, when Changing Hands celebrates the release of the cookbook and Tempe’s contribution to it.

This free event begins at 7 p.m. at the store, on the southwest corner of Guadalupe and McClintock roads in Tempe.

Anderson and other hungry minds will be on hand to share their book club experiences, making this a great event for anyone who has ever contemplated joining a book club or starting one of their own.

For more information, call Changing Hands at (480) 730-0205.