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Sunday, November 23, 2014

'Amerikanah' with a side of Jollof rice

Two of my favorite pastimes are reading and eating, and, after years of trial and error, I have discovered the happy coincidence that I can do both at the same time. As July begins and we compile our summer reading lists, it strikes me as worthwhile to find some appropriate pairings for a rich and delicious reading experience.

A disclaimer: There are some books you need to take straight up, nothing on the side. For example, you cannot eat anything while reading “The Orphan Master’s Son,” an otherwise terrific read. Kim Jong-un is the ultimate buzz kill. More than one character in this novel about North Korea mercy-kills his family by serving them botulism-laced canned peaches, and others avoid starvation by eating the bark off trees.

Not to worry. We are left with a cornucopia of great books to buy or borrow and read this summer, accompanied by an appropriate snack.

I suggest a diverse, literary buffet. Yes, these are serious times, and part of me wants to focus on reading material that edifies, illuminates and enlightens. But it’s also the Fourth of July and the gateway to summer. So we also need books that entertain and delight, as well.

First, pick up a copy of “Euphoria,” by Lily King. Based on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, the book floats us up the Sepik River in New Guinea and sets us down in a remote village where our characters are studying the cultural and social mores of the natives. Headhunters, poison darts, exotic shrooms, oh my. You cannot put this one down; the problem is, what can you possibly eat as you read? You’ll be transported to a land and time when cannibalism was prevalent, so I hesitate to suggest a suitable snack. Perhaps go vegan, play it safe, and sample a typical New Guinea roasted yam.

“You Should Have Known,” by Jean Hanff Korelitz, is a doozy of a psychological thriller. It is dark, a la “Gone Girl,” and savvy and very New York Upper East Side. The main character, a therapist, considers the choices we make in partners and suggests we spend more time picking out a new pair of shoes. Clearly this read calls for a glass of wine, or two, and some tiny but expensive hors d’oeuvres.

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