Gay Bilson

In 1977, in three consecutive issues, the New Yorker published Hannah Arendt’s ‘Thinking’. Each part was called an ‘article’, a strangely modest, journalistic word in the face of the length of each part of the essay and the profound subject. Thirty-two years ago, the magazine showed curmudgeonly modesty: writers were named in small print at the foot of each ‘piece’, there was never, god forbid, a sub-editor’s catch-all under the title, no short biographies of the writers were printed, and there were never, ever, visual illustrations or photographs to accompany the text. The issue in which the first of Arendt’s ‘articles’ appeared included poetry by Mark Strand; the long book review was by George Steiner; Pauline Kael was the film reviewer; there were four Saul Steinberg drawings; and Andrew Porter reported on classical music. The list of names we revere could go on.

... (read more)

In a review of several books on motherhood (LRB, 14 June 2014), Jacqueline Rose – feminist, writer on psychoanalysis, English professor, ‘public intellectual’ – interprets Adrienne Rich’s belief that to give birth is to testify to the possibilities of humanity, as a v ...

Gay Bilson reviews 'The Bloomsbury Cookbook'

Gay Bilson
Wednesday, 28 May 2014

In the first volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary (1915–19), an entry in June 1919 mentions England’s possibly ruined strawberry crop. ‘This is a serious matter for us as we have just bought 60 lbs. of sugar, & had arranged a great jam making. Strawberries are 2/ a lb. at this moment. Asparagus 6d & 7d, & yesterday at Ray’s I ate my first green pea ...

Gay Bilson reviews 'One Soufflé at a Time'

Gay Bilson
Thursday, 28 November 2013

Not everyone’s father sends his daughter a brace of pheasants while she is studying economics at Cambridge. With a choice of two gas rings on which to cook them, Anne Willan eviscerated and plucked the birds, then used one gas ring to cook a pheasant casserole and the other to make a caramel custard that she ‘steamed over a galvanised tin laundry bucket’. She ...

Gay Bilson reviews 'Cooked'

Gay Bilson
Monday, 30 September 2013

If Michael Pollan were a terminal illness, I’d be in the fourth stage of grieving. He has had a brilliant and successful run until now, producing seven books in just over twenty years, taking up a university teaching position (yes, food-related), writing long articles, mostly for the New York Times, and all the while cooking and thinking his way to se ...

Gay Bilson reviews 'The Art of the Restaurateur'

Gay Bilson
Monday, 25 March 2013
‘Hello, my name is Tony. I’m your waiter, and I’ll be dining with you tonight.’

One subspecies of cartoon in the New Yorker addresses the balance of power between diners and waiters. The caption above, from a cartoon by P.C. Vey, accompanies a drawing of a bemused couple holding menus, and looking at a waiter who is s ...

The apotheosis of Stephanie Alexander

Gay Bilson
Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Most present-day Australian chefs (that is to say, cooks who earn a living through their training, practice, and culinary skills) who have written cookbooks are at the same time telling us about themselves. Is it not curious that, in general, cooks repeatedly praise the table for its central role in hospitality, conviviality, generosity, and equality, yet seem so ne ...

Gay Bilson reviews 'Edith Wharton' by Hermione Lee

Gay Bilson
Friday, 01 June 2007

I took to Edith Wharton in the late 1970s but don’t remember why. I have never forgotten the name of the heroine of the first of her books that I read: Undine Spragg, all soft promise dashed by that biting surname. This was The Custom of the Country (1913), and I read on: Ethan Frome (1912), Summer (1917), and The Children (1928), for instance. Someone offered me R.W.B. Lewis’s Edith Wharton: A Biography (1975), and a friend created space on his bookshelf by unloading The Collected Short Stories (edited and introduced by Lewis, who calls himself an ‘addict’). Much later, when the film of The Age of Innocence was released in 1993, I primly chose to read the novel rather than see a version of it. Then I left Edith Wharton, née Jones, born to wealth in 1862 in New York, on the shelf.

... (read more)