Recently, I mentioned that Cassandra Campbell was fast becoming one of my favorite narrators for audio books. There is an atmosphere her voice creates, light and humorous (as in Very, Valentine) or mournful and haunting (as in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). It's always perfect for the story. So when Sandy commented that I should pick up The School of Essential Ingredients, I did. When it comes to audio, Sandy's an exceptional guide.
I'm never going to get tired of books about cooking food and living life. I love it. The connection of recipes, knowing which spice should go with which dish, and how that translates back to relationships, loss, and love, will fit the bill for me every time, and this story did not disappoint.
The story is told by the eight students taking a cooking class on Monday evenings, their personal stories and memories meaningfully unfolding for the listener. There is humor, tragedy, sadness, loss, and newly found love. Usually, when there are more than three or four characters sharing their stories, it can become overwhelming or confusing, or one character may be completely uninteresting, but not so with this story. All of the characters contributed a significant part of their lives, and not one was overdone, or wasted, or skipped over. It all fit.
At the heart of it is Lillian, the instructor and owner of the restaurant where the classes are held. She, too, has a quietly compelling story, one that has shaped her with whom she has become. She was an exceptional character, the rock of knowledge for each of the students, quickly learning what they needed to be taught. She is what kept them moving forward, both in their cooking skills and in life.
And this line stuck with me, about Tom and his wife, Charlie. It's this character's story which made me cry, and if you've read this book, then you know what I mean.
She was nowhere and everywhere, and he couldn't stop looking.
Erica Bauermeister's novel was released in 2009, and the story has such a sophisticated style that it's surprising it was a debut novel. It's a story that will make you cry and laugh, but most importantly, it will remind you that living is about the here and now, and that while mistakes happen, the choice to never let a moment pass you by is clear. Love, and be loved, and do so with integrity and kindness.
While the school deals with the essential ingredients of cooking, it is by far the fundamental elements of living that are the most important lesson to be learned. I cannot wait to read (or listen to) Joy for Beginners which was released in June 2011.
Audio Sample: Click here to listen to the five minute sample of this book, narrated by the incomparable Cassandra Campbell. She knocks it out of the park yet again, but you know what? It's really no surprise. She's just a phenomenal narrator. You can't go wrong with her.
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Release Date: 01/22/2009
Audio Time: 7 hours
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
About the Author
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the recently released Joy for Beginners. Her debut novel, The School of Essential Ingredients was released in 2009 and has been published in more than 21 countries. She has also co-authored 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide with Holly Smith and Jesse Larsen, and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14 with Holly Smith. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and currently lives in Seattle.
Visit the author:
The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Bibliophile by the Sea
It's All About Me (time)
Lit and Life
You've Gotta Read This!
This is my first selection for the 2012 Audio Book Challenge hosted by Teresa.
FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book from audible.com.