‘Fictitious Dishes’

Dinah Fried’s photographs embody the connection between books and food


by Dinah Fried | 126 pages | HarperCollins

The connection between the act of eating and the act of reading is a strongly felt one. The most obvious answer to the question of why is that both eating and reading are forms of consumption, but one can’t deny an almost spiritual parallel as well. When Proust wrote in the most famous passage of Swann’s Way, “A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause. It had immediately made the vicissitudes of life unimportant to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory, acting in the same way that love acts …” – well, he was talking about cake. But for devoted readers, the sensation Proust describes could as easily be a description of what happens when one falls into the right book.

So given this relationship between the two actions, eating and reading, it follows that writing about eating doubles the pleasure of both. There are countless manifestations of it, from blogs and cookbooks to the annual Edible Book Festival to this new book of photography by Dinah Fried, Fictitious Dishes.

In it, Fried re-creates meals described in well-loved books and then photographs the result, a simple idea expressed here with a self-assured grace that belies the book’s origins as a student project in Fried’s RISD days. Not just the food and drink but the table settings, the props, the lighting, all coalesce to embody every imaginary meal you’ve ever read and hankered for. Swann’s madeleines are here, of course, but also Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup With Rice, the vicious crab-and-avocado salad from The Bell Jar, the Turkish delight that enslaved Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Add to that less gastronomically exquisite excursions – “dishes” like the garbage that Gregor Samsa prefers to eat after his Metamorphosis, the earth that Rebecca cannot stifle her craving for in One Hundred Years of Solitude, Dr. Gonzo’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas diet of grapefruits and cigarettes, or an evening’s light scattering of pills from Valley of the Dolls. In some photographs there’s a shock of recognition – the cheese toast made by Heidi’s grandfather is exactly as I’d always pictured it – while others seem wrong somehow (that’s just not how I saw the liverwurst sandwich Charles Wallace puts together for his sister Meg in A Wrinkle in Time), but in every image, I recognized in the level of detail a love of books that marks Fried as a fellow ink-drinker.

The epigraph of Fictitious Dishes confirms that Fried is indeed one of us. It’s a lyrical quote from Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s dystopic tale of a bibliophile fireman: “I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. … You name ’em, I ate ’em.” Of course, burning is another form of consumption, but no books will be burned here, only toast.