cover image Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses

Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses

Isabel Allende. HarperCollins Publishers, $26 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017590-0

Sex and food, once celebrated as two of life's great joys, suffer a lot of bad press these days. Genuine epidemics, coupled with monthly findings of new things that are bad for us, have pushed otherwise happy souls into programs of agonizing denial and, in severe instances, abstinence. Thankfully, in this sophisticated defense of pleasure, novelist Allende (The House of the Spirits) puts the joy back into eating and loving with all the panache that marks the best of her fiction. Though passionate about her subject, she remains consistently whimsical with this mix of anecdotes, recipes and advice designed to enhance any romantic encounter. As always, her secret weapon is honesty: ""Some [aphrodisiacs] have a scientific basis, but most are activated by the imagination."" Allende's vivacity and wit are in full bloom as she makes her pronouncements: ""There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill""; ""When you make an omelet, as when you make love, affection counts for more than technique."" Her book is filled with succinct wisdom and big laughs. Despite sections titled ""The Orgy"" and ""Supreme Stimulus for Lechery,"" Allende comes down emphatically for romance over sex and for ritual over flavor in a work that succeeds in being what it intends to be--fun from the first nibble to the last. (Apr.)