cover image Taste: A Book of Small Bites

Taste: A Book of Small Bites

Jehanne Dubrow. Columbia Univ, $19.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-0-231-20175-9

Poet Dubrow (Wild Kingdom) considers the five basic tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami—in this amusing collection of essays. Drawing on literature, art, and history, Dubrow highlights the hidden cost of sweetness, noting both the gingerbread cottage “dripping with icing” that entraps the characters in Hansel and Gretel, and the slave labor that made refined sugar affordable in the 18th century. She then turns to sour, recalling a summer in her early 20s when she was obsessed with eating sour candy (“In that long summer of my loneliness and fury, everything seemed sour to me”) and examining Chekhov’s “Gooseberries,” in which the berries are sweet or sour depending on who eats them. Salty reminds Dubrow of tears and of A.E. Stallings’s poem “Olives”; bitter comes in tea, cooked greens, and the coffee in Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks; and umami is the stuff of cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, and broth: “Thin soup. Clear to the bottom of the bowl.” Dubrow’s musings are at once sober and evocative, and she succeeds admirably in getting “around the ungainliness of words by finding metaphors for taste.” These thoughtful meditations offer lots to savor. (Aug.)