Dr. Banash suggested I reach out to a professor from York University who spoke at WIU. He thought he might have some suggestions for my reading list. Our email exchange is below:
My name is Amy Thon and I am an English graduate student at Western Illinois University. I am just beginning to think about my thesis project, which I will work on next year. My focus will be on food representations in contemporary American literature. I also may look at representations of suburbia and food.
My thesis director Dr. Banash suggested I reach out to you. Do you have any suggestions of what I should be reading? Any input is greatly appreciated! I also began my career as a journalist and am pursing my MA with hopes of being able to teach English.
Thanks in advance,
Thanks for getting in touch, and sure, I am happy to help out however I can. Contemporary American literature is awash in food representations; suburbs sounds like a good way of beginning to focus a project on the
subject. Anita Desai’s *Fasting, Feasting* springs to mind—the second half of that book is about a teenager from India trying to adjust to the culinary life of a Boston suburb. I’m about to start reading a novel from a
few years back, Gish Jen’s *Mona in the Promised Land*, which is a coming of age novel set in a pancake restaurant in suburban New York. There’s plenty of material in film and TV—the first season of Mad Men has several great food scenes that look back on ‘50s suburban cuisine, for instance.
I’m not thinking of much criticism on suburban food, but I’m sure there
must be good work out there. Michael Pollan’s *Omnivore’s Dilemma* is always useful; Allison Carruth’s *Global Appetites* may have something on the subject, and Warren Belasco’s *Meals to Come* might be good to look at—I’m sure it must address suburban kitchens.
Oh, and a bit of googling just turned up the following book: Timothy
Miller, *The Path to the Table: Cooking in Postwar American Suburbs*.
I hope that helps you get started. I’ll be interested to hear how your research progresses.
Please give a warm hello to Dr. Banash for me!
Dr. David B. Goldstein
Associate Professor of English
Canada M3J 1P3
Laws of Rest (poetry)
Wilhite, Keith. “Contested Terrain: The Suburbs as Region.” American Literature 2012:
Keith Wilhite uses The Corrections to study the idea of regionalism and suburban development. “The suburbs provide a contested terrain for evolving US demographics and shifting ideations of American identity, where an individual’s desire to feel at home vies with a developer’s quest for profits, and where cultural critics, literary writers, and urban planners explore the limits of regional discourse in the modern and contemporary period” (619). Wilhite argues that Franzen’s vision of suburbia is an “’asylum,’” heterotopia, or ‘ruins,’” (625). In The Corrections the family home in suburban St. Jude is the focal point of the novel. It is the center of discourse about family, privacy and the economy. As Enid tries to gather all of her children home to St. Jude for one last family Christmas, her children “try desperately to avoid the Midwestern suburb where they were raised and correct the mode of living the home embodies. … Gary, Chip, and Denise envision their respective lives as corrections of their parents’ shortcomings, but they end up as nuanced iterations” (625). As the Christmas reunion draws near, “we sense the futility in trying to reassemble the traditional nuclear family in this suburban home” (626).
Ribbat, Christoph. “Handling the Media, Surviving ‘The Corrections’: Jonathan Franzen
and the Fate of the Author. American Studies 2002: 555-566. Print.
In articles about Franzen’s third novel The Corrections, much is made about the controversy of Franzen’s remarks after being chosen as an Oprah Book Club book. Ribbat’s article summarizes this controversy and puts it into context with Franzen’s writing. His article and discussion of the controversay is referenced in many of the other articles. I may refer to it briefly in my paper.
Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality. Baltimore: The Johns Hopskins
University Press. 2001. Print.
In Chapter 4, “Presence of the Textual World,” of Narrative as Virtual Reality, the author Marie-Laure Ryan discusses the textual features and mental operations responsible for the three forms of involvement in narratives: spatial immersion; temporal immersion and emotional immersion (121). According to Ryan, spatial immersion is the reader’s response to the setting of a novel: “literature has time and again demonstrated its ability to promote a haunting sense of the presence of a spatial setting and a clear vision of its topography” (121). Spatial immersion often will occur because an image coincidentally transports the reader back to a landscape from their own past. It is when the reader’s private landscape blends with the geography of the text that the most complete form of spatial immersion occurs.
Literature must work to bring its landscape to the reader, unlike film or other pictures that transport the spectator to the scene immediately and require littler imagination. “Language can afford only a gradual approach to the textual world … it discloses its geography detail by detail, bringing it slowly into the reader’s mind” (122). According to Ryan, language must coax the imagination into simulating sensory perception. When authors are describing food in their writing, this is exactly what they are doing – coaxing the imagination into sensory perception. Food creates a deep sense of memory. I will use Ryan’s writing about how sense produce imagination to show how food creates a sense of memory.
Poole, Ralph. “Serving the Fruitcake, or Jonathan Franzen’s Midwestern Poetics.” The
Midwest Quarterly 2008: 263-283. Print.
In this article Ralph Poole writes that the Midwest, as the nation’s heartland, has moved to the core of reconsidering long-established American artistic and moral values. Although Midwestern novels serve the effort to sustain family and community on the plains, Poole argues that is just the “most enduring and stereotyped” literary formula about the Midwest (264). He calls the homogeneous, coherent region of the American heartland a myth. “This myth envisions a territory consisting of families, who for generations have owned their farms, as well as of small towns whose inhabitants are provincial, ingenuous and generally optimistically inclined and function as the moral and social mediators between the otherwise culturally much more diversified regions in the U.S.” (265).
Oyangen, Knut. “The Gastrodynamics of Displacement: Place-Making and Gustatory
Identity in the Immigrants’ Midwest.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2009:
Knut Oyangen’s article gives an introduction to the social, psychological and symbolic meaning of food, looking specifically at issues raised by food in an immigrant context. “The act of eating joins together universal, social, and individual aspects of human existence. All humans must eat; all humans follow certain group norms for eating; and every human fulfills the needs of an individual organism by ingesting food” (323). Oyangen argues that food identifies and symbolizes who we are. Beyond the mere biological notion of feeding, food create some of the ways people understand themselves, identify with others, and communicate their desires, beliefs and claims to status (325). I will use this article briefly to explain the significance of food to one identity.
Matthews, S. Leigh. “(Nearly) Sacred Achievements: Culinary Place in Women’s Prairie
Memoirs.” Essays on Canadian Writing 2003: 16-41. Print.
In her article “(Nearly Sacred Achievement: Culinary Place in Women’s Prairie Memoirs” S. Leigh Matthews looks at the role of food for women on the Canadian prairies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as seen through their memoir writing. Women’s experiences on the prairie were often centered around the domestic space: “the place of the family homestead often finds its return to authorial memory through descriptions such as the smell of freshly baked bread, the tastes of a Christmas dinner” (17). Women’s prairie memoirs focus on their “’passive’ sensory memories in order to ‘articulate,’ for example, the ‘gustatory, olfactory, and tactual worlds’ in which women moved and worked” (17). Matthews returns to the idea of the significance of home-baked bread. “No matter which culinary delights the prairie woman produced, home-baked bread became an icon of home on the prairies – a physical representation of a state of psychological security experienced by those settlers who had the good fortune to possess a wife” (20). The bread is significant because it is a representation of agriculture: “the bread is made from wheat, and is thus reproductive of prairie agriculture’s chief commodity” (21). The specific example of home-baked bread providing a sense of place in the agriculture community of Canadian prairie woman may be helpful for my paper.