Harvest of the Cold Months by Elizabeth David (Penguin, pounds 15) Though bearing the imprint of the "Penguin Cookery Library", it is hard to imagine anyone using this learned history of frosty foodstuffs to whip up a dinner- party finale. Mrs David notes that ices first emerged in the Florentine Renaissance (handy for hiding poisons) and Louis XIV was fond of a sorbet, while excellent Russian ice-cream, made from eggs and cream, was available even in the mid-Sixties. The patron-saint of foodies shows an occasional frostiness herself, remarking on the rarity of ice-cubes in Italy. "The Tuscan addiction to ice is a thing of the past."
The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers edited by Barbara Reynolds (Sceptre, pounds 7.99) Charting her progress from jolly hockey-sticks schoolgirl to celebrated author of detective fiction, these letters take Dorothy L. Sayers up to the age of 37. The writing is energetic and observant - but there are no emotional outpourings here. So stiff is Sayer's upper lip that when confessing to having given birth in secret to an illegitimate son, her attitude towards the "little chap" (then three weeks old) seems frighteningly unfeeling: "it doesn't do to nurse him or pet him too much, or he'll keep you at it all day and night. He's accustomed to be stuck in bed when he yowls and taken no notice of."
Imagining Characters: Six Conversation about Women Writers by A S Byatt and Ignes Sodre (Vintage, pounds 7.99) The author of Possession joins forces with psychoanalyst Ignes Sodre in a series of gossipy discussions about classic novels. Now that literary theory has become the orthodoxy, it's refreshing to find a couple of intelligent critics who take such pleasure in talking about the characters in books as though they were real people. The chosen texts are Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Charlotte Bronte's Villette, and George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, plus novels by Willa Cather, Iris Murdoch and Toni Morrison. Though intellectually flawed in some of its assumptions, this is enjoyable lit crit, jargon-free and bursting with enthusiasm.
Misogynies by Joan Smith (Vintage, pounds 6.99) Originally published in 1989, Joan Smith's incisive collection of essays has lost none of its punch - in fact, it is fast becoming a feminist classic. Whether she's discussing the patriarchal bias of Ancient Historians (she rescues Catullus's girlfriend Lesbia from their donnish spite) or the sexist assumptions behind such quintessential Eighties movies as Jagged Edge and Fatal Attraction, Smith approaches her subjects with a blend of intelligence, polemicism and humour. Her literary criticism is spot-on.Reuse content