We generally only have it in us to pull together one TOC reading per month, but when Riverhead and Food Book Fair approached us about setting up a second hang in February as a part of Food Book Fair’s annual BK fair, we couldn’t say no! Not only is FBF our oldest and closest TOC partner (since we kicked this series off with The Sun Also Rises all those years ago), but Riverhead is one of our favorite publishers and WAS. NOT. PLAYING. with the authors they brought to the table.
Riverhead is no stranger to the intersections of food and fiction - their Riverhead Table series is a spiritual kissing cousin to TOC, so the collaboration was natural and thrilling at once.
We heard stunning excerpts from Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s BANGKOK WAKES TO RAIN, centered on a Thai restaurant in Okinawa Japan ( and with our Egg Tokyo connection this felt a little bit like fate); Jennifer Croft’s glove-snug translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s FLIGHTS; and Leanne Shapton’s gorgeous multi-media collection GUESTBOOK, a slew of pulsing ghost stories for our time.
For GUESTBOOK, we had a salad with sharp vinegar dressing, as bracing as the passage that birthed it. FLIGHTS gave us roasted broccoli with smoked trout bagna cauda (framed in a parenthesis of fish skin and bones); and BANGKOK WAKES TO RAIN closed with “the end of the tom kha gai”, with fresh galangal and kaffir lime, served appropriately in takeout pint containers.
Not surprisingly, the conversation was as dynamic and disparate as the styles, settings, and forms of the evening’s participants. Translation, both culinary and literary, was a theme, and the recurring question of how much to leave and how much to change, and how to know when you’ve done your source material justice. Check out some visual translations of the evening below (photos by Brooke Halsted) and check out @tables.of.contents on Instagram for more!