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Season To Taste: Foodie Memoir and Science

June 25, 2011

Season To Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way
By Molly Birnbaum.
Kindle edition

Combining foodie memoir and accessible science writing, it was pretty much guaranteed that I’d love this book. Thanks to Sassymonkey for suggesting it as a Kindle test case!

Molly Birnbaum dreams of going to culinary school and becoming a chef. But, a traffic accident wrecks her knee, breaks her pelvis, and completely destroys her sense of smell. Taking her sense of taste along with it, and plunging her into a deep (and totally understandable) depression.

Her story combines learning to adjust to her new normal, some very fine food writing (though tragic, at times, in context), interesting science about a very little understood sense. If this sounds like the kind of story that Oliver Sacks might tell, that’s not a surprise. In her efforts to understand what happened to her, Birnbaum delves into the science of smell, and has a series of delightful conversations with Dr. Sacks, as well as flavor chemists, chefs, and perfume designers.

God… I cannot imagine losing my sense of smell. If everything tasted the same, nothing was fun to eat… Yikes! Or, honestly, any other sense. I’m lucky to have all 5 in working order, and even in exceedingly cooperative synergy. Sometimes, music has a color. And taste can be in photographs. I’m not sure I’ve got synesthesia. Might just be early exposure to poetry overclocking my metaphors for taste and smell. Birnbaum writes beautifully about her frustration at the limitations of language for describing smell and taste, even as she writes about coming to appreciate certain foods without taste: in terms of their texture and color.

Odd fact: Ben, of Ben and Jerry fame, doesn’t have a sense of taste. Thus, the chunks in the ice cream.

Also noting- this is the first book I read start to finish on a Kindle. It was an engrossing read (foodie memoir! with science!) so I was using a new book I was almost sure I’d like, as a test case for working with the e-Reader format.
The verdict: reading on an e-reader is an entirely decent way to gobble down a book. I never pictured myself saying that. Reading on a Kindle is DEFINITELY not reading a proper, paper book. There’s a sense of it being not-quite-a-book while also Not A Computer. But it’s a perfectly workable format.

Kindle-specifically, I’m not wild about the way the pages blink when turned, but I do think I like the page-turning buttons. I like the ability to take notes, and to look up words in the text. Similar enough to a real book.

So I’m relaxing in my e-book skepticism, even ready to welcome the gadget into my life. Definitely won’t replace real books, but it’s useful.

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