Erica Bleeg’s review of James C. McCann’s book Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine makes me hungry, calling to mind my favorite (so far—I’m still eating my way through a long list) Ethiopian restaurant, Etete, near the Adams Morgan neighborhood Bleeg mentions. The derek tibs—beef sautéed in onion, peppers, tomato, and a bit of butter—is particularly mouthwatering, but McCann’s book confirms what I and many lovers of what we know as Ethiopian food often suspect: The dishes have been adapted to American palates and available ingredients.
Bleeg’s review is exemplary of what we strive to do here at the WQ
not only because it is elegantly written, but also because it highlights a book that will receive little if any attention from mainstream reviewing outlets. Published as part of an Africa in World History series brought out by an academic press, Ohio University Press
, and aimed primarily at students and scholars, Stirring the Pot
nonetheless considers a large swath of the world’s foodways and history in a valuable and, for many readers, new way. Despite the foodie fever currently gripping the culture, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot out there about African cuisine—an Amazon.com search for African cuisine turns up a few books about soul food, some recipe collections, and not too much else.
People often ask how we choose the books we review. There’s no way to be comprehensive, of course. We’re a quarterly, which means we cover roughly 60 books a year, a tiny fraction of everything that is published. Last year the number of new books
was 288,355, not counting the hundreds of thousands of self-published books
that came off presses such as XLibris and iUniverse. And, as long as we’re being numerical, it’s worth noting the mountain of books already in existence to which publishers are constantly adding—currently, 129,864,880, says a software engineer who just posted a fascinating entry on the Inside Google Books blog,
about what Google counts as a book.
Many considerations go into selecting the books reviewed in our pages (including whether we are able to match a book with a reviewer who will have something interesting to say about it or, more rarely and wonderfully, shares a kind of intellectual kinship or sensibility with the author), but one part of our mission is to showcase, when possible, worthy books from smaller or academic presses that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle.
Pictured: Food from Etete (photo credit: Robyn Lee, via Flickr)