Book Review: How To Eat Out By Giles Coren

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I’ve never quite understood how people can just stop reading a book. I hear people declare that they couldn’t get past the first 50 pages and so just gave up. Put it back on the shelf. Gave in. While limited in number, I’ve never read a book that truly wanted to stop, that has honestly driven me to the point of saying “enough’s enough”. I’ve found some hard, but I’ve ploughed on anyway. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, maybe I just don’t know when to stop, or maybe, I’m just too pessimistic, believing the page I give up on is the page before the book turns into a classic?

I can’t remember exactly why I decided I wanted to read Giles Coren’s How To Eat Out, I have vague memories of it being listed as a good read in a magazine, or a newspaper, and the anorexic side of my brain grasping at its themes of food to demand I enter it into my life. And so I bought it, and let it gather dust. Other things taking priority. But the timing seemed right to finally read it, and so not really knowing what it was about, or what exactly it was meant to be, I folded back the cover and turned to page 1.

Alan, Giles & Victoria Coren - How To Eat Out by Giles Coren

Sadly though, while I was starting blind, I think the book was too. Having read it I am still not sure that it knew what it wanted to be either. The first few chapters seemingly hinting that this was going to be an almost autobiographical story of Coren’s relationship of food, and how his childhood, his experiences, and adventures all shaped the culinary outlook he now has. Told through his comic simile style, the first 50 pages are humours and inviting, almost befriending. Tales of childhood excitement and anticipation that while removed from your own by virtue of parental celebrity, still somehow feel right and reminiscent.

But then things go downhill and the longer the book goes on, the more these anecdotal stories of meals eaten and cuisines experienced somehow lose the connection to you. The tone of the writing changes and suddenly, I no longer felt like I was reading the life opinions of Giles Coren, but rather a collection of his restaurant reviews with the names removed.

Food Snob - How To Eat Out by Giles Coren

The book also became very pretentious. There are parts where it truly felt like it was talking to me from a place of superiority. That is was doing me a favour by telling me secrets that I would be too thick to learn otherwise. There are singular statements, almost intermissions for the main story, that I think are designed to provide a humorous and quick guide on how to act and behave from the venues you consume food in when away from your home, but to me they just come across as a check list of how to act like a total w*nker. I read paragraph after paragraph thinking that to say, demand or speak in the way suggested would not end up with the best table, and a night with the chefs only daughter as suggested but rather, a dinner seasoned with salt, pepper and an ample helping of spit.

The more I read and the more the fundamental idea, the plot of the book, seemed to swing and become confused, the more Coren’s language started to really jump out the page as a heightening irritant. His usual style of explaining his situation, his surroundings, through the use of comic comparison and description becoming more and more wild until he crossed the line with me and lost me forever. He turned anorexia, a subject that should never be funny, or comically abused, into an adjective. He used it as a description. And I’m sorry but that is not on. And while once I can forgive, we all make mistakes, when it did it twice, he lost my respect. Just because someone is thin does not mean you ever have the right to describe them as looking anorexic.

Sue Perkins & Giles Coren (The Supersizers) - How To Eat Out by Giles Coren

What made this even worse was that I used to like Giles Coren. He made series of programmes about the diets of our ancestors with Sue Perkin’s that was entertaining and interesting. He recently followed it up by looking at American’s preparing to live forever by only eating fruit, or not actually eating at all, which once again was lightly informative and entertainingly interesting. But this book destroyed all of that. The base tone already feeling one step above me in class, to then make fun of eating disorders opened a cavern between us. My opinion of Coren in the first 50 pages was an interesting, entertaining man who I’d listen to. My opinion in the last was a public school boy who found fun in the ridicule of others.

This swing in my opinion in the man who’s writings I was reading was so large, and so strong, that honestly, I very, very nearly stopped reading. I questioned on a few occasions why I was still bothering with it. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t like it and yet, because it’s who I am, I just carried on, turning the pages until I reached the end, and closed the cover feeling completely disappointed, because not only did I feel I’d wasted my time, gained nothing from it, but also even though we’ve never met, somehow also lost a friend.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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