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OP: Mythology and Meatballs (hardcover)

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by Daniel Spoerri

Aris Books, 1982. Hardcover. Near Fine in a Very Good jacket. 

This book has a kind of mythic standing. It is frequently referred to and much discussed, but even its devotees find it difficult to say exactly what it is. 

The author, Daniel Spoerri (1930– ), born in Romania and raised in Switzerland, is a man who also defies genre—artist, traveler, self-taught literary historian, sometime ballet dancer, lecturer, essayist, and even, for a time, restaurateur.

Spoerri defines his offering here as a diary and a cookbook, derived from time spent on the Greek island of Symi in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey. But it is ever so much more, moving comfortably from geographical description to highly informal recipes, bits and pieces of personal revelation, anthropological notes, sardonic humor, entertaining scholarly footnotes, sympathetic accounts of country life, his own fine line drawings, and even an extended “dissertation” on keftedes—the meatballs of the title. He calls the diaristic portion of the book his “Gastric Itinerary,” and it is one entertaining piece of writing—either to browse or to read right through. 

The “recipes” are, to put it mildly, cosmopolitan, ranging from a local soupa do psari (fish soup) or a poppy seed-coated lamb filet flambeed in beer to a somewhat surprising chile con carne or an unexpected corned beef salad. The commentary and the accounts of how and when the meals were served and eaten are irresistible.

Although less earnest than such a book as Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed, Spoerri’s book has some the same devotion to linking the food and the place. It is thoughtful, entertaining, at times wacky, and very much different from what most of us think about when we hear the words “diary” or “cookbook.”

Originally written and published in French in 1970, the material was reassembled and published in 1982 by the brilliant but short-lived Aris press in Berkeley, California. Relatively few copies were issued in any edition, and the book is not widely seen. Most of those we have encountered have been in middling condition at best, so we are very pleased to be able to offer this Aris press first printing in hardcover with its attractive jacket. The book block is Near Fine with foxing to the top and fore edge. The jacket shows no chipping or tears but is discolored from light exposure and a few small stains.

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