What does this book cover? What, indeed, does it not cover? This is, to put it simply, everything about oysters—lore, anecdotes, social commentary, absorbing bits of biology, some recipes, of course, and even a lovely little literary anthology. Not a text or a treatise but, quite simply an immensely readable tribute to the marine creature that, above all, “has enjoyed the favor of almost every man of taste in east or west, since eating became an art and ceased to be a barbarian necessity.”
New Zealander Hector Bolitho (1897–1974) was a prolific and widely known writer of both fiction and nonfiction, who published nearly 60 titles, many of them in the area of history and biography. This is the only book that he ever did on food, and it is marvelous that it is the one for which he is best known.
Published by Knopf at its London branch in 1929, it is a celebration of this unpromising blob of glistening gray matter, encased in a shell that looks as if it had barely survived some volcanic upheaval. It might be easy to look right past the mollusks encrusting the rocks along some stormy shore or recumbent at the bottom of a salty pond, but that legendary man or woman of courage who first decided to give it a try, started us off on a gastronomic love affair that has given no sign of fading.
This irrepressible book is not alone. The shelves of libraries are bulging with cookbooks, natural history guides, and hymns of praise. Two fine companion works that might stand shoulder to shoulder with the Bolitho are, of course, M.F.K. Fisher’s Consider the Oyster and Eleanor Clark’s National Book Award Winning Oysters of Locmariaquer.
Bolitho’s book has been republished more than once, but our copy is the true first edition, (London, 1929). Printed on the heavy paper stock one just does not see any more, it has a 3-piece binding with a gray cloth spine stamped in gold. The case is toning lightly. There is some discoloration and fading on the spine. The interior is largely clean. As with every copy we have ever seen, the rather flimsy jacket is missing. The ownership stamp of Rev. J. Du Boulay Lance (1907–1991), once the vicar of Bishops Lydeard in Somerset, England, adorns the front free endpaper.