The holidays are approaching, and your calendar is likely stacked with celebrations. Sure, December can quickly turn into a minefield of food-related content—do we really need those “shed the holiday weight!” exhortations in our inboxes?—but at its heart, this month can be a prime time to enjoy staying in with loved ones (or on your own!), cracking the spine of a good book, and cooking (or Seamless-ing) something delicious.
In that spirit, we’ve rounded up our favorite books about food to gift and receive this holiday season. Be advised that these aren’t cookbooks, though some of them may include recipes; they’re books that delve into the complex notions of taste, hunger, appetite, and desire. (And at least one or two of them might improve your kitchen skills.)
1. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
They made a movie out of this one (for good reason). The queen of wit, heart, and unfussy recipes, Nora Ephron weaves a semi-autobiographical story about a jilted food writer together with tips on how to cook everything from mashed potatoes to linguine alla cecca.
2. Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl
A former New York Times critic and editor of Gourmet magazine, Ruth Reichl manages to be both candid and charming in this memoir about her years-long relationship with New York food media. Some parts, like her description of cooking for New York firefighters after 9/11, might make you tear up, so it might be wise to listen to it on Audible while chopping onions.
3. Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
Prune restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton has lived a wild life, going from college dropout to broke backpacker to proprietor and chef of one of New York’s most beloved restaurants. Through it all, though, she never lost her work ethic, and her memoir is guaranteed to inspire you; stay with Hamilton on her food journey as she washes dishes, feeds summer campers, and prepares gourmet meals for the king of Thailand.
4. Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh
The myriad ways in which we nourish ourselves are sometimes difficult to talk about, but Great British Baking Show alum Ruby Tandoh does so with dexterity and humor. She can go from a complex unpacking of emotional eating to an appreciation for late-night drunk kebabs with ease. (If you like her writing style, don’t miss her 2018 Eater essay on the cultural legacy of sugar.)
5. Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano
Nobody writes about Mexican food quite like L.A. Times features writer Gustavo Arellano, who used to write the “¡Ask a Mexican!” column for the OC Weekly. In Taco USA, Arellano carefully unravels America’s relationship with Mexican food, tracking how the cuisine went from a signifier of “the other” to a billion-dollar U.S. industry.
6. Supper Club by Lara Williams
Lara Williams’s novel tells the story of a young British protagonist who turns to cooking to cope with loneliness and trauma, eventually finding herself in a secretive cabal of women who cook, party, and feast with abandon.
7. Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin
The late, great Laurie Colwin is one of the best food writers of all time; she authored several novels, short stories, essays, and recipe connections, all linked by her signature warmth and dry humor. Home Cooking is all but guaranteed to make you, if not a better cook, then at the very least, a better writer.
8. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Another gone-too-soon icon of the kitchen, Anthony Bourdain forever changed the way we talk about food with his 1999 New Yorker story “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” which sowed the seeds that would later become his 2000 book. Everyone knows how dynamic Bourdain was on camera, and his prose sparkles with the same invigorating verve.
Originally Appeared on Vogue