Tis almost the season to eat drink and be merry. Yes, I know it is still the middle of November, but the run-in always goes by in a flash. Two things that we eat a lot of over the festive period are cake and soup, well, depending on where you are. But mostly cake, pudding and a myriad of other desserts…. Have you ever thought about what best accompanies stuffing your face over the festive period, with cake or any time of the year, musically? No? Well this month’s second book review ponders just that. But not just cake, also the afore mentioned topic of soup, allotments, space travel, sports commentators, and Donald Sutherland (actually he comes up in the topic of “Second Chances”)…. The book is – Music To Eat Cake By, written by Lev Parikian and published by Unbound on the 12th November (www.unbound.com).
So, lets imagine you’ve gone to a dinner party, where after the meal the guests gather in the living room and play a game of Charades. This book is just like that, Lev asked his readers to suggest topics for him to write about and they could be on anything from to the obscure to the sublime. Eventually, he whittled it down to forty topics and set about compiling a series of essays, all with his signature wit and warmth.
What you get from this, is a an amazingly funny and wild romp, through some of the weirdest and wonderful topics a group of readers could suggest. Contained with the covers of this book are some of the most sleep depriving questions on the planet, Things that could keep anyone, and probably has, occupied on a rainy afternoon in a pub (when were allowed in them, of course). As well that, Lev asked his tormentors to suggest numbingly and scrabble winning obscure words to place into the content. A version of “word for the day” you might say. Did they fail? No. The words would probably test the mental agility of Susie Dent, she of Countdown fame. Some of the words included “Weltanschang”, “Gazzer”, “Orcadian” and “Cornucopia”, although there are weirder and more tongue testier ones, all of which are highlighted with regular footnotes, which explain their meaning, if you’re stuck… I’m not the greatest fan on footnotes, in books that are non-academic, but in this case, they added to the overall enjoyment of the read.
Most Sunday mornings I listen to RTE Radio One’s (the Irish national broadcaster) “Sunday Miscellany”, which each week gives you a wonderful collection of short stories and essays on any subject that you might think of. Prior to that, I grew up listening to Alistair Cooke’s “Letters from America” on BBC radio 4. These were the first things came to mind when I started reading this book. Also, I loved that the essays themselves decrease in length from the first being 4,000 words in length and the last, the topic suggested by his wife, being just 100 words.
This isn’t a cover to cover read, oh no, it’s one of those typical, “big dippers” or “swimming pools” as some people, including me and my wife, refer to them as. You can start in the middle, then dip in and dip out all over the place as you follow Lev on a literary breaststroke through his liking of cricket, music, food and birds.
This is English Author, Conductor and Ornithologist, Lev Parikian’s (www.levparikian.com) fourth book, the others are Waving Not Drowning (2013) with Barrington Orwell, Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear (2018) and Into The Tangled Bank – How We Are In Nature (July 2020). He also contributed to the Red 67 Anthology, with 134 other writers to raise money for the conservation of the 67 British wild birds on the endangered red list. He’s also reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement (I’m still waiting for Stig to give me a bell) and when not writing or watching birds, he likes to take Twitter by storm, most recently in 2019 with his viral hit Bird Song For Beginners. He lives in London.
So, I can truly say, I may have found my book of the year and with a little over six weeks to go, it may be a safe assumption. If you are fan of Bryson or a regular reader of Jezza Clarkson’s Column, then I think you might have to reconsider your position. Because if like me, you’ve been a Parikian virgin, I think we may have to go in search of his previous works. But before that, while observing the Covid restrictions, click and collect online with your local bookshop, because they need the support. Or if you must, download a copy and prepare to split your sides and fill your lexicographic gills with this hilariously funny collection of essays. With Crimbo just around the corner too, this would be an ideal gift.
Reviewed by Adrian Murphy
This blog is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their pages listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it come back and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.