This is the time of year for summer reading suggestions. And for me, the heart of summer is best represented by véraison. That’s a French term for the moment when grapes first begin their pivot toward fall and harvest. It’s that exact point in the season when the grapes stop growing and begin the ripening process. For anyone who loves wine and vineyards, it’s a thrilling sight when you spot that first blush of maroon in a tight cluster of green Pinot Noir berries. Every time you look at them, the grapes seem to change and darken. It’s like slow-motion fireworks under the heat of a summer sky.
It strikes me that this point in the season is ripe (intentional pun) for metaphor. So instead of the usual summer suggestions, I’ve scanned my shelf and come up with three books to read in symbolic celebration of véraison.
Here they are:
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
From This Hill, My Hand, Cynthiana’s Wine by Paul Roberts
Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau
Read here to learn why I picked these books. And let me know what your summer véraison reads are.
This is the perfect véraison read because it just feels like mid-summer. It takes place largely in the Cinque Terre, a cluster of towns on the Italian Riviera…the ultimate summer vacation destination.
But the story’s far from idyllic or light summertime fare. It’s a tale of loss, loneliness, self-destruction and redeeming grace. It’s a complex story that traces the transformation of a whole cluster of characters over generations. Like véraison, where the individual berries ripen at different intervals until the entire cluster reaches a rich burgundy hue, the characters and story threads don’t transform at once but evolve over a period of time. The book is a slow and miraculous revelation. Walter’s storytelling somehow comes together with the same sort of mysterious magic that ripens fruit.
What, am I ladling it on a little thick? Don’t buy my metaphor? Read it anyway. It’s just a damn good novel.
From This Hill, My Hand, Cynthiana’s Wine
This memoir by winemaker Paul Roberts traces his growing fascination with and journey into wine, from the first spark through his obsession with planting a commercial vineyard of Cythiana/Norton in Missouri following, one of the few indigenous American grapes to make a serious dry red wine. While the title might seem overwrought, it’s a brisk and engaging read filled with philosophical meanderings, amusing anecdotes and a healthy, heartfelt obsession with making natural wine in the Midwest.
It’s tales like these that inspired my documentary, American Wine Story. And the véraison metaphor is pretty straightforward: Roberts’ obsession with planting a vineyard was a transformative experience that shaped his future. By the end of the book he reached a deeper understand that allowed him to reconcile his beliefs with his love of wine. It’s hard to find, but work a look if you’re seeking a unique and little known story about wine.
Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland
Nina Mukherjee Furstenau’s food memoir is a graceful miracle. Like grapes that reach véraison, it’s a tale of transformation. The author’s growing relationship with her heritage in Bengal, her deepening understanding of what it means to be a Midwesterner, and her gradual recognition that she is something in between and entirely unique is a thought provoking exploration of self and culture.
The structure of the book reminds me of a cluster of grapes: each chapter is a perfectly constructed object in and of itself, but as a whole it makes a delicious and recognizable shape.
And the recipes. The recipes are amazing, each of them given more weight by the stories that she weaves around them. A wonderful book and well deserving of the MFK Fisher Award for Culinary Writing that it earned from Les Dames d’ Escoffier International.
So there you have it…three book choices inspired by the season. If you have any books that fit the small miracle that is that midsummer miracle known as véraison, I’d love to hear it.