Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, A.J. Liebling 1986

A recent Writer’s Almanac noted that it was the 116th birthday of A.J. Liebling, and recalling that I had two of his books on my nearby shelf, I found this volume which is highlighted with an introduction by my newly favorite American author, James Salter.  Liebling, is little remembered now, but in the mid-20th C., he was The New Yorker’s most prolific and popular writer.  Starting off as a journalist in Providence, RI, he learned how to write well and fast.  His famous quip that he could ‘write faster than any writer who wrote better, and better than any writer who wrote faster’ is a fine characterization of his work.  His two favorite topics were boxing and food, and this volume is a love letter to the city that exemplified the latter.  He first went to Paris in 1926 when his father decided that his Dartmouth drop-out son needed a change.  While neglecting his studies at the Sorbonne, Liebling spent his meager allowance on food, wine, and women.  He identified two necessary conditions for becoming a gourmand:  a huge appetite and capacity to eat and drink and limited financial resources that forced one to be selective and discerning.  His description of meals that comprise soup, escargots, fish, meat, more meat, desserts, and several bottles of wine gave me indigestion even at this distance. The writing is clever and his metaphors are splendid.  The Salter introduction did not disappoint.  His final sentence about Liebling’s writing actually brought me to tears:  “His luminous account lives on.  It possesses many of the qualities he ascribed to his favorite wines.  It stimulates the senses, assists in clarity of view, and provides a feeling of approval towards life such as one gets in fine museums or walking along handsome streets.”  That’s about as good a sentence as I’ve ever read, written about a fascinating writer by an even more fascinating one.