Welcome to Summer Reads 2017 where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.
When I first read that David Leite was working on a memoir, I could hardly wait to read it. I’ve been a fan of David’s writing for many years now (he’s the founder of Leite’s Culinaria and pens a wonderfully-written blog on the same site) and I knew that he had struggled with bipolar disorder for most of his life so I was curious to read the full story in his recently-released Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love and Manic Depression.
“Depression,” you say? “What place does that have on a food blog?” When David asked if I would like a review copy, he did say he realised it wasn’t “regular” book review fodder but I already had this series of “not necessarily cookbooks” reviews in mind and I thought it might be a perfect spot for it. So, yeah, despite the banana on the cover, it’s not a food memoir. Except that it is, a little bit. Because in the end, food is one of the things that comforts David, that helps him through dark times and brings him joy.
I confess to not really knowing much about bipolar disorder before reading this (and to be sure, this is David’s account, everyone’s experience is personal and different), though mental illness is starting to be more openly discussed. I went into this expecting it to be written in David’s voice that I know and love from meeting him in person and reading extensively online – a humourous one, but it’s not that kind of read. For sure there are funny parts but it’s also serious, and sad and take-your-breath-away exhilarating (in a good and bad way). It’s not a light read (I don’t mean that in a negative way but you might be fooled by the cheery cover!) and it’s a book I actually had to put down the first time I read it. I was in the middle of finishing my own manuscript and everytime I went to read a chapter late at night, I didn’t feel I was giving it the attention it needed so I put it away and finished reading it after I’d met my own deadline.
If you’re thinking you need some prior knowledge about bipolar or mental illness before reading this, you don’t. You’ll learn how life with bipolar is a true roller coaster, with flying highs and scary lows. You’ll follow David from the time he was a small child and suffering (though not diagnosed) and struggling with not feeling like everyone else. The child of Portuguese immigrants, David never felt quite like he fit in – his family was different, they ate different food, he desperately just wanted to be like everyone else. When he was small, the anxiety and unhappiness were only kept at bay by a couple of things – sleep and Julia Child’s TV show which he chose to watch over playing with his friends after school. As David says, “She accomplished something very few people could back then: She helped me forget myself.”
Reading about anybody (especially children) who struggles with things like anxiety and mental illness is hard. Your heart will break as you follow young David from childhood to adolescence to adulthood bouncing around between different “diagnoses” (though none of them the correct one for many years) on a journey of self-discovery which involves examining not just his mental health but also his sexuality and career. It’s a topsy turvy path to say the least and David tackles describing it with grace and eloquence. For someone so loved and known in the food community to open up about his struggles is hugely courageous but it speaks to the type of person David is: generous (in so many senses of the word – of spirit, with his words, which his knowledge and wit).
But don’t get me wrong – this is not a depressing read though it is a hard one. It’s full of life with many moments of joy as well. I guess because I know him in real life, reading this felt like we were chatting over a glass of wine (well, ok many glasses of wine, it’s a long read!). But even if you don’t know David, you’ll only be a few pages in before you probably feel the same. His writing is easy, conversational and so descriptive you feel like you’re there. You will laugh and cry as you read this. You’ll want to give David a hug. You’ll want to sit down for a drink or a meal with him. You’ll want to cook with him. Ultimately, you’ll feel very lucky that he’s bringing you along for the wild ride he’s on. If you’ve ever felt you didn’t fit in (for whatever reason, not necessarily because you are suffering mental illness), there are so many parts of this book you will be able to relate to. And at the end of the book, you’ll feel hopeful. Goodness knows if David can weather the storm of mental illness for 30 years and come out the other side definitely a little worse for wear but loved and on a path he feels is the right one (that would be the career in food writing and finding the love of his life), there’s hope for us all.
Oh and the “banana factor”? It’s a nod to David’s mum’s pet name for him and the little notes she would write on his daily banana to brighten his days. So, here’s a message for you all of you:
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon and The Book Depository which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you) which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: I received an advance review e-copy from of Notes on a Banana from David’s publisher, but I also purchased a copy for myself. I have not been further compensated for writing this post and all opinions 100% my own. Full disclosure: I consider David a friend but even if this was not the case, I was happy to spread the word about this important and thought-provoking read.
You’ve got mail!
Did you enjoy reading this? Sign up to receive fresh posts in your inbox! You will receive a verification message once you submit the subscription form. Your subscription will be active once you respond to this verification message.