book review: flavor

Bob Holmes’ Flavor is a popular science book about the sense we use that’s one of the hardest to put into words. Holmes has interviewed scientists working on taste, smell, neuropsychology, genetics, soil composition, molecular gastronomy (and more) to really get into what we mean when we talk about how things taste, because it’s far more complicated than those old four-taste tongue diagrams you might remember.

One of the big takeaways from the book is that the difference between professional tasters (like wine-experts) and amateurs is more about the attention they pay and the vocabulary they have practiced with than anything specific in their tongues. It’s written in a light humorous fashion and though I would have liked a bit more in-depth explanation on a few points (how do we know a nerve is transmitting at maximum intensity?) this definitely provided enough facts to make me a bit of an insufferable dining companion.

book review: jitterbug perfume

It had been a while since my last Tom Robbins book and Jitterbug Perfume is the one I broke my inadvertent fast with. I can’t remember ever not liking one of his books. They’re always funny and philosophical. This one talks about scent, Pan, immortality and individuality. It’s now my favourite of his.

There’s a whole treatise near the end about evolution bringing consciousness from the reptilian brain to the mammalian brain and soon we will need to transition to the floral brain. That section might not be worth the price of admission alone, but mostly because you need the rest of the book to put it in context. I also love Robbins’ use of puns and other tricks of language as he moves through vaguely serious issues in a vaguely serious but completely irreverent way. There’s something about the scholarly tone he uses mixed up with clever metaphor that I wish I could do myself.