Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Review: "Chocolate Fads, Folklore & fantasies"

Several of the gifts your Chocolate Priestess received for her 2009 birthday were books about chocolate. Some were cookbooks which I've reviewed by now and which you can find links to along the left hand side of this blog if the books are still in print.  Some were histories or general information about books.  Today I want to review Linda K. Fuller, PhD's Chocolate Fads, Folklore; Fantasies: 1,000+ Chunks of Chocolate Information published in 1994, the year I earned my Master's degree in History myself.

Dr. Fuller was a professor of Media when this book was published and all ready had several books about popular culture and communication to her credit.  Even though the title promised "chunks of information" I also expected some analysis of this information given that the title also said we'd cover fads, folklore and fantasies.  One of your Chocolate Priestess' minor fields is Folklore so she knows quite a bit about what should qualify as a folkloric study of even the popular bent.  It is with my own academic background then that I sat down to read this book.

The introduction was promising.  A nice, simple discussion of history, ideas and attitudes toward chocolate over the centuries.  This strengthened my expectation that an excellent analysis as well as fun information would soon follow.

Sadly that was not to be the case.  After the introduction the book is broken into four sections: Fads, Folklore, Fantasies, and a Quiz over the information included.  None of the categories are described even in the most rudimentary fashion.  What is a fad?  What qualifies something as part of folklore?  Are fantasies purely fiction or not?  Instead of a commentary linking together the "chunks" of data about chocolate, we simply get sentence or paragraph after sentence or paragraph of quotes, citations, or facts, all cited in endnotes but still not presented in a very coherent or entertaining fashion.  Things are presented out of historical flow, a quote from the 17th century next to something from the 1970s followed by a flip back to the 1800s.  Without context or analysis this simply float around making this a better "bathroom" book for casual reading than anything I'd turn to for solid information about chocolate.

That's very sad indeed because it is clear that Dr. Fuller has done a lot of research and collected a lot of data.  Raw data is only one step in scholarly or even entertainment writing. Readers want more than that and this book simply does not provide it in a well-written fashion.  It does indeed offer interesting images, not listed separately so you have to flip around to find them, and a survey that she sent to chocolatiers but does not really use in this book.  The list of chocolate shops is long but by now many have gone under and new companies have emerged.  Ultimately this may be a very 1980s book, reflecting a period when flash was more important than substance; sadly it's from 1994 though when things had hopefully gotten a bit more serious in publishing and for readers' tastes.  Buy it if you want something to read from time to time for brief entertainment but not for serious study of chocolate.

Sisters and Brothers, may you, too, take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.


Cacao-Me said...

too bad. the title did sound promising.

TheChocolatePriestess said...

I'm perhaps a bit harsh too since I am a trained folklorist as well. But yes, I was disappointed.