Books for Cooks and Foodies (That Aren’t Cookbooks) ~ A Gift Guide and Reading List

by Shelley · May contain affiliate links

Published Updated October 21, 2018

~ A list of books for people who love to cook (that aren’t cookbooks). Recommended by fellow foodies, this list of favorites is perfect inspiration, whether you’re looking for a gift or just looking for your next great read!~

Favorite books, absolutely perfect for foodies and people who love to cook! This terrific list of books for cooks and food lovers includes book suggestions that aren't just cookbooks. Recommended by fellow foodies, these favorites are perfect inspiration, whether you're looking for a gift idea or just looking for your next great read! #giftguide #giftbooks #holidaygifts #booklist #foodbooks #holidaygiftideas #giftideas #foodiegifts #readinglist #holidaygiftguide2017 |

My Life Amongst the Pages

A lot of people say things like, “I love reading!”

But, I can pretty much say, “I’ve lived it.”

While I was growing up, my dad was a high school librarian, and when I was a teenager, he also opened a secondhand bookstore, which he and my mom still run to this day. It’s sort of become their retirement gig, because … you know … what could be better than retiring into stacks of books that are just waiting to throw their papery arms around you and tell you a good story?!?

I grew up surrounded by books, and my own kiddos have, too.

From the time my kids were tiny, my parents’ Buckeye Bookshop was an eagerly anticipated field trip destination.

My parents’ bookstore, Buckeye Bookshop, is such an important part of my family, and books are an integral part of all of our lives.

We’d pop by for hugs and a refill of our reading supply. Could there be a better combination?

Through the years, there’ve been so many happy afternoons at the bookstore, picking out books (any we wanted!), and gleefully playing hide-and-seek amongst the shelves.

Our home overflows with books, as I constantly try to wrangle our collection into a manageable hoard that can fit comfortably on the shelves my husband strictly (ahem … not-so-strictly) allots.

I can’t resist the allure. The promise of a good story, or something fascinating to learn.

And – this won’t surprise you – I really can’t resist any book relating to food and the adventures of eating. Fiction … nonfiction … memoir … cookbook. I devour them all.

My Favorite Christmas Gifts: Books About Food!

Over the years, one of my very favorite gifts each Christmas has become one of the very simplest, and most heartfelt. Each year, my parents – my dad, especially – hunt for books specifically selected for each member of our family, keeping an eye out all year long for special finds that they squirrel away until Christmas.

Every year, under the stockings on my parents’ mantel, there’s a bag of carefully chosen books for each of us.

Christmas gift books wait for all of us, under our stockings each year.

And, almost always, mine is the most overflowing of all (yay, me), usually requiring an industrial-strength, reinforced bag. Everybody else dives in, sorting and sifting and scanning through their books, but I’ve learned to wait. It’s so hard, but so worth it.

I carefully set my prizes aside, trying not to even glance at the titles on top … and I wait until a day or two later, after the hubbub of the holidays has died down, when I can find time all to myself, to lovingly savor each book my mom and dad have chosen for me.

I always prefer to save my Christmas books to savor later, when I have plenty of time all to myself!

I don’t read them all, cover-to-cover right then, of course. But it’s become one of my most treasured rituals, to peek through the titles, read over the dust jackets, and categorize them to be shelved for later, or started immediately.

My Foodie Reading List: Books for People Who Love to Cook

This year, friends, I wanted to share my favorite gift with all of you, with suggestions for tried-and-true “foodie” books that are perfect with a warm cup of holiday cocoa, comfy jammy pants, and a crackling fire.

Oh sure, I definitely do love a good cookbook, but this reading list isn’t about that. Although many of the books on this list include some recipes, they aren’t really cookbooks. I wanted this to be a reading list … novels and nonfiction that you can dive into and read cover to cover.

And the cookbooks? Yes, yes – we should definitely swap ideas about those, too! But today is not that day.

Cookbooks and books for cooks … one of my very favorite sections in my parents’ bookstore!
The cookbook section at my parents’ bookshop

For today, I’ve got a few suggestions for books I’ve enjoyed myself – favorites among all the many, many food books I’ve read and loved.

And I also asked other bloggers to chime in and suggest their own faves. (I was curious what books other food-obsessed people enjoyed most!)

I have to confess: when I sent out the call to my blogging buds, I didn’t really expect that they’d come up with too many books I hadn’t already read. Seriously awesome surprise … they suggested quite a few I’d never even heard of! (Hey, Mom and Dad …. my Christmas book wish list just got a little longer this year!)

So take a peek through all these suggestions. Then go grab a couple good reads for yourself at the library or your favorite little bookstore, or give some as gifts to all the foodies in your own life!

My List of Food Books I Adore


Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

One of my favorite books - Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth ReichlI almost never, ever read a book twice. There are just too many other books out there waiting for me. But Garlic and Sapphires is an exception – one of the few books I’ve ever reread. And, I’m pretty sure I’ll read it for a third time one day, maybe even a fourth. It’s just fun. Good, escapist, foodie fun. Reichl details the difficulties of being a stealthy food critic for the The New York Times, in a city full of restaurants on constant high-alert for critics in their midst. Her disguises and schemes are hilarious, and as a food lover, it’s a simple joy to bask in Reichl’s knowledge of food and her poetic explanations of the meals she samples in the line of duty.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

A great book for food lovers - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara KingsolverKingsolver is a master storyteller (her fictional The Poisonwood Bible is another of my faves). This is a laugh-out-loud, yet meaningful, adventure through the year that Kingsolver and her family vowed to eat almost nothing that they couldn’t grow themselves, or glean from their local community. Richly crafted stories turn ordinary trials … raising your own poultry, anyone? … into intriguing commentary on the fast-food world most Americans live in today. But don’t worry – Kingsolver’s humor keeps the book from becoming a chore, and her intelligent insights make it a page turner. Truly, one of the only other books I’m excited to reread one day!


Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

A fun book for someone who enjoys cooking - Julie and Julia by Julie PowellThis is a memoir about a young office worker who feels at odds with the aimless and unrewarding direction of her life. Classic quandary, right? But Julie Powell hit upon an unexpected and utterly unique solution: she vowed to spend a year cooking her way through Julia Child’s classic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking. While keeping her day job. More than 500 recipes … in just 365 days … in a nearly microscopic kitchen. Yeah. It’s a rollercoaster ride, for sure. And it’s hilarious, always a plus as far as I’m concerned. You may have seen the movie, which was actually pretty good. But you know what they say … always read the book first!


 The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
A great gift book for someone who'd like to become a professional chef -  The Making of a Chef by Michael RuhlmanIf you’ve ever dreamed of attending culinary school, or just think it would be fun to live it vicariously, you’ll revel in this account of what it’s really like to train at one of the world’s most esteemed cooking schools. Written by a veteran journalist who dons chef’s whites to take you behind the scenes, Ruhlman captures his fellow students’ tension and their single-minded drive for excellence in their painstaking quest for edible perfection. Ruhlman followed up this book with another I also found fascinating: The Soul of a Chef, which focuses on the Certified Master Chef Exam at the Culinary Institute of America, an incredibly rigorous program I’d never before heard of known anything about.


Book Suggestions from My Blogging Buds


Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

A book for food lovers - Bread & Wine by Shauna NiequistShannon at Pass Me Some Tasty says, “This book is Shauna’s love letter to life around the table. Her book immediately makes you feel as if she is personally inviting you into her life and her home. It’s a book of vulnerability, love, compassion, joy, heartache, and so much good food. At the end of almost every chapter Shauna shares a recipe that relates to a specific memory or experience in her own life.”

Shelley’s note: I can’t wait to read this – couldn’t believe the Amazon stars on this one!


Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya

Not a cookbook, but this book has recipes, too! - Bento Box in the Heartland by Linda FuriyaTrang at Wild Wild Whisk had three book suggestions. She says, “My favorite is Bento Box in the Heartland. It’s about the author’s childhood growing up in Indiana as the only Japanese, and how food sets her apart from her peers. It’s heartwarming, and there are also tasty Japanese recipes sprinkled in between the stories.”

“Another is Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray, about a housewife who turns successful baker after her husband loses his job.”

“And one more: the Bread Alone series by Judith Ryan Hendricks – it’s chick lit easy reading about a baker’s life after a divorce, with lots of delicious recipes sprinkled among the writings as well. I enjoyed them all. ?”


We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook by Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph

A book for food lovers about the intersection of food and family - We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook by Becky Johnson and Rachel RandolphLindsay from See Mom Click offered this lovely book suggestion. She says, “I read this book years ago and loved it. There are recipes in it, but it’s more about the story of how food brings family together, particularly the mother and daughter authors.”





The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit

A cooking reference guide you'll actually want to READ! - The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki SegnitNatasha at Salt and Lavender explains, “It’s not a cookbook, but it’s witty, well-written, and explores flavor pairings that can really help a home cook be more imaginative in the kitchen. I received it as a gift from my sister, and I love it!”





Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

A book about the restaurant business and women's evolving roles - Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle HamiltonSamantha from My Kitchen Love describes this nonfiction memoir by saying, “It’s a ‘foodie’ book, but it’s mostly about her perseverance and ability to make it in a very difficult industry (especially as a female). I had my hubby read it once I was done, and her restaurant is one we’d love to go to the next time we’re in NYC.”




The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal 

Put this on your book list for a relaxing, fun read - The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal Mikaela from the blog Wyldflour describes this book as a, “Fictional novel about a female chef who experienced loss young in life and is trying to build a life and a restaurant in snowy Aspen, Colorado.” Mikaela adds, “For some reason, I always reread this book when I need something comforting and happy. Can’t recommend it enough! Oh, and this novel includes some traditional southwestern recipes with flare in between chapters – the recipes I’ve tried so far have been fabulous. 🙂 ”

Shelley’s note: I read this book a few years ago, and adored it, too!


Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

A nonfiction memoir about a superstar chef - Kitchen Confidential by Anthony BourdainBetty from Slow the Cook Down describes this simply as, “A really raw and real look into Bourdain’s life in and out of the kitchen.” She says, “I literally couldn’t put this down. Shocking, funny and addictive!”





The Last Promise by Richard Paul Evans

A good holiday gift book - The Last Promise by Richard Paul EvansThis one is recommended by Jenna at Seasoned Sprinkles. She says, “I’m a fan of Richard Paul Evans. His one book, The Last Promise, has recipes interspersed as part of the story. His work is generally uplifting seasonal fiction perfect for the holidays. Guaranteed to make you cry but make you feel really good, too, especially at the holidays. ”




A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson

Book list choice for foodie romantics - A Taste of Heaven by Penny WatsonAnn from the blog Ann’s Entitled Life suggested this one, explaining, “This is one cute, quirky romance that develops during a cooking show. Think Top Chef meets Survivor reality TV. They (of course) clash, they (of course) want to win, they (of course) need one another to win … just a well-done little book not in the usual genre. Yes, you can believe those reviews. This book was delightful.”

Shelley’s update 2018: I ordered this from Amazon and happily read it on spring break this year. Perfect escapism foodie reading. Light and fun!



Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Already a classic book, that every food lover should read - Like Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelRhian from Rhian’s Recipes recommended this novel that has also been made into an award-winning movie. She describes it as, “An interesting look into the life of a family in Mexico. Each chapter is based around a particular dish that the protagonist cooks and includes a recipe. I love how the author uses the genre of magical realism to portray the effect that the different foods have on the people that consume them.”




Lemon Tart by Josi Kilpack

The first in a series of foodie mysteries - Lemon Tart by Josi KilpackRachel from Adventures of a DIY Mom told me, “There is a whole series of fictional novels by Josi Kilpack. The first is called Lemon Tart. It’s about a woman who finds herself involved in solving a murder mystery. She loves to cook and bake, and throughout the book she will make things and at the end of that chapter the recipe for what she made is included. It’s a super fun series of books that had me copying down the recipes to try myself.”



Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

For someone who loves food ... or Italy ... or both! - Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances MayesCynthia from What A Girl Eats enthusiastically told me, “I love Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun (a great read for a foodie, and absolutely NOTHING like the movie … much better)!”

Shelley’s note: This book suggestion is near and dear to my heart (thank you for the recommendation, Cynthia)! I read this years ago and so enjoyed it! Then, my brother got married in Tuscany, with the ceremony held in the beautiful town of Cortona that is the backdrop of Mayes’ book. Both the book and the real-life city are enchanting!


Eat Me by Kenny Shopsin

Edgy nonfiction memoir about a famous restauranteur - Eat Me by Kenny ShopsinSheri, a food and lifestyle blogger at says, “Shopsin’s is an NYC legend and to read first-hand the evolution of the restaurant, along with so much insight into the man himself, makes this one of the best ‘foodie’ books I’ve ever read.”

Shelley’s note: A heads-up that this book sounds a bit off-color, so it’s probably not for the faint-hearted. At first I hesitated to include it in my list, as I try to keep the blog family-friendly … but one glance at the terrific Amazon star rating, and I just knew some of you would absolutely enjoy it.


Happy holidays, my friends! I hope your holiday season is filled to overflowing with delicious stories.

And, I hope you’ll take a moment to drop me a note (in the comment box below), and let me know about your favorite food books. I can’t wait to add even more ideas to my reading list!

Books for food lovers don't have to be cookbooks! Are you looking for a Christmas gift idea for a cook, or someone who loves to read ... or both? These ideas are great for holiday gifts, and also just for your own book wish list!

10 thoughts on “Books for Cooks and Foodies (That Aren’t Cookbooks) ~ A Gift Guide and Reading List”

    • You’re so welcome, Natasha – thanks bunches for suggesting The Flavor Thesaurus! I scoured my shelves, thinking surely I must own it somewhere – but no! How is that possible?!? It’s definitely on my list! ~Shelley

    • I felt the same way! So many great books that I adored. But, on the flip side, I was so excited to find quite a few that I’d never read, or never even heard of before! My parents pass practically every food-related book my way, so I had sort of expected I’d have heard of all the books other people suggested. Not so! Happy surprise that I now have MORE great books on my wish list! Yay! Happy, happy holidays, Sheri – and thanks bunches for your suggestion (which I haven’t read and now really NEED to 😉 )! ~Shelley

  1. Thanks for including my suggestion! There are lots of other good ideas here to read too- I love Julie &Julia. I’ll have to get my hands on some of the others. Paging Santa Claus…?

    • Hahaha … yes, I hope Santa reads my blog! Actually – now that I think about it – wouldn’t that be the absolute BEST if Santa was one of my readers!?!? 😉 At least I know my mom and dad read this (my dad’s so sweet – I know he read this particular post at least twice!), so I can’t wait to see what my special Christmas book bag will hold this year! Yay, books! Merry, merry Christmas, Jenna! ~Shelley

  2. Hi, Shelley! I loved reading this post. We are very pleased that we have been instrumental in developing both your love of reading and your personal library. Each book on your shelf is a good friend waiting for a conversation! (P.S.: Your Christmas bag of books is almost full!)


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