With their briny liquid and velvety mouth feel, their gorgeously mottled shells and in-the-raw presentation, oysters seem both animal and mineral, a bridge between sea and land – even, dare I say it, a connection between the divine and mere mortal. It’s no wonder they’ve been seducing humans for so long that they’ve inspired beautiful literature of all genres.
There’s a reason MFK Fisher is one of the most celebrated food writers of all time. She folds the prosaic and the profound into her essays so that they serve as both pragmatic housekeeping guides and the most rhapsodic of poetry. In her ode to our favorite mollusk, she offers memories, recipes, and of course, a glimpse into its mermaid wonders.
On Objects and Intimacy
Doty is a poet first and foremost, and this memoir hones in on how lovely things, whether they be oysters or renderings of oysters, can function as gateways to philosophical, artistic, and even spiritual revelations as we attempt to describe the ecstasy we’ve experienced. He writes: “Oysters’ liquidity makes me want language to match, want on my tongue their deliquescence, their liquefaction.” Indeed.
When food journalist Walsh first decided to write an article about oyster fishing, he thought he knew the drill: crusty fishermen, charming old wives’ tales, sentimental metaphors. Instead, he discovered a world of complex international trade as well as mysterious back alleys—enough, in short, to merit a whole book of personal insight and investigating reporting.
He may be best known for “Grapes of Wrath,” but Steinbeck’s novella about an oyster diver who finds a disruptively large pearl is the one taught in schools across the world. That’s because the book –and the oyster itself, really–distills the anti-materialist author’s most useful theme: namely, the complex relationship between humanity and unadulterated nature.
With French Women Don’t Get Fat, Guilano established herself as an authority on her country’s cuisine and slim waists, so it only makes sense for her to next tackle her country’s signature shellfish. Part cookbook and part travelogue, these pages circle from a beloved oyster bar through which seemingly all the world strides.
Chekhov was all about “God is in the details” – those small pleasures that take the edge off life’s painful realities. In the short story “Oysters”, he relates a young boy’s first experience of the oyster, and it is nothing short of a rhapsody: “I chewed and swallowed as if my mouth were really full of the strange animal that lives in the sea. The pleasure was too much for my strength, and to prevent myself falling I caught my father’s cuff, and leaned against his wet summer overcoat.”
As terse as his authorial voice was – some might even call it gruff – Hemingway was always a sensualist, and few objects moved him as oysters did. In this memoir of being a young husband and writer in Paris, he wrote about them with great passion. “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Few authors have captured the hypnotic pleasures of the historically forbidden act of lesbian sex as well as author Sarah Waters. This, her debut novel, is the first-person tale of an 1890s English oyster girl who finds her way onstage and between famous women’s sheets. The girl writes: “Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have, you will remember it. Some quirk of the Kentish coastline makes Whitstable natives – as they are properly called – the largest and the juiciest, the savouriest yet the subtlest, oysters in the whole of England?” Houston, I don’t think we’re just talking about mollusks anymore…
Lewis Carroll, Introduction by Martin Gardner , Afterword by Jeffrey Meyers andIllustrations by John Tenniel
Yes, you read that correctly. In the narrative poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” recited by Tweedledee and Tweedledum, a bevy of oysters trust the wrong characters and disaster ensues – as well as the famous lines: “The time has come,’ the Walrus said/To talk of many things…’” Leave it to the beloved children’s author to imagine the feelings of oysters themselves!