Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations by Roy Blount Jr., 279 pages, $20. The final “song” in this Sarah Crichton Books title is on its last page. It’s “Song to Pie”: “Pie/Oh my./Nothing tastes sweet/Wet, salty and dry/All at once so well as pie./Apple and pumpkin and mince and black bottom,/I’ll come to your house every day if you’ve got ’em./Pie.”
Just before that negligible “song” is a little, two-page “chewy rumination” called “Mark Twain’s Pie Dream,” which masterfully mashes up Mark Twain, sex, race, food, Titian’s reclining nude Venus and some hilariously named Women’s Marching Societies that Roy Blount encountered in New Orleans.
There you have it: the perigee and apogee of Roy Blount Jr.’s humor in this book. There is a lot of “light verse” in this book, very little of which is “light” or, for that matter, verse, in any sense more appealing than fourth grade doggerel. On the other hand, Blount (pronounced “Blunt”) is 74 years old, which makes him just about as professional a “humorist” as one is allowed to be in contemporary America. His plain-spoken Georgia drawl on Michael Feldman’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” has been one of NPR’s hits for years.
What I love about Blount is that in the guise of “humor” – that Twain dream piece, for instance – Blount sometimes tosses off essays, mini-essays and the like that are such chewy ruminations that they’re as exquisitely rendered as any essays in our time (only shorter, much shorter). There’s a catch to that, though. Seventy-four is not young for a lifelong humorist. It’s the age that Twain died. (Robert Benchley only made it to 56, James Thurber to 66.) That’s a long time to have been cooking from the same wooden recipe box of what’s literarily funny. After a few decades or so, you can see Aunt Pauline’s cherry thumbprint stain on some of them and Uncle Bobby’s marinara dribbles. The charm of bespattered and dog-eared old recipes in the box begins to fade along with readability.
So in this newest volume – all of it dedicated to that glorious subject food – not all is sweet and light and graceful and wise. But a somewhat miraculous majority still is.
– Jeff Simon