A humor website, part of the larger effort The Institute of Official Cheer, edited and annotated by James Lileks. The Gallery has leapt out from alongside its ironic-nostalgic brethren (such as Interior Desecrators and The Grooviest Motel in Wisconsin) to become a hardcover book, published by Crown Publishers.

The Gallery takes scans of old cookbooks, and promotional recipe pamphlets from the likes of Jell-O, Seven-Up and Oscar Meyer, and writes what I would call captions if they weren't really the stars of the show. The MO of all of Lileks' creations seems to be to unearth some astounding (one way or the other) kitsch artwork from the past, and ridicule it mercilessly. Source material from the 1950s and earlier tends to feature the elaborate, vaguely French constructions that all the housewives wanted to impress each other with (at least according to popular myth). An example from early in the book, a pale mishmosh of indeterminate meats in a pate en croute shape, has enough visual detail to go on for a paragraph or three: "You know, most guests really don't like it when the dinner loaf has a spinal column. ... Perhaps that circle is not a cross section of a spine, but a blowhole (ahem) of sorts - or a false eye to confuse predators."

Later in the book, it isn't the food so much as the corporate (or merely dated) attitudes that take the brunt of the jokes. Lileks is often at his best when he constructs narratives out of incongruous images, such as... well, okay, there's a great visual one early on that I won't ruin. Later, an entire captioned and speech-ballooned booklet from Spry shortening entitled "Aunt Jenny's Favorite Recipes" gets a complete deconstruction and alternate story, as a horror tale of a dead marriage and strange career, complete with the mysteriously missing husband pasted back into the corner of every page with an alarmed comment.

The book is emphatically not a cookbook, although a very few recipes appear in their entirety and are perversely tempting to try (or maybe that's just me). Here's one, from a list of "Hot Perk-Ups" for ladies who would lunch if their hubbies would let up about their thighs: "Butter-Cup: Heat canned vegetable-juice cocktail; serve in glasses; float butter pat on top of each with celery stalks for stirrers."

On the facing page is a faithfully reproduced image of "a batch of wriggling, erect wieners in a sea of beans." Bon appetit!


ISBN 0-609-60782-0
http://www.lileks.com/institute/gallery/

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