I recently read Luke Barr's Provence 1970, about MFK Fisher, Simca Beck, James Beard, Paul and Julia Child and Richard Olney all being in Provence at the same time in what was a pivotal year for each of them. It's an OK book; about what you'd expect from MFK's great nephew - hagiographies of one and all - with the exception of Olney, who comes across as a cantankerous know-it-all and a grumpy loner.
BUT! that book led me to Olney's Reflexions, which was wonderful. After reading this uncompleted memoir, which was published posthumously, I don't think he was curmudgeonly at all. In fact, he seems to have been extraordinarily sensitive, and he comes across to me as a dear, sweet, shy, hardworking, extraordinarily talented man. He constantly found himself going out of his way to do people huge favors, and he usually got punished for his generosity. He was very, very close to his large extended family and had many dear friends (and the love comes across even when he's griping about how some of them treat him). Yes, he makes some catty observations about people, but what's forgotten, I think, is that this book is mostly excerpts of diary entries and letters to his brothers, the only two places he could "let his hair down," so if he comes across as bitchy, it's the kind of bitchiness you only find in these kinds of very personal writings. I'm sure he knew of his reputation and I'm guessing that's why he put this book together, in self-defense, knowing he was nearing the end of his days.
The only complaint I have is that he often introduces people (and it seems like there are thousands of people!) early in the book and thereafter refers to them by first name only, so sometimes it's kind of hard to figure out who he's talking about (which Jimmy was that again?) but I think that probably would have been corrected had he been able to do the final editing himself.
The last chapter, written by his brother after R.O.'s death, had me in tears, just as with the Eck/Winterrowd book above.
And oh! the descriptions of the meals and the wines! Now I'm planning to devour everything he ever wrote. I'm already deep into Simple French Food.
But next up is Ann Mah's Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris. No tears with this one, I hope!
Host Note: Here are eGullet Society friendly links to some of the mentioned books
Thank you for posting this! I didn't know about either book and will put them on my Christmas list -- and get them myself if no one cooperates in the Santa department. Richard Olney seems a bit "difficult" as a personality, but his cooking was amazing. French Menu and Simple French Cooking are two of my favorite books and a couple of the best things I've ever tasted in my life have come out of them. He isn't/wasn't nearly as well known as he should have been.