New York Times staffer Jennifer 8. Lee has written a book. It’s called The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. It’s about the origin of Chinese food in America and how it has morphed and changed over the years and how it all ties in with the Chinese-American experience. We know, doesn’t that sound familiar? It must be because we read the giant discourse on the history and origin of the fortune cookie that Lee wrote for today’s dining section which discusses the origin of the fortune cookie in American and how it has morphed and changed over the years and how it ties in with the immigrant experience. The fortune cookie, the author’s Website tells us, is “the key to the central mystery in Jennifer 8. Lee’s delightful and sumptuous quest.” Really? That’s the central mystery? We sure hope it’s not, because if it is, we already know the ending. (Spoiler! The fortune cookie was invented by the Japanese!) But alas, this is not the first time Jennifer 8 Lee has written about the subject of her book in the paper, although it is the first time she’s been credited as the “author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, to be published in March.” In fact, ever since she sold her proposal, she’s been conducting what could, to a cynical eye, look like a buzz campaign within the paper’s very pages. Wait, you ask, are we making the shocking suggestion that Jennifer 8. Lee is self-promotional?
Let’s take a look at a smattering of recent Times stories bearing the byline of Jennifer 8. Lee:
Dec. 18, 2007: On the City Room blog, Lee examines the affinity between Jews and Chinese food, citing seven theories as to why Chinese food is popular among American Jews. “The Jews and Chinese food is a topic that never stops,” J-8 tells us on her blog, “(that is why there is a whole chapter of it in my book).” [Hot Dogs From Column A, Pastrami Egg Rolls From Column B]
November 11, 2007: City Room post on the appropriation of an old restaurant sign by U-Choose in Chinatown: “As the older Taishan immigrants grow older and Chinatown institutions fade away, a memory of their time here stays on as Chinatown is reinvented.” [It’s a Sign, Evoking Memories of Lonnie’s In Chinatown]
Sept. 2, 2007: Lee’s story on the closing of May May Bakery notes that it “distributes across the eastern half of the United States.” [For Chinatown Bakery Treasured by Generations, a Decision to Walk Away]
January 27, 2006: Lee and a Chinese friend traverse New York City in search of authentic Chinese food and end up ordering a hotpot at a restaurant in Flushing. “It was definitely hotpot as an American experience,” she wrote. “In China, everyone would use one big boiling pot, mixing their food together. Not here. ‘Each person has their own hotpot,’ [Lee’s friend] said. She had been lectured on American individualism in college and smiled at this simple example.” [In Chinatown, All Sojourners Can Feel Hua]
October 2, 2005: “There are more than 36,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States — more than the number of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King restaurants combined,” Lee tells us in a story about Chinese restaurant workers in New York. Okay, this actually made it onto the jacket copy. [Waiters, Cooks To Go]
Of course, only the most cynical person would say that this is in any way unseemly. After all, many journalists write stories that turn into books. And who doesn’t like to align the work they do in their day jobs with their outside interests? You go, sister. Make your day job work for you! And we’re not saying Lee hasn’t chosen an interesting, worthy topic. To the contrary, it’s really interesting, worthy topic, and we’re glad she’s put so much out there for us to read. Now we don’t have to buy the book!