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Judith Jones, like many of the authors in her decades-long publishing career, has a story to tell.
Jones, vice president and senior editor at Knopf, discovered Julia Child, made the decision that helped ensure the American edition of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” befriended M.F.K. Fisher, edited translations of writers such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and for years has edited the highly hands-on John Updike.
Then there have been her adventures outside the office, which provide material for her new memoir “The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food,” published by Knopf.
There was the restaurant she helped start in the Paris apartment of a friend’s relative, and more recently her stay at an Israeli kibbutz that was close enough to the Lebanese border to hear the rumble of gunfire.
Still, cooking and food “is the pleasure that lasts the longest when the others have diminished,” Jones said in an interview.
Her involvement with Anne Frank’s famed diary occurred when Jones was working as an assistant in Doubleday’s Paris office. She had been instructed to write rejection letters for a pile of submissions. But Jones was intrigued by the cover of one of them. “I couldn’t write a rejection letter for a book I hadn’t read, especially with that face on the cover.” The face belonged to Anne Frank.
When her boss returned hours later to find her curled up reading the French version of the book, she insisted he do the same. Her fortitude resulted in the diary’s publication in the U.S. and the widespread dissemination of the poignant, enduring words of its young author.
“What you learn and have to learn is how to trust your instincts,” she said. “I think that was just marvelous.”
Memories of that period of her life — letters she had written to her mother from Paris after World War II — provided the impetus for her memoir. Astonished by how brash, manipulative and assertive she sounded, Jones, who returned to New York in 1955 and joined Knopf in 1957, decided to revisit those days.
Her culinary pursuits in Paris stayed with her. Warm baguettes, puffy omelettes, homemade paté and, of course, wine were part of the city’s allure. Recalling how a baker broke open a fresh baguette after World War II, “I remember how cheers went up in the whole boulangerie, when the baguette was broken and it was white — because they had been dirty all through the occupation,” she recalled. “I’m about in tears thinking of that.”
Readers can try pages of recipes for Jones’ dishes such as spaghetti and cheese, “Frenchified” meat loaf, frozen maple mousse and hermit cookies.
Jones said her culinary pursuits were a way of finding herself. “I like to think that cooking can be this very sensual pleasure. Be that as it may, I think I resisted being proper, going to the right schools, going to the right dances and all that,” she said. “My English mother was class-conscious. She would have liked me to marry a stockbroker.”
Evan Jones, the man Jones did marry in 1951 and with whom she shared her literary and culinary pursuits until his death in 1996, was set in a different cast. An old school newspaperman who stood at a typewriter, he was straightforward and direct. They met when he was editor of Weekend magazine in Paris, but the bulk of his career was spent as a freelance food writer. “He really was such a force in saying, ‘Just do it,'” she said.
And so she continues to do that, which often means cooking. “People who enjoy food enjoy life.”