BOOK: Lying Awake by Mark Salzman (Vintage, 2001) tells the story of a nun, Sister John of the Cross, who discovers that her rapturous personal encounters with God, which have inspired the mystical poems that have made her world famous, are actually the product of mild seizures caused by a small tumor in one of the temporal lobes of her brain. When Sister John discovers that her intense personal experience with God is a symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy, she questions the validity of her faith and anguishes about having the surgery that would cure her.
WHY READ? Salzman, who anguished over this novel (he spent six years on it and destroyed two early drafts), insists the book is not about the validity of religious belief. Rather, it's about the validity of faith itself — the act of believing that certain activities and convictions have value even though we can't prove that they do. Sister John wonders if her faith in God will survive if her ecstatic visions are "cured" by brain surgery.
MAKE IT: Sister John yearns for God's presence, so an ideal accompaniment to a discussion of her plight might be the type of Sicilian macaroon known as "Nun's Sighs." Made with egg whites, these cookies are so airy and light they may try to ascend into heaven on their own. Serve them to your guests with tea or a devilishly delightful liqueur such as Frangelico or Amaretto, or perfectly brewed espresso.
TAKE IT: If you don't have faith in your baking skills, then perhaps you should substitute a delicious commercial macaroon, preferably from a local bakery. You also might order some from Scott's Cakes in West Chester, Pa. (scottscakes.stores.yahoo.net), or try the brightly colored versions from Lauduree of Paris (www.laduree.fr), which makes macaroons reputed to be heavenly.
Tom Valeo, special to the Times
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.