Every once in a while, a book from the library falls into my hands, I burn through it, and NEED to go out and buy my own copy. That happened twice this month—and both books are worth talking about.
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School came on my radar screen in conjunction with a town-wide reading of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. To be honest, I was afraid TKCCS was going to be a mandate to eat organic radishes written by someone extremely knowledgeable, like Al Gore’s housekeeper. This was, thankfully, not the case.
Instead, I found a very well written, engaging memoir/cooking manual that taught me dozens of cooking lessons. The author, Kathleen Flinn, is a Cordon Bleu graduate who embarks on a quest to teach nine novice cooks how to make delicious, healthy, simple and rewarding meals. Each chapter covers a specific lesson, but equally shares the foodie journey of the nine students and their passionate teacher.
I’ve been cooking for almost fifty years, and I learned something new and worthwhile in each chapter. There are new spice combinations to experiment with, ways to do away with processed foods and replace them with tastier, fresh possibilities, and how to do so fearlessly. I also appreciate seeing how Flinn, as a teacher, met the needs of her very diversified class. Some were afraid to cook, some were discouraged because of past failures, some think they were too busy to bother. All types move forward throughout this book. At first, I started to copy the recipes I wanted to try… then I realized that I was transcribing the book and better buy a copy of my own. I think I’ll make it a point to “cook my way” through this book, one recipe at a time. Maybe two per week—sounds like a plan. Go buy the book, please. You’ll love it.
The next book that I devoured is a thin, lean, but very rich compilation of Ernest Hemingway’s opinions about writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips. Again, I started with a library copy and kept wanting to highlight and write in the margins. I’d come across astute paragraphs and read them aloud to my husband only to realize that I was reading the whole text to him, one passage after another.
Hemingway shows what it’s like inside his head. He lets us in on the process and shares the joy as well as the tribulations. The first chapter starts off with the following quotation from a letter to Mrs. Paul Pfeiffer, 1933: “I am trying to make, before I get through, a picture of the whole world—or as much of it as I have seen. Boiling it down always, rather than spreading it out thin.”
And that is exactly what he does with his writing on writing. We get these unadulterated gems that make us think and help us write. There is a freshness and authenticity in his words that I find addictive. He reminds me to cut back any unnecessary baggage. I’m especially fond of this passage from George Plimpton’s The Paris Review interview: “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”
As an English professor, I used to write “Do you need this…Is it fluff?” in the margins of many students’ papers. I’m forced to ask myself if every word is working effectively for me. This paragraph alone survived the pruning of ten words.
I’ve always believed that writing is “re-writing” and a vehicle for thinking. Hemingway says it so well in a letter to L.H. Brague, Jr., 1959: “I love to write. But it has never gotten any easier to do and you can’t expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do.” This famous author reiterates that writing is simultaneously joy and hard work.
Ernest Hemingway On Writing is a book that I want to have on my shelf and be able to pick up, browse through for inspiration, and come back to again and again. I suggest you do the same.
Here’s the latest on my reading for this New Year.
I succeeded in reading five books so far in January:
Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Hemingway On Writing
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School
Candy Freak (in progress).
My goal for February is five more:
The Dark Vinegard (book group book)
Finish In Sunlight and In Shadow
The Burgess Boys new Elizabeth Strout book advanced copy
and two more titles to be pulled from the mountain motherload of books in my den—all waiting patiently.
Let me know what you’re reading and what you think of it.