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"Want to write a bestselling cookery book?" - Guardian essay


Smithy
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Here's an amusing and interesting essay - rant, some might say - by Jane Middleton. She sounds close to the end of her tether.

Want to write a bestselling cookery book? Don't worry about making it any good.

Do you agree? How many of the cookbooks published today are more fluff and flash than substance?

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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I actually disagree quite a bit - I see nothing wrong with adding more substance to a cookbook other than recipes. Honestly, I don't buy just books with recipes anymore - if you need a straightforward recipe, it's a 2-second search on the internet. Information is so easy to get these days, I think this is more of a sign of the times, rather than an easy to sell fad. People want more, because the knowledge base of everything is so much more than it used to be.

 

I like knowing where the inspiration came from for something, I enjoy knowing the process about how someone came up with something - hey, the author has a favorite soy sauce he uses, and talks about the maker? Great! I like knowing this, because it opens up a little bit more to me, exposes me to new products, and is far more interesting than how X's recipe is different by 1 teaspoon than Y's. 

 

Honestly, she just sounds like an 80 year old when the internet came out, complaining how the picture box could talk to people.

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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Here's an amusing and interesting essay - rant, some might say - by Jane Middleton. She sounds close to the end of her tether.

Want to write a bestselling cookery book? Don't worry about making it any good.

Do you agree? How many of the cookbooks published today are more fluff and flash than substance?

 

Having read neither a random nor a representative sample of "the cookbooks published today," I'm not qualified to answer that question. However, I'd love to comment on the essay/rant itself. Thanks for asking.

 

This article reminded me of one that was the subject of a forum from last month, Haute Dining Trashing Becoming Very Tiresome. In it, gfweb wrote, "British food criticism seems to be all about snark and the "clever" put-down. Actual substance is optional. Only the rare Brit critic pulls it off eg Jay Rayner (who used to frequent this site)."

 

This essay is just another example -- and a not terribly well-wriiten one, either. She also violates one of the cardinal rules of good writing: Don't refer to events, people, etc., about which your readership is likely to have no knowledge. She probably had certain books in mind, but perhaps because of the libel laws in Great Britain she didn't mention any of them.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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She also violates one of the cardinal rules of good writing: Don't refer to events, people, etc., about which your readership is likely to have no knowledge. 

 

 

Well, that wipes out most of 1500 years of English literature.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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Well, that wipes out most of 1500 years of English literature

 

I was referring to more "popular" writing. If you don't mind, please read this article, by John McPhee in The New Yorker, then tell me what you think.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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I was referring to more "popular" writing. If you don't mind, please read this article, by John McPhee in The New Yorker, then tell me what you think.

I quote back to you the conclusion of that article:

"I didn’t have a stopwatch with which to time the length of the silence on the other end of the line. I do remember what Kretchmer eventually said. He said, “Maybe one reader in ten thousand would get that.”

I said, “Look: you have bought thirteen thousand words about Wimbledon with no other complaint. I beg you to keep it as it is for that one reader.”

He said, “Sold!” ♦"

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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I quote back to you the conclusion of that article:

"I didn’t have a stopwatch with which to time the length of the silence on the other end of the line. I do remember what Kretchmer eventually said. He said, “Maybe one reader in ten thousand would get that.”

I said, “Look: you have bought thirteen thousand words about Wimbledon with no other complaint. I beg you to keep it as it is for that one reader.”

He said, “Sold!” ♦"

 

Yes, but that was the exception, not the rule.

 

In any event, McPhee's point was that a little-known reference on its own would be ill-advised; it would be OK if accompanied by something that gave you a clue as to why that person, incident, etc. was mentioned. The author of the article we're addressing here has bludgeoned us with the opposite (but equivalent, imho) issue: She rants on and on about why she doesn't like this and that and the other -- which is OK in and of itself, I guess -- but she doesn't anchor her complaints to any person or book. Especially for a freelance editor this is lightweight writing, distinguished from a "Comments" section rant only by its larger vocabulary and lack of writing errors.

Edited by Alex (log)

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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While I agree that the article is cranky, I don't disagree much.  I think there's a current culture around food and cooking that is rather odd and is reflected in the plethora of cookbooks available.  The man-cooking reminds me of the 80's man-painting -- taking a talent that was once considered over-detailed and female and dismissable and raising it by virtue of masculinizing it.  Which is a rank simplification, I know.  

 

I doubt that many people who buy cookbooks actually cook from them or consider them in a critical fashion.  Those of us in the modern book business have a lot to be cranky about.  I cannot even imagine what cookbook editors go through trying to bring out a cookbook that creates the profit margins publishers demand.

 

My landlord tried to make me sign a piece of paper that said I would agree not to have any bookcases or books in my apartment (he thinks they'll fall through the floor).  I've gone through a long process of culling my books and recently extracted a bookcase from my storage space and decided that I would keep just that many cookbooks.  They'd already gone through one round of culling.  And I looked up many, many cookbooks on Amazon trying to decide, "This cake book or that cake book?" etc.  It was an education.  The vast percentage of people who have an opinion about a cookbook have never cooked from it.

 

We pride ourselves on the number of cookbooks we own.  I fully support owning books that you never use, owning books that you only look at once or twice, owning books that you use for reference, buying more when you have enough, etc.  But at the end of the day, what I want are recipes.  Stunningly good recipes, if possible.

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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Yes, but that was the exception, not the rule.

 

In any event, McPhee's point was that a little-known reference on its own would be ill-advised; it would be OK if accompanied by something that gave you a clue as to why that person, incident, etc. was mentioned. The author of the article we're addressing here has bludgeoned us with the opposite (but equivalent, imho) issue: She rants on and on about why she doesn't like this and that and the other -- which is OK in and of itself, I guess -- but she doesn't anchor her complaints to any person or book. Especially for a freelance editor this is lightweight writing, distinguished from a "Comments" section rant only by its larger vocabulary and lack of writing errors.

I think McPhee was making a point that if the only allusions you make are to those that will be understood by 100% of your audience you are then doing them a disservice. Be that as it may. I read it one way you may read it another. I don't quite understand the accusation that Middleton does not link her criticism to anything. Her links lead to a list of celebrity cookbooks with named authors, to Jamie Oliver's Italy, etc.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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I wish McPhee would do a book on food. But I think he's done w books and this series on writing in the new yorker may be his last. Great great stuff.

Except he tends to use the word "trig" far too much. An odd error for the master to make. Perhaps it's settling some old beef with an editor.

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