Sunday, October 10, 2010

When not eating, reading.

I had an English professor once who had a way of punishing students who did not do the assigned readings in time. She didn't do it with a nasty surprise quiz or anything. She was more creative than that: she gave away the ending. 
"What?" she would say, in her New Zealand accent, "you didn't finish Twelfth Night? Well. I will tell you right now: everybody dies."
Of course, if you've read Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, you know that nobody dies, but this was her standard spoiler for everything we read.  That semester, it only turned out to be true for our last book, Frankenstein, and everyone thought it was pretty funny that it was finally true. So, for a few years now, her "everybody dies" mantra stuck with me, and whenever I read a book where this does happen, I remember it, and can't help but laugh, thus brightening a sad ending, if only a little.*

The problem, though, is when you get into nonfiction. Have you read Julia Child's My Life in France? No? Well, spoiler alert, everybody dies. Even Julia. 

Yes, I said even Julia. She died as the book was being written. Okay, at the age of 94. And, fine, most of the other deaths are mentioned in the epilogue as closing thoughts on her life and experiences in France. All told, I really enjoyed the book. But leave it to me to complain about a book that details the Childs' life in Europe, their marriage, the friendships they cultivate, and Julia's painstaking efforts with Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show, The French Chef. It was a wonderful journey to take, reading about her adventures. I couldn't put it down until it was done. And that, unfortunately, was 3am. Which for me is the magical hour during which, if I find myself awake, I ponder the unfairness of human mortality? I think? Anyway, for a book about food, I guess I was hoping for a dessert-like ending. "Everybody dies" does not pair well with an after-dinner cappuccino.

Now, I know I am complaining, but that doesn't mean I think it would be better without those details. To read My Life in France is to look over Julia's shoulder as she goes from a diplomat's unskilled housewife to a badass gumption-powered food expert and enthusiast who dedicated her life from age 36-on to learning all there is about the art of French cooking and teaching it to anyone who would listen. You see her beginning, her struggle, her development, as well as the importance of her support system, consisting mainly of her wonderful, tireless husband and friends. To know that all of these great, energetic people had come to an end was truly, deeply sad. And so, if by accident, this book is part autobiography and part a commentary on the human condition. So there.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all of this? Probably. Can I list the possibilities? Yes, but why should I? I'll just stick to the one lesson that can't possibly be a downer: Learn how to do something really well, and show somebody else.

Also, butterfat is delicious. Though we already knew that one, didn't we?

See you soon, hopefully with an actual recipe!

*Disclaimer: the most depressing book I read where everybody dies is Angela's Ashes, and I read it in high school, before I had a chance to find this trope funny. Plus, it's nonfiction. Plus, everyone dies in the middle, not at the end. I still hate whoever made that book mandatory summer reading for freshmen.

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