Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Shut Up and Eat!

Ruth Reichl may write entertaining memoirs, but it’s tough to take her to lunch. Debra Pickett, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times suffered indigestion when she took the famed restaurant critic to a raw foods eatery:

“Reichl has a charming smile and the infectious laugh of someone who has lived a charmed life and knows it. It's clear that her critic's eye has already assessed this place carefully and that she is not optimistic about the quality of our lunch. But it is also clear that she is ready to have a great time.

"OK," she says, menu in hand, "we know the Buddha bowl [an assortment of vegetables and rice] will be good. So no one can get that. We have to order the things that are really challenging."

Like the meatless "meatball" sub. And the meatless slab of "ribs." And the jerk tofu wrap.

Spirit of fun notwithstanding, Reichl can't help seeing things through a reviewer's lens. She notices that the lemon wedges don't seem juicy -- a sign they've been sitting around too long. She notices the texture of the lettuce and the shape of a baby carrot, which is not, she decides, a baby carrot at all but a hunk of a regular carrot carved to look like one.

She has not found very many positive things to say about our meal.”

(via Bookslut)

There’s an interesting discussion over on Slate on writing history: academics historians vs. populizers. The academics look down with disdain on journalists writing historical non-fiction, in part because narrative trumps analysis. But they look with envy as well, since most history academics write in an inaccessible style.

This interests me because I am writing a biography that includes a slice of the history of California. It’s not enough to have a narrative; you need context and perspective to show the importance of the story, yet too much analysis slows down the experience. It’s a balancing act, one that the historian David Greenberg shows in his 2 essays, “That Barnes and Noble Dream,” has not been resolved.

"The major failing of much popular history is that it betrays no interest in making intellectual contributions to our understanding of an issue. The Barnes & Noble historian seems to treat history as a pageant of larger-than-life events and people to be marveled at, rather than a set of social, political, and cultural problems to engage. Unless you wrestle with the ways in which the problems of the past have been defined, interpreted, ignored, or mischaracterized by other historians—the historiography—your writing will seem unsophisticated. You won't know which of your ideas are novel or trite, simple or complex, suspiciously trendy or embarrassingly out of date, or what avenues of research have already been pursued. Historians have to try to build upon what's been written, while keeping in mind that the goal is broader than just revising or applying other scholars' findings. "

(via Publishers Lunch)

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