I was sitting at the computer this morning, going through the mind-numbing task of editing the thousand-or-so images I took at a recent wedding. While taking a mental break I glanced over at a side table where a stack of books and magazines sat that I had recently brought down from the nightstand in my bedroom. Looking at it, I realized that the stack reflected my reading preferences rather well. But as I looked over the authors and titles, it struck me how oddly diverse they were, ranging from biography, to history, to current events, to shoot-‘em-up fiction, to childrens’ books.
For the last few days I have been re-reading, for the umpteenth time, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury is one of my all-time favorites, if not the favorite. His books are time machines, transporters, age erasers, childhood reconstituters, imagination lubricants. I savor them, like a fine, smoky, velvety liquor: smooth and calming, rich and secretly special – to be shared only with those who will appreciate them.
But what of the other authors in my stack of books? If Bradbury is kept in that special corner of the liquor cabinet under lock-and-key, what culinary position do the others occupy? Read on.
James Patterson: Patterson is the bowl of butter mints on the table: Guilty pleasure, small handfuls, really delicious, and then gone. The bowl’s empty. Time to look for another bag.
Mark Twain: Home-cookin’, chicken-and-dumplings and butter beans with bacon and biscuits with ribbon cane syrup, melted butter rivering between my fingers, mash and gravy and cherry pie with ice cream for dessert – but every once in a while he tosses in the unexpected – the truffle, the poulets au poivre, the crème brulee.
Business Week: Turkey sandwich with cranberry mayo and chips. Good, quick, filling.
The Economist: Fish and chips and a flight of beers and, just to add unexpected whimsy, Oreos.
Ray Bradbury: Ah, Ray: What a fine meal, but not to be wolfed down. Bradbury is to be savored over a long, long time, like a 40-year tawny port, or a 30-year single malt with cheddar crisps. Take a sip…inhale…savor…eyes closed, thinking far away, different places, climes, times. Hear the calliope, smell the smoke from the train, feel the cotton candy on your fingers. Another sip, this time China, or Burma, Peking and Rangoon, burning deserts and mildewed crypts in Mexico and sweltering jungles filled with strange sounds. A place where boys never age, where Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are forever heroes - and forever twelve.
Tom Clancy: Dark chocolate. Hot, smoky peppers. Tangled bowls of noodles, impenetrable, covering who-knows-what that will surprise the literary palate in the next bite.
Rick Bragg: Like Ray Bradbury (the other RB), but whereas Ray Bradbury dwells in the fantasy of the human imagination, Rick Bragg deals in the harsh and unforgiving reality of being human – and the forgiveness that is also part of being human. He is fried chicken, and okra, biscuits and gravy, food of the groaning board. Sit down for the long haul, eat through the pain, try to rise, stunned but sated and better for it. That’s Rick Bragg.
If I could choose someone’s work to whom I’d like my writing compared, it would be Bradbury and Bragg. Literary heroes, culinary delights.
Who are your favorites?