This Christmas, as usual, I received a bunch of books– including history books and cook books and other goodies. One of them was Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones and Butter, where she basically tells her life story journey to becoming a renowned chef. In it she talks about traveling in Europe, as well as growing up with her French mother, and the basic pleasures of simple, well-prepared foods. She also gets annoyed with cooking that tries too hard to be “innovative”.
I’m going to loop this back to writing, so bear with me for a bit.
I was reminded of two of the best dinners I had this year, which happened to be back-to-back while I was in Portland. Both of them were home prepared: one was steak and pesto linguini; the other a rustic Tom Kha soup. Both were absolutely fabulous in their simplicity. The steak, simply an excellent cut of meat, seasoned with salt pepper. The soup was as unfancy as you could imagine: chicken still on the bone, large chunks of ginger and lemongrass. And both dinners were amazing.
If you hadn’t guess by all my talk of food and worldbuilding, I’m something of a foodie. I don’t like to call myself a “chef”, because I think that’s a proper title that’s earned through study and appointment, not something you claim for yourself just because you can cook. And when it comes to food, I’m all about that rustic simplicity. Molecular gastronomy, plates that look like this…. that stuff doesn’t appeal to me. I want food with character, with soul– not food that is more trying to dazzle me rather than nourish me.
I feel the same way about writing. When I pick up a book, the main thing I’m looking for is– to paraphrase someone smarter than me– that they tell me a good yarn. I don’t need prose that tries to dazzle, writing that tries too hard to make sure I’m aware that the writer has done their homework, descriptions that drag out obscure synonyms instead of using the perfectly serviceable word in common usage, sentences that need to be re-read several times to parse out what they mean.
You don’t need that. Just give me basic, effective storytelling. Tell me a good yarn, with character and soul. The rest will come with that.