I read a lot. Between writing, producing, working out, dining out, and spending quality time with the dogs, I make it a point to set aside a couple of hours every night to cozy up with a good book. Well, that’s the intention anyway. Truth is, many of the books I’ve read over the years haven’t been good. They’ve been middling, sometimes above average, occasionally terrible. Every so often, they have been good. Perhaps once every few months, I’ll even be lucky enough to read a very good book. But rare are the instances that I come across a great book. Of course every time I pick up my latest read, I do so in the far-flung hope that I will fall in love with it – but experience has been cruel. Inevitably, my hopes are dashed by weak supporting characters or convenient twists in the narrative, my heart broken by 11th hour contrivances and tidy, anti-climactic resolutions. Yes, rare are the instances when I come across a great book. But, when I do, it’s always wonderfully unexpected, thrilling discovery.
So, what makes a great book? Well, I suppose that’s subjective. All of my great reads differ in many ways, but the two things they have in common are: a) their ability to thoroughly delight and engross me from start to finish, and b) a sense of humor. Prior to this week, I would have offered a third common variable: the fact that they were all works of fiction. But that was before I’d read this…
I mentioned the author, Jeffrey Steingarten, in a recent blog post (January 9, 2011: The Top 10 Food T.V. Personalities I Enjoy Watching!). He’s one of America’s leading food writers, a former attorney turned food critic whose regular column for Vogue Magazine has earned him a plethora of accolades and awards. He’s also a regular at the judge’s table on both Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef, and the author of two books: The Man Who I Ate Everything (1998) and It Must’ve Been Something I Ate (2003). I downloaded the latter to my kindle prior to my recent Toronto trip (the first book was annoyingly absent from my online bookstore the last time I checked), figuring it might provide me with an amusing, somewhat informative, in-flight distraction. Instead, it positively coldcocked me with its charm, sincerity, and humor.
I loved this book. I wanted to devour it like a Refuel crispy duck confit platter but, instead, elected to pace myself, luxuriating over each chapter like a box of individually wrapped Amedei Chuao chocolate squares. It Must’ve Been Something I Ate is a collection of some 40+ food-themed essays covering everything from caustic garnishes to haute chocolate, sea urchins to steaks. They’re equal parts entertaining and edifying, but it’s Jeffrey Steingarten himself who, at the heart of each mini-narrative, driving the quest for the perfect pizzza or the ideal espresso, makes this book such a pleasurable read. He’s a character (and what a character!), at turns brilliant, bumbling, brash, and bewildered yet, above all, good-natured and incredibly amiable – the type of guy you’d like to have a beer with, or, preferably, a 12 course Chef’s tasting menu.
Now let me make one thing clear. Yes, this is a book for foodies. But it’s also a book for individuals interested in learning more about the quality of the beef that ends up on their dinner plate (High Steaks), those who’d like to know whether that MSG is to blame for their post-Kung Pao migraine (Why Doesn’t Everybody in China Have a Headache?), and anyone looking for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe out there (Standards and Practices). In Brain Storm, an article in a neurology magazine suggesting food obsession may be symptomatic of brain damage sends an initially amused, then increasingly anxious Steingarten to Zurich in search of answers – and a brain scan. In Salt Chic, he investigates the horrifying professional assertion that “all salt tastes the same”, dealing a painful blow to designer salt enthusiasts and his own devotion to the ultra-rare Oshima Island Blue Label. Chocolate Dreams looks at the recent studies and attempts to answer the burning question: “How good (or bad) is chocolate for us? Really?”, while the sexual mores of lobsters and the most humane way to dispatch of the tasty crustaceans is covered in On a Roll.
If you could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive) who would it be? If I was thrown that old chestnut today, I wouldn’t hesitate to answer: Jeffrey Steingarten. And, after reading this book, chances are good you’ll answer the same.
Randomness writes: “Wait. what? So somehow I’m being blamed for taking Craig at his word?”
Answer: No, you’re not being blamed and I can see how you could have arrived at those conclusions. I’m simply making it absolutely clear that said conclusions are wholly inaccurate.
don writes: “This sounds like a show that from the start was fundamentally at odds with your stated preferences. Is it possible that your heart was never really in it?”
Answer: Stargate: Universe is a great show and I thoroughly enjoyed working on it – in much the same way I enjoyed working on Atlantis, and SG-1 before it. Sure, there were elements of the shows that didn’t resonate with me as strongly as others (ie. the Ancient storylines which, by the way, were a part of all three series) but I’m sure that’s true for any writer working on a show that didn’t spring wholly from his mind alone.
sci451 writes: “Also Joe I am curious why you and Paul are writing the series bible instead of say Robert Cooper?”
Answer: We have (and will) make different contributions to the project.
Randomness writes: “I like everyone else just want the truth on this issue. What is Brad Wright doing? Do SGU movies actually exist, or are we all being played?”
Answer: Just because you haven’t been made privy to the details of what is going on behind the scenes doesn’t mean the gears aren’t turning. Whether they’ll amount to anything in the end is the big question. And I’m not sure what you’re suggesting at when you say “are we all being played?”. To what purpose? What logical reason would anyone have for holding out hope for a continuation of the SGU story? Rather, it would be much easier and far more convenient to say: “The network cancelled us, thus we’re done for now”.
Quade writes: “Couldn’t the Asurans be a race of complex machinery? I think the problem would be categorizing them as “living”.”
Answer: Exactly. The latter is the issue.
Quade also writes: “What in the hell are you going to do with all your anime collection?”
Answer: Leave it in Vancouver for Ashleigh to watch.
Ben writes: “Speaking of Stargate; how much time has elapsed since the Destiny was boarded by the Earth people?”
Answer: I’d say a little over a year.
Elliott writes: “In the back half of season two, will be see more dynamic space battles?”
Answer: Right off the bat in episode 11, Deliverance.
Roger Hagensen writes: “I think personally I’d rather have/see the cast/writers etc. do a “table read” of the script. And after just go around the table and maybe ask some fan Q’s etc. Release it as a DVD maybe, plus art design stuff not seen before (as a slideshow maybe), maybe with some music that hasn’t been used before or that has rarely been used. Should also be some room for regular interviews with crew as well. And anything else that doesn’t fit the “video” style could just be put on the DVD in a folder that a PC can open. (maybe a PDF or two, some JPG images, maybe a few MP3 tracks of music or soundeffects or ringtones.) The production cost of such a DVD would hardly be expensive at all.”a
Answer: I beg to differ. Those involved, the actors in particular, couldn’t be expected to take part for a nominal fee. And while such a production might be of interest to hardcore fans, casual viewers won’t be rushing to pick up the dvd.
Echelon writes: “The current project you’re working on, do you happen to know what it will air on? Being network, basic cable or pay channel?”
Answer: Stay tuned.
Echelon also writes: “Do you plan on kidnapping Ashleigh and taking her with you?”
Answer: Alas, Ashleigh will be very busy with her own project this year and won’t have time for my antics.
Randomness writes: “Some people are quick to hate on the Syfy channel but honestly speaking, this is the only network that will give Stargate a chance. The way I understand things is if MGM came back to them with a cheaper alternative, then they will air it.”
Answer: Cheaper alternative? What the hell does that mean? A radio play version of season 3?
RFVdevil writes: “Could early ratings in March determine how that plays out, or do you expect SGU’s fate to be ultimately decided by the time it returns to the air?”
Answer: SGU’s fate on the network has already been decided. They canceled the show.
justin1985 writes: “Thought you would enjoy this. http://www.hotsauceworld.com/index.html“
Answer: Great! Thanks for this!