My friend Naomi’s youngest son has memorized pi to 60 places. I understand this impulse completely and can share in his delight when his math teacher asked him if he knew what pi was. As a child I memorized the Roman emperors in the hopes that one day someone would ask “who came after Vespasian?” It hasn’t happened. Yet.
Don’t underestimate the pleasures of pedantry. For instance, I recently read in a newspaper, whose shame I shall cloak in anonymity, that rhubarb is a fruit. Rhubarb is an herb. Its leaves are poisonous. It is also what actors say on stage to mimic the murmur of a crowd. In England it is forced in large dark barns. Its emerging leaves sound like barnacles clutching at air at low tide. At my old house it was the first thing up in the spring. Brave souls eat it raw.
I am not brave. Rhubarb! It is lovely stewed, in jam and pies, alone or with strawberries. I was so excited to see rhubarb at last that I bought much too much. The result was a pie, rhubarb blackberry jam and I haven’t decided on the third thing. As Mae West said, “too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
What’s that? Titus, thanks for asking.
The Prof, The Cook and an Aussie
If you are interested in the craft and art of writing can I suggest Unless It Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt. He is also the author of the best seller Making Toast and a playwright. This may explain why the dialogue feels stagy. The first six chapters are classes in which Rosenblatt and his students discuss their work. It is the book’s seventh chapter that makes it worth reading, his summing up of all he meant to say to his students.
The Sharper the Knife the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn is another in a new genre, “How I Found Redemption Through Food” or HIFRTF, as I like to call it. Flinn picked herself up after being dusted from her job and took herself to the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. The writing’s clichéd at times, there is no challenge without a corresponding triumph, giving it a Disney-ish feel. Think of it as a series of postcards from Paris with recipes and you won’t be disappointed.
Finally we come to the first volume of Clive James’ autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs. His father enlisted in the Australian army at the outbreak of war, survived combat and internment in a Japanese POW camp only to perish when the plane returning him home was downed by a monsoon. Watching James grow up in the shadow of this absurdly tragic event is like watching a tree nurtured by Terry Gilliam take shape, funny, macabre and unpredictable.