Welcome to the third and final part. Today, we finish cataloging my knife collection, and its pairings with some of my favorite reads!
THE KNIFE: Small vegetable knife.
THE BOOK: "Story Of My Life" by Jay McInerney.
This one’s for close-up work, trimming and cutting vegetables, mincing herbs, and also what I bust out for good cheese. I don’t keep a cheese knife because if I start buying enough good cheese to merit a cheese knife, I’ll never stop.
Now can I just nerd out about this book for a second? Before I even considered moving to New York and making bad decisions, I read this book and it BLEW. MY. MIND. McInerney’s literary output is super erratic, quality-wise; depending on how you view him, he’s a Fitzgerald-type who got seduced by the high society he once critically depicted and now writes wine columns, and/or the third-or-fourth most critically successful member of the Literary Brat Pack. His first book’s a gimmicky-but-fun 2nd-person tribute to cocaine and fact-checking, go figure. None of his other books really merit mentioning.
Except this one, his third, the tale of young Allison Poole, rich and self-destructive and intelligent but spoiled as hell, snorting and sleeping her way through late ‘80’s NYC. It’s his best. Self-aware but resoundingly entertaining, it’s much like fancy cheese; you don’t want it all the time, but when it’s time, it’s time.
Also Allison is based on her. So there’s that to consider.
THE KNIFE: Small paring knife.
THE BOOK: "Dangerous Angels" by Francesca Lia Block.
It’s got a thin flexible blade and you want to keep it razor sharp. Now, a paring knife may seem like a superfluous addition to your kitchen if you already own a peeler. But paring knives have become the stick shifts of knife work; while the available hardware out there may lead you think of paring as an unnecessary skill, it nonetheless is one well worth having, and much like driving stick it provides a greater control of the elements at hand. Also, my shitty plastic peeler just broke on me last week, and my paring knife was all “well well well, look who’s coming crawling back. Time to earn my favor, bitch.” Sigh.
"Dangerous Angels" is the collection of the first five books in Block’s YA “Weetzie Bat” series, which is about crazy drug-taking mystical teenagers living in a tweaked and glazed version of Los Angeles. It’s heavy on the style and themes; plenty of sex and genderfuckery and drugs and weirdness that a young Dude In Publishing could vibe with. And like the paring knife, it may not age well, or land with every reader, but I keep it around because whether I like it or not, there’s some stuck-deep truth that the ways in which I conceive of dreams and hope and potential and love all can trace their genealogy to these books.
THE KNIFE: Swiss army knife.
THE BOOK: "The Martian" by Andy Weir.
My grandfather gave me my first Swiss army knife when I was 11, and depending on if I’m entering a government building or an airport, I always keep a version on me. Now, there’s not a lot of survival skills that apply to publishing work (except for “keep hydrated” and “don’t get into drunk discussions about Into The Wild”) but the Swiss army knife will always be there when you least expect it and need it most. Whether breaking down boxes, tightening screws, opening wine (PRIORITY ONE), cleaning your keyboard, or opening some shit you bought off Amazon, it’s worth having. And it’s likely you’ll do all these in both the office and in the kitchen.
HOLY FUCK THE MARTIAN (said everyone who’s read this). One of those “didn’t stop reading until it was done and it was 2:00 AM” books. An adrenal punch of science and survival about the left-for-dead remainder of a manned Mars mission and whatever JUST READ IT. This shit comes on like the Rage virus. I’m still clearly in a daze and I read it like three weeks ago. Trust me, you will never look at home repair or potatoes the same way again.
THE KNIFE: Not a knife (obviously) but a knife sharpener.
THE BOOK: “The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous” by a bunch of anonymous alcoholics.
Here’s what a blunt edge looks like under an electron microscope. Your knives need regular sharpening, otherwise you end up ruining your delicate creations and weeping over every onion when those blunt edges rip open the little plant cells and carpetbomb your face with syn-propanethial-S-oxide. My sharpener has 2 grinding edges, coarse and fine; you run your straight blades through the former a few times, then the latter, being sure that none of the metal shavings get in the food (unless you’re trying to kill someone in prison).
The Big Book is the Bible Alcholics Anonymouse, and like any sacred book it can be a bit of a slog. I’m not an alcoholic but there are pretty wide seams of addiction that run in my genes, so I started reading it to get a better idea of the risks I’m facing as I grow older and to understand the sober folks in my extended family. While there are plenty of arguments to be made against AA and 12-step programs, the awareness of one’s self and one’s vulnerability is a crucial and nowhere near easy achievement, and the Big Book provides a shortcut for me. It’s composed of the program’s tenets and testimonials and stories from sober alcoholics collected over the various editions (it’s now in the Fourth edition), one of the bestselling books of all time, and the final stop that millions of people make on their road to recovery, if not always effectively and immediately. It’s my constant bedside companion, and while I still drink and do drugs on occasion, I figure until I outgrow, hit my stride, or become hopelessly dependent on those substances, this book will keep me aware and alert to my compulsions and mental tiger traps.
Most importantly, the Big Book advocates reliance and trust on others, and a faith in something beyond yourself (the God of your Understanding); this rankles a lot of atheists, but as someone raised with zero faith, I recognize that atheism and community are not mutually exclusive, and that faith is often something as simple as picking up a book, or picking up a knife, and deciding you’re going to experience something special and something new. And that once you’ve done this, it’s important to loan out that book, and to cook for other people, and keep paying it forward.
Have a lovely book-and-knife-filled weekend everyone!