I tried sushi this weekend.
Well, I tried to try it. Seriously, I did. My reluctance to eat raw fish has grown somewhat tiresome even to myself, and I thought it was about time that I turn into a grownup about the whole thing. So I went with a friend to a very fine local spot and accepted suggestions on what I should order. I’m pleased to say that I ate the cooked semi-sushi and liked it quite a bit, but that raw stuff stared me right down, Gothic Shoppers. It’s embarrassing. I just didn’t have the guts to do it. But I’ll tackle it next time, for sure
Why, some might ask, would I pledge to go out and try again to make myself eat something that I’ve always avoided? I’ve got one answer for you there: Hemingway.
Some of you (well, either of you who read this blog) might remember that my list of Books for Lt. Awesome included a Hemingway novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. I have to confess that at the time I’d only read a small chunk of the book. This is something that we booksellers have to do from time to time: put a customer together with a book without knowing either very well. Across years of experience, good booksellers come to feel that there is a particular kind of intuition that can be developed, almost as if we could lay hands on a title and somehow know when its customer has walked in the door. We don’t consider ourselves to be disingenuous –certainly few of us would ever claim to have read a book we hadn’t—we just come to have faith in our instincts. I’ve never read Le Carre, for instance, but I know his potential readers when I meet them.
Anyway, having recommended For Whom The Bell Tolls to Lt. A., I remembered that I needed to check in with that book again. It’s a title that I attempted to read as a much younger person –a kid, really—and I’d never fully gotten into it. My dad was a big fan of the book; he even put that and another Hemingway title in my Christmas stocking one year when I was about 13. I always felt kind of bad for not having finished it. But there were comic books and Louis L’amour westerns to be read at the time, and the book just didn’t grab the 13-year-old me.
Flash-forward 25 years or so: I’m sitting in a chair, killing time before going out to see some rock & roll. I’m about halfway through the Hemingway book, in the middle of a chapter that’s serving up hard, cynical truth hand over fist using deceptively simple language that is pure delight to read. In the background is Duke Ellington –the 1946 band, one of his best. (And the best of Ellington is the best of anything anywhere, ever.) I’m struck by that rare certainty that there won’t be too many reading experiences that will match the one I’m having right that second.
That’s one of the true benefits of working at (or spending lots and lots of time in) a bookstore. The books that you once put aside or wrote off – they continue to hang around, staying in sight, making themselves available to you so that they’re there when the time comes to take a second crack at them.
And you do have to take a second crack at some things. Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom and Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral were almost maddeningly impenetrable on first try, but my second attempts at both yielded life-altering readings. The same goes for music. Charles Mingus’ Black Saint and the Sinner Lady sounded like base cacophony when I first put it on the record player. So did The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa. Both are among my favorite records now.
I guess what I’m getting around to with all this is that I’m pretty sure the same is true with food. I’ve never been an adventurous eater. I was one of those picky, peanut-butter-only kids. As an adult, I’ve broadened my tastes, but I’m still not as fearless as I’d like to be. But hey, I thought I knew what was what with For Whom the Bell Tolls, and it knocked me on my bookseller’s bottom. Maybe I’m fixing to have one of those quasi-Satori-inducing eating experiences that will reward me for years to come.
So anyway, I’m trying the raw stuff next time.