On Books & Libraries
“Books and libraries? But Bonnie, I thought you were moving AWAY from publishing!!”
— You Guys
While it’s true that I’m leaving publishing (at least for now), I could never really leave books behind. And, really, I don’t think I could shake my editorial bent, even if wanted to (which I do not). I’ll always love reading and analyzing what’s been written, so I’m lucky that there is no shortage of books on food and, specifically, cheese. As you already know (or at least you already know if you’ve read my earlier blog entries), my first foray into reading cheese (as opposed to eating cheese), was with Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar, and we all know how that worked out. While I’ve already given that book my clear endorsement, I can’t get rid of my compulsion to ‘make something’ out of the rows upon rows of margin notes with which I sullied the book’s pages. See, my nature can’t be tamed! I’m like the ‘Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken’ girl (okay Sonora Webster, I’m not going to pretend I don’t know her name), but instead of blind horse diving I’m just commenting on books. Similar.
In my job at Berrett-Koehler, I am often asked to write manuscript reviews on projects we have signed but not yet published. This usually results in about four page of comments on the work, broken down in to two tried & true categories: ‘Things I Liked’ and ‘Things In Need of Improvement/Suggestions.’ (Tip: Never tell an author that there’s something about their work that you “don’t like.” After putting their heart, soul, and money into what’s on paper, they are sensitive beings and rightly so.) In the case of Edgar’s book, there really wasn’t anything that I felt “needed improvement” (okay, maybe there was one story about a toothpick and a lot of blood that I could have, um, cleaned up a little bit), although I certainly wouldn’t argue against an illustrated second edition or, better yet, a video & image-enhanced e-book (think about it, Chelsea Green).
So, that just leaves us with what I DID like. Now, because none of you are paying me (yet), I’m not going to give you four pages. But, I will touch on the things I found most important.
TONE: Now, this may seem like a weird place to start, but given what I know about non-fiction writing on somewhat-daunting subjects, I cannot stress the importance of tone enough. Cheese is actually very complex subject matter (after all, science is involved) and one rife with cultural and socioeconomic implications. Basically, it can be easy to get snobby, but getting snobby doesn’t add anything for anyone. Gordon Edgar never gets snobby, and actually makes a point of deriding that tendency in others. Instead, he infuses his personality and his passion into all aspects of the book (both the more traditional memoir accounts of person experiences and the hard and fast detailed cheese info), making it as accessible and enjoyable as it is informative. If it hadn’t been done this way — if the book had been intimidating or even annoying — I might not have made the decision to try my hand at this whole endeavor.
INFORMATION: For a memoir, this puppy is jam-packed with serious and seriously helpful information. From cheese consumption statistics to the historical significance of American and other cheeses, the cheese-making and aging processes, and even the rough costs of particular cheeses, I learned more from this book than from anything else I’ve read in recent history (and that’s saying something). If you are interested or intrigued by cheese, at all, this book will be a revelation.
INSPIRATION: Like I said in the tone section, if this book had been handled differently, I might not be writing this at all. But, instead of being scared off or intimidated by the book and by Edgar’s experience, I was inspired. If a no-nonsense punk-rock dude with more of an interest in co-op work than a career in cheese can become this much of an expert, then a cheese-loving word nerd with a desire to get her hand’s on the food system can at least give it a shot, too. Learning that, like me, Edgar sucks at geography (semi-important in the world of cheese), was only icing on the cake.
So, while I could go on and on, I won’t. The point is that I loved this book, and I’m so relieved that I can pair my passion for reading with this new career path. That being said: What should I read next? Please share recommendations, if you have any, in the comments section.
Now, moving on from books to libraries. But, probably not the kind of library you’re thinking of. Before I carry on with this blog, I have to give credit where it is and will continue to be due — to the Cowgirl Creamery Library of Cheese. While I was already pretty familiar with Cowgirl Creamery (after all, I do follow them on Facebook), I discovered their incredible online cheese library completely by accident. Every time I tasted or read about a new cheese, I did a Google search to learn more. It wasn’t until I had done this 5 or 6 times that I realized the 1st or 2nd listing was almost always a link to Cowgirl Creamery. “But this isn’t a Cowgirl cheese!!” I exclaimed (dramatized for illustrative purposes), while clicking the link. Well, whoops! The Cowgirl Creamery Library of Cheese isn’t just a library of their cheese, but a library of all the world’s great artisan cheeses, searchable by Farm/Maker, milk type, country, and milk treatment (raw, pasteurized, etc.). The information provided on each listing is informative without being overwhelming, and is usually accompanied by a picture. As I do more writing about particular cheeses (i.e. hopefully in my next post), I have no doubt that I will continue to use this as a resource. Just wanted to put that out there.