Friday, June 27, 2014

The suggester

Final post for the week at the CUP blog. I was supposed to write one more myself, but though I still have several good ideas, I ran out of time and steam for actual composition, so my editor kindly excerpted a bit from the beginning of the book instead. Among other things, it explains the cover picture:
I strongly experience the allure of a cer­tain type of box of chocolates not so much because of the chocolates themselves as because of the exquisite nature of the choice offered in map or legend. In my mother’s fam­ily, that paper guide was known as a “suggester”: a chart of sorts representing each chocolate’s exterior and signal­ing (graphically, verbally) the delights contained therein. If I were choosing a box of Jacques Torres chocolates for some­one else, I would pick the dark-chocolate selection because of its clear gastronomical superiority, but if I were buying it just for myself, a decadent and unlikely prospect, I would choose milk chocolate; dark chocolate may be aesthetically preferable to milk, but I like it much less than its sweeter, less pungent counterpart. My taste in prose differs from my taste in chocolate, but it similarly lacks a sense of propor­tion (“Truth is disputable, taste is not”). I love anchovies, I hate dill, but it would be absurd to construe my prefer­ences as objective verdicts on the respective merits of those two foodstuffs. When I loathe a book, though, my passion­ate contempt is colored partly by my conviction that it’s morally as well as aesthetically pernicious. I feel furious or even outraged by, say, the sentimentality of Markus Zusak’s young-adult holocaust novel The Book Thief or the cultish paranoia of Mark Danielewski’s intricately self-protective House of Leaves; this is one of the ways in which morality enters into even the most stringently formalist ways of read­ing, and I will return later to the complex antagonisms and interdependencies that unite reading for the sentence and reading for the heart.

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