Had a realization recently while eating tortilla chips at a restaurant. They were unbelievably delicious. But halfway through the bowl, I realized that they were basically just a salt delivery system.
All the time, I go to a restaurant and order something and it is delicious and then I wonder, “Why does home-cooked food never taste like this?”
Well, restaurants prepare their food safely out of sight, so they can put more sugar and salt and fat and lard and oil in it than I could ever imagine using.
Restaurants aren’t special. I mean, they have industrial equipment back there that allows them to cook more food at once, but it’s still basically just stoves and ovens and griddles and all the other things that we can do. And sure, the chefs in a restaurant are quick and precise and understand the ways in which their ingredients are affecting the taste of the finished product (whereas I pretty much just mechanically follow the recipe and hope that it’ll taste good). But still, I think that at least half the reason we go to restaurants (and half the reason that restaurant food is so good) is that they put unhealthy ingredients into their food at quantities that we would never imagine doing it in our own kitchen.
For instance, a friend was once telling me that he’d been trying, over and over, to make pad thai, but it never came out quite right. Well, obv, he wasn’t using enough oil or sugar. If he had used enough, then it would’ve tasted right, but he wouldn’t have wanted to eat it anymore. It’s only when the preparation is cloaked by an anonymous professional in an anonymous kitchen that we can sit back and enjoy our salt.
I was thinking about yesterday’s post, and I realized that my reading habits are incredibly bourgeois. That’s not a pejorative; it’s just a description. My reading habits have a distinctly middle-class and earnest feeling to them. Which made me think, what other kinds of reading habits are there? This line of thought led to the following taxonomy of readers
Mass-Market – People who read only a book or two every year and prefer to read whatever the year’s breakout book is. I imagine that they enjoy the feeling of connectedness that comes from doing something at the same time as millions of other people.
Industrial – People who consume books as if they are an interchangeable product. Once, I was like this. When I read a book I liked, I went out and tried to find twenty books that were exactly the same, so I could get exactly the same experience. I preferred longer books, because they lasted longer. And I preferred long series, because I knew I could get more of what I liked. Example: most children go through a stage like this.
Populist – Readers who distrust book reviews and the opinions of academics, but still try to read the best books that they can. Populist readers often place a lot of stock in Amazon book reviews, word of mouth, and popular vote awards. They have a strong sense of their own likes and dislikes and are willing to defend their own tastes even against the prevailing opinion. Example: many science fiction fans, and people who say that books like Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged are the equal to most of what is considered, by the establishment, to be extremely good fiction.
Academic – These readers gravitate towards books about which there is still something interesting to say. They shy away from books that too much has already been written about. Although they’re about equally interested in contemporary and classic fiction, when they read classics they tend to gravitate towards obscure writers and lesser-known works by famous authors. Example: Most book critics, bloggers, and commentators.
Hip – Very familiar with whatever writer is on everyone’s tongues. In the 90s, it was David Foster Wallace. Now, it’s George Saunders. Also familiar with the nimbus of other, less-known contemporary writers that hover in that zeitgeisty area. Example: Anyone who’s ever read a novel written by Sam Lipsyte.
Super-Hip – The person who determines what the Hip people are going to be reading. Usually conversant with the major features of English literature (the modernists, etc) and extremely conversant with what’s going on in contemporary literature. Example: Anyone who’s ever read a sentence written by Tao Lin.
Bourgeois – Those who put a lot of stock in the literary canon and disdain contemporary literature. Prefers to read “the best” of any genre. Believes anything that has gotten public notice or critical acclaim must have some positive qualities. Turns reading into a project and then blogs about the project. Often has a fascination with and love for literary quotes. The objective of high school and college education in literature is to produce bourgeois readers. Examples: I am an extreme form of this, but I would also include all the computer programmers and lawyers and doctors who very earnestly sit down to read Faulkner or Dickens in their free time.
Aristocratic – Prefers classic literature, but, even within the classics, has very particular likes and dislikes. When they find an author, they often read every work that the author has written. Example: Anyone who has ever read a published collection of a famous authors’ letters.
There are three standard progressions through these categories:
Industrial -> Populist -> Academic
Bourgeois -> Aristocratic
Bourgeois -> Hip -> Super-Hip
I consider myself a little bit of an outlier because I went from Industrial -> Populist -> Bourgeois.