What are you eating these days?
Where to start with the foods I’ve enjoyed eating over past weeks? There was pan-seared (Alaskan) halibut with pesto pasta and roasted cherry tomatoes. Bircher muesli for breakfast with fresh blueberries. Moose Tracks ice cream (thank you, Kawartha Dairies!). Fresh scones with butter and a warm cup of coffee.
Thinking of this wonderful food only makes the following question more odd than it already is: What would a book taste like? Aside from thinking that a book would taste bland or nasty, where does the question even come from? It comes in part from Ezekiel, who was invited by God to eat a scroll. Given what we know of Ezekiel this might not have been only a vision; he was just strange enough that he might have actually chewed the parchment. The prophet reported, oddly, given the content of the scroll (woe and mourning): “It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.”
Much more recently there is the 2022 novel of Sunyi Dean entitled The Book Eaters. It’s a modern, gothic tale of old and odd families in the UK that eat only books. In eating books they also learn; they absorb the narratives, poetry and theories printed on their pages. On one occasion the main character eats a bible: “[Devon] unsheathed her book teeth and bit through the spine. Worn leather, loving hands, sweat, communion wine. Words flowed across her tongue, Psalms merging with commandments, sacred newborns blending with war and desecration. Wafer-thin paper flesh crinkled delicately with every chew.”
The reviewers have shown the book some love, and done so with fun and frivolous plays on words: “I devoured this!” “Two delicious timelines weave a thriller-paced tale.” “A darkly sweet pastry of a book.”
The idea of eating books reminds us that our reading/consuming of books isn’t merely entertainment or information – it’s formation. We are shaped in our minds and emotions and even our bodies by what we read. We ingest and become what we read. This means it is worth asking what we are reading and why; who we are becoming through our engagement with particular texts and stories. Very often the answers to these questions can’t be answered before we’ve taken the risk of reading something (which is part of the reason why simplistic moralizing about our reading is so misplaced).
What’s on my menu
Leaving aside these questions of our formation and possible transformation through reading, let me stick with the question of what a book might taste like. The answer will invariably be shaped by local and even international food cultures. In addition to which we all have our own tastes, in both literature and food. At the risk of missing the mark with somebody, or everybody:
A good science fiction novel is like an amazing new dish, in a city you’re visiting for the first time, that somehow reminds you of home. Most contemporary Christian literature is (to quote Billy Bob Thornton) like mashed potatoes without the gravy. Reading a thoughtful piece of theology is like a café-au-lait (in a bowl), lingered over in a comfortable chair. A really good piece of fiction is so filling that you find yourself standing in the kitchen reading and absent-mindedly eating crackers rather than making dinner! A meaningful memoir is like a multi-course meal you really have to share with friends and with conversation around a table.
What are you eating these days?