Grumpy old editor: redundancy
January 25th 2012 23:59
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
George Orwell’s third rule of good writing
I enjoy cooking and I love good recipe books, especially those which offer some insights into and anecdotes about the craft.
There are plenty of good recipe books without the bonus background material; not every cook is a writer, and worthy recipes don’t require good writing any more than a shopping list does.
When you do get a cook book embellished with wit and erudition, however, the pleasure is enhanced, especially for an amateur cook and professional grumpy old editor like me.
The book I was reading this morning was Kate McGhie’s “Cook”. The front-cover sub-title is “recipes, stories & kitchen wisdom”.
The interest of an editor who enjoys cooking is immediately piqued for two reasons: the promise of recipes accompanied by writing, and the questionable use of an ampersand.
From a recipe and cooking knowledge point of view, the book is superb, although one would expect no less from McGhie, an award-winning food teacher, mentor and writer through her mass-circulation Australian newspaper column.
McGhie's first book delivers on its front-cover promise, ampersand notwithstanding, and the first sentence of the introduction: “Ever since I was a knee-high kid, dragging my chair to the kitchen table in an earnest effort to lick the bowl clean of mum’s cake batter, food has been a source of great happiness and intrigue.”
Ah, someone after my own stomach.
Aside from the questionable use of capital letters for the entire first paragraph (caps are ugly and hard to read; always have been and always will be), this is a charming start and leads the reader hungrily into further servings of good writing. These are delivered with, “Nana taught me to ‘listen’ to ingredients and to use every sense – touch, sight, sound and smell – when cooking”, and, “When I visit a new city, the first thing I do is head off to its cultural centre – the fresh food market” and many more.
Then, suddenly, as part of a recollection of a childhood living on a farm, we come to this: “The recollection of our hens darting around the yard bereft of their heads still haunts me to this day.”
Did you hear the spirit of George Orwell mutter something about tautology? The inclusion of both “still” and “to this day” in that sentence is no less sinful than a spelling mistake. Check your writing, and check it again, and never forget Orwell’s edict: If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Now I’m going to try McGhie’s amazing mandarin-scented prawn soup recipe. Just thinking about it banishes grumpiness from the kitchen, where it has no place, to the study, where it can stew while I cook.
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