Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Don't Read on an Empty Stomach

Note: Alternately titled "Pop a Ritalin Before You Read."

I remember someone in class mentioning that reading Amy Sedaris' book was quite a chore for those inflicted with ADD. My first reaction? "Ahhhh crap." But I sincerely hoped that student's remark was a simple overreaction and that I wouldn't be distracted by the bright colors and shiny cover. Lugubriously, I was wrong. Dead wrong. In relevant terms, I would classify Amy Sedaris' I Like You as a hot mess. Her pages were in such a state of disarray, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer obscurity of it all. I didn't even know where to begin. For example, there were times when something that looked like it should be referenced first happened to be on the opposite page to far right. That, or, I had to flip to page 256 in order to understand the method to her madness or impromptu picture. Either way, I have never felt so challenged by a cookbook.

Despite my inability to swallow fifty pages at a time, I do find I Like You wonderful to read in small doses. Her biting sense of humor is hidden in the most unexpected places, such as with page 44. Amy encloses her mindless babble in a neat little box that hangs in the far left of the page, which has nothing to do with the surrounding contents. She writes, amidst the salad and tartar sauce recipes, "Two Fishhook incidents: 1. My friend's mother saw her cat swallow a fishhook in the shed. Rather than see the cat suffer, she shot it in the back of the head with a gun. 2. My sister had a fishhook hanging in her shower. She slipped and the hook went through her lip. The only good thing is that it plumped up her thin lips for a while." These stories are random, obscure, and quite uncomfortable on their own. Perhaps they aren't even true. However, having them lopped in with how to toss a salad and optional menu suggestions, the randomness of the story makes them quite funny due to their unexpectedness.

I do admit that my ADD might play a part in my disability of charging through the book like a time-pressed student, but I think her collage of insanity is purposeful. She wants us to flip through her pages and search out her little Easter eggs of mental instability so we could appreciate the book as a whole, and not for the little recipes that my collie could churn out (really, he's quite talented. He's mastered 'sit' and 'down' in English, Spanish, Latin, Polish, and Dutch.) I could easily say a cookbook is good for one thing, improvisation. For example: Uh oh, dinner guests are coming and this skirt steak will just be dang boring on a salad... oh, I know! Let's ask Paula what she would do with it (Answer: four sticks of butter.) We can't easily flip to the index, find the dinner we want, and then go to the page where its featured. By doing this, it is easy to assume that some people haven't even read the entire contents of their cookbooks. With I Like You the sheer insanity of the text is what makes the reader want to sit down and flip through every page. Her book is meant to be read as a whole. It's simply cannot be described as a reference book, where one utilizes one page probably once a month. I have to admit Amy was quite clever with this, and although I feel as though my brain exploded due to all the random facts such as cooking chicken wings while inebriated to removing urine stains with household appliances, I have finally found a cookbook that I will be more inclined to reach for whenever I am in a famished bind.

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