I had a professor of modern literature in college who was a self-professed “Hemingway expert”. I’m not much for self-professed experts in anything and this old coot certainly rubbed me the wrong way. His lectures were interminable. He droned on in perfect monotone as students dropped off to sleep across the class. He began the year by telling each of us, in his earnest tweedy professor way, that there were no rights or wrongs in his class. Opinions were what counted. You would be graded on how well you expressed them.
There are events in everyone’s life that sometimes take on an emotional importance spectacularly out of proportion to their physical limits. When they happen they start innocently, sneaking up on you without the slightest warning. Sometimes it begins with a look, sometimes a feeling, sometimes a smell or sound or stray thought. They sit there in the cob webby back corner of your mind, unimportant and nearly intangible before suddenly blossoming into something very important. It happens frightfully fast – almost thunderously really – like one of those time-lapse photographs of a flower suddenly blooming in the bright spring sun. They start with a wonderful tingling sensation at the back of your neck and end with the certainty that this is a moment, a memory, that will stick with you until you die.
I go through fads in my reading. For a while I read almost nothing but detective or spy novels. Techno, noir, crime, or dark comedy, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the wonderful atmosphere that those books seemed to have. I read entire collections of some authors–Le Carre, Higgins, Deighton, and Greene among others.
When I had tired of that genre it was on to travel, or technology, or some other thing. These days my tastes have run to food writing (no pun intended). The way people write about food is very sensuous. There are hundreds of words cooking (again no pun intended) up imaginary visages of wonderful meals and cozy kitchens. I can sit and read magazines, books, menus, even bottles and boxes to get my minimum daily requirement of atmosphere. Besides, it dovetails nicely with my current obsession with food in general.