Monday, November 14, 2011

52 Loaves - by William Alexander

As a foodie, and a librarian, I have kept several blogs. My first foray into blogging was a year-long project called My Year of Reading "Year Of" books  in which I commented on books that came from projects such as Alexander's: a one year memoir, or "stunt lit". In this work Alexander documents his efforts in baking one loaf of bread a week for one year. Since my own year-of stunt, er, project  is over, though, (having taken place in 2009) I could not write about this work on that blog. I think when I requested this book from interlibrary loan, I intended to review it on my food blog: "Una Nueva Receta Cada Semana (One New Recipe a Week)" but it lost its spot there as soon as I saw the word "library" used for the first time, which was in the Prologue, on page 2! Alexander describes explaining to a TSA official why he is bringing a sourdough starter, which looks suspiciously like a plastic explosive, onto a plane to Paris. "A thirteen-hundred-year-old monastery in France is expecting this...[t]hey managed to keep science, religion, and the arts alive during the Dark Ages, even risking their lives to protect their library (emphasis mine) from the barbarians who burned everything else in sight. After thirteen centuries, though, they've forgotten how to make bread." Well, there we have it. Libraries are more important than bread. I always knew as much, as clearly the monks did as well. This of course made any other mention of libraries in the work anti-climactic, but in the interest of being complete I include them all here.

It was a good 130 pages later that libraries were mentioned for the second time (to be honest I was beginning to despair that I'd see them again in this work). I was pleased though to see that the author thoughtfully brought a loaf of bread to the librarian at his research institute along with "a long list of interlibrary loan requests" - a nice gesture to someone who is, undoubtedly, underpaid. I did not have to wait nearly as long to find the next mention of libraries: a mere 12 pages later Alexander explains that although he really tried to like one of my favorite books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which he was listening to on CD, he found it "stilted, pedantic, and preachy" and "with genunie horror" realized that his writing was becoming too much like Persig's (at which point he "slammed the lid on the CD case and returned it to the library"). It is a bit ironic, then, that one of the pull quotes on the back of the edition I read says "[w]hat Zen and the Art of Motorcycle  Maintenance did for, well, motorcycles, William Alexander's 52 Loaves will do for bread...." The monastery's library makes a reprise when Alexander finds himself there, and again, explains the importance of preservation of knowledge, and once more when one of the monks informs Alexander that the monastery's library has a signed copy of Patrick Leigh Fermor's memoir A Time to Keep Silence.

These few, though thoughtfully chosen, references to libraries demonstrate yet again the importance of these hallowed institutions in our lives.

I cannot close this post without writing about one other very important thing: coffee. I almost gagged when I read that the monastery used instant coffee, and worse, that our hero was prepared to drink it except that the hot water dispenser "hadn't yet been switched on." Please folks, don't try this at home. See my husband's "Caring for Coffee" page if you want a cup of joe. Perhaps what Alexander did for the monks with bread, James can do with coffee. I don't think I'd mind a trip to Normandy.

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