Saturday, June 11, 2011


Surfacing from a deep sleep this morning I slowly came into the remembrance that there's a freeing-up of life that's happened. And why? Because yesterday I carried the manuscript of RIVERS OF FLAVOR, the Burma book I've been working on for two years, to the fedEx office and sent it off to New York City and Ann Bramson's desk at Artisan. I feel lightened, for sure. But I also had a slight shakiness yesterday, almost a psychological equivalent of the shaking-legs-after-a-big-effort feeling. That has now gone. And the feeling of "should" and "ought to" which is necessary for getting things done, but can be oppressive, we can all agree, has lifted for now.

It's Saturday morning. I'm in bicycling shorts and heading out to Brickworks Market on my bicycle. The day will unfold as it unfolds. And I will try not to think "I should" about anything!

On the other hand lurking in the shadows is a list of "should"s, starting with the need to take hold of my office and indeed the whole house. I'm talking about cleaning and tidying up and organising. These fits come upon us at turning points, don't you think? And there are more things to do for the book. There is some recipe retesting, but that's easy and unpressured.

Bigger things still: I have the Glossary to do. It might seem like a dictionary-writing kind of chore, but I enjoy it. It's a chance to pull threads of information together and to give the book a solid factual anchor. I also have a back section to write which I am calling Burma Over Time. It's a bit of a chronology/history that incorporates references to the writings of others: historians, memoirists, travel writers, from earlier times and from the present. I want the book to have a political and historical context, but I don't want the brilliant food culture of Burma to be burdened by the politics. That's why it's going at the back.

And the last and most fun part I have left to do is the photographs. Photos are so important to me. Why aren't there any in this blog? I can hear you wondering. Well I think they're wonderful, and give us windows into other places and people and dreams and ideas. But sometimes mixing photos and text, interrupting text with photos is what I mean, does both a disservice.

I do love photos with captions. You can get lost in the image, or read the captions, or both, but there's a balance, and they are meant to work together in a complementary way. It's rare for the same thing to work with text.

Photos are attention grabbers. The steady processing-ideas kind of attention that is needed to engage with writing is shoved aside by the immediacy of apprehension that we have when our eyes alight on a photograph. We see and feel it, and then perhaps we also start to conceptualise about it and engage with deeper more continuous reflective thought, but the first hit, if I can call it that, lies outside the steadiness of reflective thought, for sure, and pushes it aside.

I hadn't thought I'd be writing about this photogrpahy-writing connection and disconnection today. It's just arisen as I contemplate the process of organising my Burma images in a digital data base, and then pulling those that I want to submit for the book.

You might wonder about why then I think photos will work in the Burma book. Well there, as with Hot Sour Salty Sweet and the other four-colour books I've done, the text is in pieces, so text and photos work with each other, like an assemblage of colours and patterns in a quilt.

But in a longer piece of writing I do believe that photos are a disruption. The exception I think proves the rule. That exception is Sebald's work. In his books there are small un-pushy black and white images occasionally. Because they are not road-hog photos, not attention-grabbers, but instead quiet, they don't shout out in the text, and instead are there to be discovered. They're also integral to the text, a complement to what he is writing about; instead of taking us away, they take us more deeply into the thoughts and reflections he is pulling us into. He was a genius...

It would be interesting to write a book and include photos, spectacular attention-getting photos, but instead of interleaving them, to have the writing run continuously for the first half, the photos for the second. Or it could be the other way around. The order will have an impact, but it doesn't really matter I think. The important thing is that the two ways of seeing and engaging not interrupt each other. Once you've read the book, you engage with the images, or the other way around. AFter you've done both, they can reverberate with each other. hmm

Have you come across any books that have been designed this way?

The sky is overcast, the birds are singing, and it's time to have a long drink and then head out on my bicycle. After all, it's the first day of the rest of my life!


kerrdelune said...

I am so looking forward to this book!

Ann said...

So looking forward to working with you and getting to see more of you.

Blooming Kitchen said...

Yay...Burmese cookbook! A friend of mine told me that you are writing about Burmese cookbook. Thank you so much!
I recently came back from Burma. I went back for the first time in 15 years. Here are some pictures from my trip.