Every now and then I come across a book that is so intelligent, so original, and so evocative that I find it more stimulating than the Internets. I don’t mean that in general I prefer the internets to books, but studies show that electronics like computers and TVs do stimulate us in very primitive, reptilian-brain sorts of ways: the bright lights, the sounds, the constantly changing inputs. In this sense, books can’t compete. They’re consistent in appearance, they’re quiet, they don’t change over time. We read them quietly and they entertain or educate us quietly, politely.
But every so often I’ll read a book that just captures my attention so much that it’s as if I’m on the internet — I’m totally fascinated and stimulated. I just started reading Mike Madison’s Blithe Tomato, and it is such a book. I fell in love with it by page 8, and I’m now on page 80, and even more in love. Madison is a flower farmer (and the brother of noted cookbook author and restaurateur Deborah Madison). The cover says the book is “an insider’s wry look at farmers’ market society,” but really it’s a collection of Madison’s riffs and musings on being a farmer and living the life he does. It’s completely captivating.
It occurs to me that I could learn quite a lot about writing from this book, too. I feel very much, while reading Madison’s essays, that he has managed to convey in his non-verbose way just exactly what’s in his mind: from the thoughts of a clear-minded, clear-acting person come equally clear and unwasteful words. Each of the “essays” in the book is quite short, but it’s a concise gem of humor and profundity, and yet wholly without flourishes. To my mind, this is what writing ought to be: the most precise and most direct translation of thoughts to words. End of story. And yet I’m always caught up in the twisting tunnels of my thoughts, and so too, my words go astray, too many and too broad to convey just exactly what I’m thinking of.
The book is 199 pages. I can steep myself in clear writing and clear thinking for more evenings yet.