I attended another Beard on Books reading at the Beard House (remember Herve This?). This time we heard Kathleen Flinn talk about her book The Sharper The Knife The Less You Cry (which is an onion cutting reference).
There something genteel about sitting in a drawing room, that's three double French doors wide, in a Greenwich Village townhouse, during a renowned chef-catered appetizer-laced book reading. (The apps, that I didn’t eat, mais oui cher amis, were prepared by Chef Adam Siegel, of Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee. Truffle was the theme, could it get more decadent?) The audience, small in number, mainly food or publishing related, occupied the rarefied space where it’s completely normal to have a chef come and discuss what he prepared for your amuse bouche and then hear a culinary luminary who’s written a book about some aspect of the food world talk about their experiences, share their knowledge, wisdom, humor about their piece of the world.
It was a lovely lunch hour activity, almost meditative in the green room with a huge portrait of Beard looking down at you. OK, that part’s a little unsettling but the rest was lovely. Super, n'est-ce pas?
In her own words, Ms. Flinn’s book is the story of a “flawed” woman going through a “flawed” institution: The Cordon Bleu in Paris. A journalist working in London, she was made redundant--the English term for being kicked out on your ass--and had to figure out her next step. She decided to pursue a life-long, seemingly unreachable dream, of attending the Cordon Bleu school in Paris, not speaking fluent French nor being able to cook. This book details how Flinn went from dreamer to doer: her battles with the Grey Chef (her school nemesis), the French language, the ingredients and techniques of culinary school.
You can listen to her talk here at NPR and you can read an excerpt here.
However, a word about the live reading at the Beard House. If perchance Ms. Flinn’s editor at Viking Press reads this or her agent or even the publicity assistant, please let Ms. Flinn know that 20 minutes of “Thank You’s” as if this were her personal Oscars show is not only not necessary, nor appropriate but is boring and told us nothing about the book i.e. the product the author is there to sell. A reading is nothing more than a sales pitch, a teaser, a taste of the product, which hopefully you like enough to buy. Ms. Flinn’s litany included thanking her husband for marrying her and whom she pointed out in the audience after telling us that her mother told her at 36 she had no hope of getting married. She then became verklempt: teared up. This was too confessional at a reading about this journalist’s time in Le Cordon Bleu. Don’t get me wrong, I love confessional poetry, Sharon Olds, a goddess, seriously. But this outpouring felt disingenuous, it did not win us, her audience, over. In fact it had the opposite effect: I sympathized with her agent, who, upon reading Flinn's first proposal draft said, “Your main character is unlikable.”