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The happiness of getting it down right: cooking and books

March 21, 2009

recipesIan McEwan said a lovely thing in a long profile of him in the New Yorker the other day, about the deep pleasure of writing a good sentence  (what William Maxwell, I believe, described as “the happiness of getting it down right” in a letter to his friend, the short story writer Frank O’Connor – such a good phrase it’s the title of the beautiful collection of letters between them).

McEwan puts it this way:

“You spend the morning, and suddenly there are seven or eight words in a row. They’ve got that twist, a little trip, that delights you. And you hope they will delight someone else. And you could not have foreseen it, that little row. They often come when you’re fiddling around with something that’s already there. You see that by reversing a word order or taking something out, suddenly it tightens into what it was always meant to be.”

As I was copying this out for my noticeboard (I especially love the last line – exactly what it feels like, I reckon, when you get a bit down right) it occurred to me that perhaps this is a good description of the pleasure of cooking well, or any other kind of creative act, for that matter: that happy merging of skill, careful attention, luck, and discovery, as well as knowing when to leave things alone, that happens when you’re deeply absorbed in a creative task for no other reason than the pleasure of doing it.

Sigh.

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