Friday, January 15, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, redux, and The Swan Thieves

Jana spoke of Alan Bradley's TSATBOTP earlier, and since I just finished it myself (read her copy, in fact), I'll share my thoughts quickly: it's a fun mystery with interestingly drawn characters--lots of fabulous English eccentrics. Nice melancholic postwar feel (truly moving on shellshock and postcombat trauma); nice potrayal of how grief affects families; nice analysis of the British tendency to repress emotion. Also, the author does a fine job of portraying the delicate balance between violence and affection that exists among sisters. Finally, the wildness, intelligence, and scariness of Flavia are great; it's great the author was unsentimental and clear-eyed in his portrayal of the positive and negative aspects of girls around 12-13 years of age. In sum, the book is a lot of fun to read; am looking forward to more books in the series.

However, I have a query. In conversation with Flavia, Inspector Hewitt quotes something:

"'Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,
Who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?'"

Crack research reveals that this is from William King, The Art of Cookery (1708). Crack research does not reveal exactly what the quote means, however. Merriam-Webster's collegiate defines crinkling as follows:

intransitive verb
1 a : to form many short bends or ripples b : WRINKLE
2 : to give forth a thin crackling sound : RUSTLE *crinkling silks*
transitive verb : to cause to crinkle : make crinkles in

Unless there's sweetness at the bottom of the pie, who cares if -- it's ornately fashioned and crinkled? Who cares if it's a fancy, pretty pie if it's not sweet? There's no point in thinking a pie is going to be good just because it looks good? I do not know. Neither Flavia nor I can parse this.

[ETA: I went and reread the "boring" part of the definition: the etymology:
Etymology:Middle English crynkelen; akin to Old English cringan to yield
Date:14th century

So, perhaps: If the pie yields no sweetness, what's the point of it? Er. I need an OED at home.

I'm reading Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves, and I'm enjoying it a lot so far. Two things that have nothing to do with the book itself (I'll save those thoughts):

1. Release date was January 12. I was in a local discountish type store on January 8 or 9, however, and to my JOY, JOY, JOY, I saw the book on the shelves. I have been waiting for this book for a while. I loved The Historian; I really like Kostova's precise, measured descriptions; they have lots of lovely detail but never feel out of control or overdone. So when I saw the new one in the store, I was, again, elated. However, when I got it to the cash register, a message flashed on the screen: "Not to be sold until January 12." I said to the cashier, "But can't you just type in the price?" (Okay, no, it was not right to try to pressure her to sell the book, I do know that, but you see, I WANTED IT VERY MUCH), and she said in return that she did not know how to type in the price. Readers, let us assume she was telling a white lie intended to make me STFU and not that she was truly incapable of the feat of typing in a price and a 30 percent discount.

Anyway, at this point, the manager was called, and as we waited for her to arrive, everyone in line behind me thought about how very, very much (I imagine) they hated my guts. Finally, the mgr came over, and I waited to hear what would be decided. The mgr mumbled some things to the cashier, tucked the much-coveted book under her arm, and then began to sidle away. I thought I heard a dim "I'm sorry . . ." coming from her direction, but I'm not sure, since she made no effort to establish eye contact with me or to speak directly to me. That annoyed me, so I said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute--what's with the 'I'm sorry's? What's going on?" just to force her to talk to me. Finally, it was explained that I could not yet buy the book owing to blah blah blah etc. etc. Publication dates as they relate to agreements between vendors and publishers was probably what she was talking about, but it was hard to understand bec. I was too busy being annoyed and embarrassed and sad, because I had held the book in my hand and now it was being taken from me!

Anyway, when the explanation was over and it was official and obvious that they were not going to sell the book to me, there was nothing else to say except, "Well, then, I suggest that you TAKE THE BOOKS OFF THE SHELVES, BECAUSE THERE ARE A LOT OF THEM OUT THERE," and this idea was met with agreement. As I left the store, the non-eye-contact-loving manager already was on the phone with the offending dept.

Yes, I know. They really could and should not have sold the book. I feel bad for the person who made the mistake and put the book out too early; she or he might be in trouble now. We all make mistakes. A stitch in time saves nine. Life is a vale of tears. It's just that I held it in my grubby, covetous hands, and I could have had it early, and then it was taken away. That was hard.

2. So I went straight home and decided to pre-order the book on Kindle (to arrive on the 12th). But lo and behold, readers, there is a wrinkle in e-book paradise: Publishers are sometimes NOT making new releases available until a few mos. after the release date of the hard copy. Thus, I could not get Agassi's Open on time; thus, I could not get The Swan Thieves until April. I'm very glad to have it now (in hard copy), however.


  1. Have you considered that the quote "'Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,Who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?'" means: as long as there is not disguised poison in a pie, it will be tasty even if it is not perfect looking?