Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Miss Manner’s Guide to Reading and Eating

Reading when you eat, and eating when you read is one of life’s true pleasures. Besides, might as well make productive use of our brains while we go about the fairly mindless munching of our food, and so should consider reading at the same time a perfect example of “multitasking”, as it is known in business circles. Eating while reading also serves to quiet the guilt which speaks with your mother’s most irate voice “Don’t you have anything better to do?” whenever you pick up a book.

If carried out correctly, reading while is eating is an inherently unsociable activity. The most unwelcome words you can hear when reading in a public place is “May I join you?” Sadly others don’t take it too kindly if you bare your teeth at them and say, “I was just getting to a good bit,”; but this may be your only option unless you feel like telling them that you have a communicable disease and they’d be safer sat at another table.

It does of course help if you marry a partner who spends half their life buried behind a newspaper, so they won’t be able to claim the higher moral ground when you don’t talk to them during mealtimes at home because you have your nose in a book. Indeed, if both of you read at mealtimes, marital conflict may be avoided altogether. Unless of course your partner insists on reading out loud articles they feel you ought to know about, such as the latest news on the economy or rugby statistics.

Be warned that the calories consumed by reading are not offset by the effort involved in turning the pages (or the occasional round of bookhurling at the partner who insists on reading to you from the paper or soaking your book with the garden hose.) Reading can contribute to obesity if not undertaken in moderation.

Certain foods lend themselves to being consumed by fervent readers. Sandwiches are the most obvious, of course. They were deliberately designed for one-handed eating by the Earl of Sandwich when he did not wish to forsake his card games at mealtimes. However, I must confess that I find lamentable the present day trend for doorstep-sized sandwiches with foliage and mayonnaise spilling out in all directions, by those with scant regard for British tradition. The genuine British sandwich is a dried up slice of cheddar cheese or Spam slapped between two slices of stale white bread, its lack of taste more than outweighed by it’s inherent convenience. Because surely, if you have to eat it with a knife and fork, it defeats the object of ordering a sandwich in the first place?

Noodles are a good choice for readers, provided that you are adept at using chopsticks and don’t baulk at the thought of a few grease spots on your shirt when the noodles splash back into the sauce. HINT: Avoid wearing white if you are planning a prolonged reading session over noodles, or choose the drier noodles dishes: you really can’t do much harm with a plate of Singapore mee hoon. With sufficient practice you should be able to consume an entire plate of noodles without taking your eyes of the page even once. Spaghetti may be consumed in a similar fashion: Marco Polo did steal the idea of pasta from the Chinese after all.

Malay food and Indian banana leaf curries are another possibility. These are eaten with the fingers of your right hand only, leaving your left hand free to hold your book. However, unless you wish to decorate the pages with garlands of chili or pickle, the skill of turning pages with your nose should be acquired with alacrity.

It is also possible to read while eating western food with one hand provided that you abandon your British table manners and cut your food up into bite-sized pieces first, as the Americans do, so that you will not need to look up while reading. (Don’t worry too much about letting your standards drop in this instance: reading is much more important.)

Fries and salad garnishes should always be treated as finger food. Provided you maintain a facial expression of snooty indifference, the locals will accept this as a perfectly acceptable way to eat and you may even find that they emulate you.

It is a foregone conclusion though, that you will not manage to avoid food stains on your book entirely and that the pages with be besmirched, spotted, dotted, splashed, smeared, glued together and otherwise sullied by a variety of edible substances. Fortunately, this enhances rather than detracts from the personal value of the book, particularly if you make a note in the margin of what you were eating and where, alongside each stain. Just imagine the nostalgia you will evoke when you reread your books at a later date.

I like to imagine that after my death, my biographer will scour the books in my private collection (which I will bequeath to some university department or other) to gather clues about my life. DNA tests on all those stains will provide a pretty complete picture of what I ate and, (with a little carbon dating), when.

(Copied from my notebook)


Namra said...

ha! priceless

Anonymous said...

Love it, since i carry a book just about everywhere, thnaks for sending the link again, got in straight away, am emailing my friends in kli unfortunately they are not yet facebookers, will tell them to mention me when they get in touch