Friday, April 6, 2012

Not just redundancy...

In the last entry, I talked about the significant redundancy in a paragraph from an otherwise terrific cookbook called Cookwise written by food scientist Shirley Corriher. Even fixing the redundancy doesn't entirely solve this paragraph's problems, though. To prove it, here's a version with the redundancies edited out:
Mixing methods play a major role in cake texture. Frequently there are no real rights or wrongs in cooking, as "right" is often a matter of personal preference. From the very beginning you may as well do some soul searching and decide what kind of a cake person you really are. Do you love... [various styles of cake are compared].

What is the purpose of the first sentence in that paragraph? The first sentence is about mixing methods. The rest of the paragraph focuses on the idea that there are many different kinds of cake and it's up to you to decide which kind you like best. If you're not convinced yet the first sentence doesn't belong where it is, look at the next paragraph:

If lightness is your first concern, you should choose a mixing method...that gives prime importance to volume and aeration. [...] On the other hand, if you are a texture person, you should choose the two-stage method....

I think the first sentence of the first quoted paragraph belongs at the beginning of the second quoted paragraph instead of where it appears in the book. If you rearrange the text that way, you get:

Paragraph 1: There's more than one way to make a perfectly good cake, but different methods produce different results.

Paragraph 2: Mixing methods play a major role in how the cake comes out, so if you want a specific kind of cake, you'll have to pay careful attention to the order in which you mix the ingredients.

The rest of this cookbook is, in my opinion, much better written. I have to wonder if these two paragraphs are the result of a last-second rewrite, or something. They have a quality I associate with first drafts: good ideas presented in an order that feels awkward and disconnected from each other, and from the surrounding material. In short, it's writing that says, "I put this sentence here because that's where the cursor was when I thought of that sentence." In a first draft, that's fine. In a published book, I consider it embarrassing.

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