A tale of crime and cooking

A glance around most bookshops would suggest what Elizabeth Farrelly's publishing friend says more bluntly: not much sells besides cookery and crime.

This had me wondering what lies behind the appeal of both, and if there's a connection between them. If there is, I think it might have something to do with the satisfaction of appetites. An appetite, on the one hand, for adventure, justice, revelation, restoration, above all, perhaps, for story; and on the other, not simply for food, but for creativity, community, husbandry, bounty. Perhaps they offer simpler satisfactions than the more intellectually challenging works that languish on the shelves, but the appetites they satisfy are not in themselves unhealthy or untoward.

Yet if these appetites are perennial, why do they drive the book market now in a way they haven't before? Perhaps because we live in an age of satisfaction. If the Rolling Stones couldn't get none, we can get plenty, usually at the swipe of a card or the click of a button. And if the Stones' idea of satisfaction was too lofty (which seems doubtful), ours is simple enough. In an age where our wealth lets us gratify our wishes more readily than ever, our wishes are more than ever commensurate to what money can buy.

That's the cynical view I suppose. We like crime novels and cookbooks because they meet most simply our simplest needs. The other view might be that our simplest needs tell us more about ourselves than our more complex needs. That if the alternative to crime and cooking is smudgy, plotless literary fiction that matters terribly in some way we don't quite understand, or literary non-fiction that rambles over wide terrain without arriving anywhere, then maybe crime and cooking offer more genuine assistance with our project of human being.

To support such a view, Toni Morrison might be summoned. “For me, Art is the restoration of order. It may discuss all sorts of terrible things, but there must be satisfaction at the end. A little bit of hunger, but also satisfaction.”