October 12, 2008

Butter my words

They say that everything is better with butter. But do the virtues of this cholesterol-ridden, deliciously aromatic fat apply even to literature? Read on:
La Fleur had brought the little print of butter upon a currant leaf; and as the morning was warm, and he had a good step to bring it, he had begg'd a sheet of waste paper to put betwixt the currant leaf and his hand ...
When I had finish'd the butter, I threw the currant leaf out of the window, and was going to do the same by the waste paper--but stopping to read a line first, and that drawing me on to a second and third--I thought it better worth; so I shut the window, and drawing a chair up to it, I sat down to read it.
--Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey
Ah, to be able to write something so captivating, it reads well even when stained with butter!

Of course, for every good writer we discover, there are a bunch of bad ones we don't think about. Jonathan Swift used to poke fun at written (albeit published) material that was bad enough to be recycled into toilet paper. Now is that a sad picture, or what? It's one thing to be stained with butter, but to be tainted with human excrement? That's gotta hurt any writer's pride.