An Ode to Toast


One of the marks of good writing — for me at least — is the ability to take a fairly mundane subject, and give it a treatment that draws the reader in, via clever use of tone, or lyrical use of language, or some other method.

You know, like James Lileks does nearly every damn day of his life.

So this morning I was on the website of the Chicago Tribune, and saw this link: Why toast matters.

First thought: “hmm, that sounds pretty stupid”.

I moved on. But later I saw the link again, and I clicked it, almost in spite of myself.

And it was a very well-written piece about … toast. This is the section that hooked me:

Toast, glorious toast, that most minimalist of meals, the Philip Glass of the breakfast table, an olfactory siren song to rival brother bacon and sister coffee, be it named Melba or Texas, be it smeared with strawberry jam or butter or cream cheese or Vegemite or cinnamon or sugar or low-fat peppered apple chutney, be it used for a BLT or as an urgent dispatch from the Virgin Mary, be it celebrated as milk toast by M.F.K. Fisher (“a warm, mild, soothing thing, full of innocent strength”) or as an ideal snack by Elwood Blues (“dry, white toast, please”)—toast is the most democratic of breakfast foods, a morning reminder that even the most staid of loaves and stale of slices can awaken with golden promise. And like most democratic institutions, it’s taken for granted. Yet without toast—without even the promise of crisp wedges—breakfast feels gaunt, wanting, lacking.

Toast is not to be taken lightly.

The darker the better. Lately, however, I’ve noticed far too many restaurants letting their commitment to this breakfast foundation slide—they warm it without quite toasting it (or heaven forbid, microwave it), or they let it to go limp, or use weak bread, or slice it too thin, or forget it entirely. Surely there are more important issues in this life—but you know, I’m not so sure anymore. I prescribe to the Broken Toast theory of breakfast, which, much like Rudy Giuliani and the Broken Window theory of big city crime, states that once our obligation to toast goes neglected everything else heads south soon enough.

That first sentence is almost an entire paragraph. Strike one. Followed by a paragraph of seven words. Strike two. Would a high school English teacher get out the red pen? I don’t even know, because I know very little about formal grammar, and even in high school and college, I always did well in writing exercises without the benefit of understanding grammar theory very well. For me at least, the written word just reads well, or it doesn’t. So when I write, I try to write something I’d want to read.

And this piece, by Christopher Borrelli, works. It has a pace, and a style, that made me want to keep reading it. And this is what good writing is all about, right?

So congrats to Mr. Borrelli. That’s a fine piece of writing, right there.

Take it from me, a grammar expert moron.


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