I am not a regular reader of non-fiction. Even those cookbooks and design books and coffee table books I ‘read’ only because I have to, because I bought them, or they got given to me, and I feel bad for not reading them. The non-fiction I do read tends to be a collection of articles by fiction authors I already read – Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, William Gibson, Chuck Palahniuk, that sort. So when it came time for me to read Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti, I was, for a moment, taken aback to discover it was a collection of essays and not, as I had originally thought, a collection of short stories.
But there must have been a reason I picked up this book in the first place. Something in the first few sentences must have caught me, and intrigued me. Plus, I continued to pick it up in bookstores, even after I had bought it. Thank goodness I have GoodReads to remind me that yes, this book already awaits me on my shelf.
And yes, nevermind that it clearly says “essays” on the front cover. Somehow I must have missed it. Still, it wasn’t a coffee table book, and so I dived gleefully into Paterniti’s words, wondering what would await me.
Love and Other Ways of Dying? Yes. It’s about love. It’s about ways of dying. It’s about life. It’s about living. Never have I known that articles – non-fiction journalistic articles – could be written so beautifully, evolving like a story you want to dig deep into, even the horrifying ones, the sad ones, the heart breaking ones. I devoured each and every sentence and wished I had the time to sit in a quiet corner and consume this book.
Paterniti writes the way I would love to write, and I have no doubt that it will influence whatever I write from now on, even if it’s just in the tiniest ways, on a seemingly simple recipe. And the way Paterniti writes about food? I wanted to make a reservation at El Bulli and secretly thanked my lucky stars while also being disappointed to find out it’s permanently closed. I also Googled Ortolan, the small, musical bird banned to be eaten but still finds its way to exclusive and highly expensive meals. I can’t deny I am curious about it, but would rather the bird reach a non-endangered level before trying it for myself.
But the fact that Paterniti makes you curious, makes you want to find out more about things – real stories, real people – from the way he writes, that’s the magic he brings to his essays. All he really needs to do now, to be honest, is compile more of them into another book. Yes, so I can read it. But in the mean time, a search reveals a number of his articles on the GQ website. That’s what I’ll read when I feel the need for some inspiration to my writing. Thank you Michael Paterniti, for showing me what journalism can and should really be about.