Masters of Prose Style- F. Gonzalez-Crussi

May 12, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Posted in writing | 5 Comments
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What it is that first inspired Mexicans to relish murderous hot peppers, like dainties, may be discussed without profit until the end of time. It was not an epicurean tendency. The first man who made a habit of eating them could not have been in a state of mind to agree with Epicurus that “voluptuousness is the supreme good”.  No;  to decide that these acrid, flaming, scorching plants are edible, one must be in some extreme state, where all thoughts are for self-preservation, or for self-denial. A balanced or sedate disposition never would have dreamed of such cookery.

On the other hand, the nature of these sauces comported with the spirit and temper of my father.

(from “The Five Senses” by F Gonzalez-Crussi. Link is to Mr Gonzalez-Crussi’s agent.)

Formerly Head of Laboratories at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital and Professor of Pathology at Northwestern Medical School, Frank Gonzalez-Crussi is the author of ten books all of which display great wit, erudition and insight and a style unrivalled in elegance and precision.


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  1. wow, from a med pro person this is astonishing but i wonder how wide the vista can be from that perspective, perhaps suggested in the excerpt that ends with a kinda freudian thing. i do know that in the cuisines of india for example, hot peppers and spices were employed to cover the gamey smell/taste of rotting meats, which even tho ‘gone bad’ still retain their proteins. the ‘extreme state’ described was possibly simply hunger, something the doctor may not know enough about
    He is an extraordinary writer, Tipota. The first sentence of the second paragraph is so perfectly timed and constructed that it somehow throws light backwards over the first beautifully made paragraph. I am going to make this an occasional series because I have been having a debate over at HTML Giant about the negative impact the internet is having on prose style. People seem to have forgotten that there is such a thing.

  2. Thanks Paul – I’m grappling with prose at the moment for my book, and extracts like this make me realise how truly complex, exact and nuaced ‘good’ prose is…so this post is both inspiring and gutting…Think I might give up 😦
    Oh no! Don’t give up, Maxine. I read your piece and it was great. Prose style is such a slippery thing, less is more is often the rule. One trick I use is to have one rewrite just to eliminate as many commas as possible. It sounds strange but it has a surprising and positive impact.

  3. What a funny description. I love the word cookery.
    It seemed quite normal til you mentioned it, now it seems strange. The power of Ms Squirrellery.

  4. oh yes without a doubt the writing is extraordinary, it surprised me that balance and sedateness would or could be a determining factor when it comes to chili peppers, but i see that is part of the magic, thanks! and especially for doing this kind of series, hooray!
    Hooray, you’re welcome.

  5. I have just taken a look at the intros to Mr Gonzalez-Crussi’s writing. I must immediately procure one of his books. Thanks, Paul.
    I have most of them and they’re all great, Brad. You can find them in second hand book shops everywhere, although his agents probably wouldn’t like me saying that.

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