Correspondence

The Skinny on the Pulps

In the days before my life became a perpetual holiday, there was always the pair of inquisitive Italians across the table who wanted to know why I had chosen to live in London. They saw I was a writer, and an unambitious one at that; why not live in Italy? They saw I liked eating; allora, why England?

I would invariably reply that British publishing is like Italian food, with large morning newspapers and interesting small-circulation weeklies playing the part of fresh ingredients. Private Eye, I would say, is our buffalo mozzarella. The Times is our De Cecco, our daily dread, our pastasciutta. All sentimental at the mention of foodstuffs, they nodded encouragement. That was the moment to fix them with my most solemn stare and to argue that newspapers create the necessary conditions for writing by marking out the cultural median above which the actual cooking, as it were, takes place. Everything else is just kitchen machinery, sieves, and graters.

I am still proud of the analogy, for the reason alluded to in one of my earlier communications from Rome. Italian food is palpable proof and variegated illustration of the notion that it is supply (which is another word for God and may assume the form of tradition, talent, or the weather), not demand (which usually assumes the form of money), that makes a thing good. The world's better mousetraps are invented by capricious eccentrics...

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