We had someone new join the team.
This is always exciting.
He asked if there were any books he should read to get more information: about our stack, about our competititive landscape, about our history.
Naturally, because I am an earnest but unhelpful coworker, I suggested Kitchen Confidential, because like everyone else in the world I downloaded the audiobook after Anthony Bourdain’s passing and fell in love with it.
Kitchen Confidential is a messy book, mostly by design. It’s saturated with machismo (whose self-awareness and self-affacement doesn’t quite temper it) and repeats itself in parts and places, jumping out of time and context like an enthusiastic but jittery friend who can’t wait to fill you in on everything that happened since your last encounter.
Kitchen Confidential is also a terrific book.! It contains so many things that I think about now whilst desk-bound:
The part of the book that approaches greatness, though, and the thing I think about most of all, is The Life of Bryan, where Bourdain discards the past few hundred pages he spent telling you everything he knew about kitchens — about misanthropy, about blood and blisters, coke and chaos:
The whole world of cooking is not my world, contrary to what impression I might have given you in the preceding pages. Truth be told, I bring a lot of it with me. Hang out in the Veritas kitchen, take a hard look at Scott Bryan’s operation, and you will find that everything I’ve told you so far is wrong, that all my sweeping generalities, rules of thumb, preconceptions and general principles are utter bullshit.
It is no coincidence that all my kitchens over time come to resemble one another and are reminiscent of the kitchens I grew up in: noisy, debauched and overloaded with faux testosterone-an effective kitchen, but a family affair, and a dysfunctional one, at that.
This is a powerful idea, and one that I can’t pithily sum up in a paragraph or two! The idea that so much of our broader understanding of an industry is really just a mixture of self-selection bias and sampling error is important; the idea that the vast majority of developers lead lives and careers alien to our own is important.
Plus, the book’s coda contains this passage, that is just so nice and so beautiful and is worth the price of admission alone:
Writing anything is a treason of sorts. Even the cold recitation of facts is never the thing itself. And the events described are somehow diminished in the telling. A perfect bowl of bouillabaisse, that first, all-important oyster, plucked from the Bassin d’Arcachon, both are made cheaper, less distinct in my memory, once I’ve written about them. Whether I missed a few other things, or described them inadaquately, like the adventures of the Amazing Steven Tempel, or my Day in the Life, are less important. Our movements through time and space seem somehow trivial compared to a heap of boiled meat in broth, the smell of saffron, garlic, fishbones and Pernod.
I don’t begrudge anyone who reads a book on Scala design patterns, nor do I begrudge the person who would rather spend his off-time playing Mario Tennis (which I still need to download).
But if you want to become a better developer, and you want to do it by reading books, and you ask me what books you should read, I am going to recommend that you read The Odyssey. And Ogilvy on Advertising. And The Fire Next Time. And The Elements of Color. And maybe some Murakami and Vonnegut, sure. And Claudia Rankine and Herman Melville and René Girard and Italo Calvino. And Plath and DuBois and McCullough and García Márquez.
(But before that, of course, Kitchen Confidential.)
I hope you learn a new thing from an old book.