The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

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    So did you like my book? A strangely satisfying compliment.

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 23, 2008

    From my friend Tim Layman, about my book: “It’s not that like I was expecting not to like it. But I was surprised how much I did.”

    Have had other double-edged compliments like that. From Seth: “I’m not even interested in Chinese food! But I liked your book.”

    Or this e-mail from my good friend Adam (who felt guilty he didn’t read the draft chapters until they were a galley). Some context. Adam used to be somewhat dismissive of my book (he likes to say, he was not atheist, he was just agnostic. Whatever. He used to say things like, “Jenny! You’re writing a book on Chinese food!” So this is an email from around Christmas (ignore the typos).

    Seriously, the book is an incredibly well-organized, fluid assemblage of information, from the very detailed to the very general, with some very good one-liners. And there is clearly a trustworthy, authoritative author. Your Chineeseness is there, in the background, without making the book an annoying lesson in identity. (Like the food you write about, your voice has been adapted for American tastes.) Without being preachy or teachy, you do a very good job of educating the reader. It’s a fun class, basically, on a wide range of subjects (economics, class, trade, culture). The bottom line, I guess, is that it’s a smart book, and I confess, I wasn’t prepared for that, but I’m very, very happy for you, and proud of you, that it is that. With all the traveling, and jokes we’ve made (and the light material in some chapters), I thought of it as candy, but having learned so much from it (or having been reminded of things that I assumed I knew, but hadn’t focussed on), I see that it’s meatier than meets the eye.

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