A Note on Bread and Books

Over the last few days, I’ve been up to my ears in edits of my I Ching book project, this curious novel-of-sorts that has been preoccupying me for seven or eight years now. I’m hoping to get the final manuscript sent off by Christmas, so the next few days will be busy. In between long stints editing, I’ve also been baking bread. I’m not sure at the moment how the fiction is going, but the bread (sourdough with poppy seeds) seems to be doing well. Here’s what I found when I came downstairs this morning…

White Sourdough with Poppy Seeds
White Sourdough with Poppy Seeds

The bread was a bit more vigorous than I had expected it to be. It is lucky that I didn’t get up any later, as I think it might have taken over the entire kitchen. Anyway, I managed to wrestle the thing into submission, fashion it into loaves and rolls to prove, and then to stick it in the oven. Then I went back to the writing whilst it did its thing and the smell of baking spread through the house. An hour or so later, the bread was done, and I’m pleased to say that it was excellent.

But the reason that I mention any of this is that I recently stumbled across a nice little link between these two activities of bread-making and fiction by way of etymology. Because — strange as it may seem — both come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, *dheigh, which means “to form”, “to shape” or “to knead”. I’m not sure what lessons to draw from this, if any; but I like the idea of shaping works of fiction the way that you make loaves — combining the right ingredients, kneading well, then waiting patiently during the successive risings… and it occurs to me now that this I Ching book I’ve been working on is not unlike the monster I found in the kitchen this morning: unable to stay put in its bowl, multiplying outrageously, becoming huge and strange and unmanageable. I can only hope that, once it has passed through the hot ovens of the publishing world, the book tastes as good as the bread did…

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