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Pizza Napoletana!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2003

    Sabotaged by the Designer

    As a long-time self-taught pizza chef--I've been struggling for 20 years or so--I'm always immediately attracted to any new book on pizzas. I keep hoping one of them will give me the secret of perfectly round disks of dough (mine usually resemble Australia) or, failing that, offer me fresh tips and little entertainment. Pamela Sheldon Johns has worked hard at that, and to some extent she's succeeded. She's also been sabotaged by the pretensions of the person who designed her book. Johns has done a good job of research; she's clearly gone to Naples instead of the Internet. And Naples is the font of real pizza. When I say 'real' I am excluding those culinary crimes that come from franchise operations whose sole claim to fame is rapid delivery. I am also excluding that catastrophe known as 'Chicago pizza,' which in truth is nothing more than 'bread with glop baked on it.' And so we learn about authentic ingredients--the right flour for the dough (and how to compensate for the fact that we can't get it here), the best tomatoes, the best cheese. We learn which kinds of pizza are now officially protected species in Italy (this is a complicated bit of legislation best left for Johns to explain). We get a good selection of nicely chosen recipes. So what's to complain about? Well, the truth is this book is hard to read. Johns, like most cookbook writers (most specialists of any kind, for that matter) is not exactly a gifted stylist. OK, I can forgive the cheap trickery inspired by a too-long subscription to Writer Magazine ('Whipping in and out of the narrow alleys of Naples, weaving through traffic that blared a cacaphony of sounds, going down one-way streets the wrong way and against red lights, and amid the somewhat, and thankfully, incomprehensible words of the taxi driver slung out the window to his driving adversaries, I mustered the courage and vocabulary to ask . . . what is your favorite pizza?' I can even put up with 'Of all the components [pizza crust] is the simple combination of flour, water, salt and yeast that makes it unique' (it comes so tantalyzingly close to making sense!). But so what? She tells us how to make really good pizza and doesn't waste much time in doing it. The saboteur here is the designer, who believes books are to be looked at and admired rather than read and used. The photos are plentiful and attractive. The overall presentation is handsome. But it's hard to read. There's no excuse for using 8-point type (ordinary newspaper size) and for spacing the lines so far apart. The ink should be black, not wimpy gray. The ingredients lists are in eye-straining italics. And whenever possible, tiny italic captions are printed over dark backgrounds. The reasons for this are 1) book designers like pretty, arty productions and 2) type interferes with their desperate, artsy pretensions. Useful type is legible: It tends to be large and black; it tends to be straight-up-and-down Roman, with serifs that contain the letters rather than let them bleed into the background. Type, in short, asserts itself because it is meant for the use and convenience of the reader. Type of the sort seen here--tiny, fussy, dim, vague--expresses the designer's self-regard--and his contempt for the reader.--Bill Marsano is an award-winning writer on wine and spirits, and travel.

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