The vast majority of Americans have never eaten proper Camembert cheese. Sure, there are plenty of little wheels stacked in shops nationwide, labeled “Camembert.” They’re creamy, earthy, and just a little pungent; they taste fine. But they lack the subtle microbial punch and complexity of the Camembert found in France. And it’s not just Camembert: Most Americans have also never tasted the full potential of proper Brie, Epoisses, or Roquefort, among the highlights of any cheese snob’s must-have list, or even the better types of mozzarella, the most popular cheese in America.
This isn’t an elitist most people think they’re drinking champagne but it’s only real if it comes from Champagne, France critique. The opinions of protectionist European regulators aside, there are plenty of legitimate varieties of Brie or Camembert or what have you in the States. Still, you cannot find their most desirable variants, even at the most cultured American cheese monger’s shop, because many of the world’s most fascinating and sought after cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk, aged less than 60 days, which the feds deem so dangerous that it’s illegal to make them in or import them into the United States. And this rule is not arcane. It is enforced.
The reference-book approach has had its critics from the start. The 17th-century philosopher John Locke complained that verse divisions so “chop’d and minc’d” the sacred text that readers “take the Verses usually for distinct Aphorisms” rather than reading them as a whole. But only now have publishers begun in earnest to offer a radically different kind of Bible consumption experience. The concept is to present the Bible in a form that is meant to be consumed as a multi-course meal, not a “chop’d and minc’d” sampler platter. These “Reader’s Bibles” strip away footnotes, sidebars, and chapter and verse divisions; text typically appears in a single column and is formatted to represent each passage’s true genre, rather than making all the books look the same.
When someone asks you to perform a task, there are many ways to say yes. Yes, for one. There’s also yep, yeah, yea, yup, ya, yessir, you bet, alright, alrighty, absolutely, of course, gladly, sounds good, will do, no problem, aye aye, roger, totally, definitely, and, if you are a trucker, 10-4.
Then, there is my absolute least favorite affirmative phrase: sure. Not to be confused with “sure thing” (folksy, casual) or “for sure” (loose, stoned), sure is a word that makes my skin prick, my eye twitch. Sure is used as “yes,” though it never means “yes.” Sure is a thumbs up to your face, and a jerkoff motion behind your back. Sure says “if I must.” Sure is the Mars Rover of passive aggression — an envoy to see how far you can really go before the other person snaps and says, “You know what, you’re being an asshole.”
The Devil’s Highway accounts for some thousands of years of human history in very slightly more than 200 pages, a feat of compression managed by three interwoven timelines, alternating chapter by chapter and linked through the presence of a real Roman road – the titular highway – which in our day can still be followed from Sunningdale in Berkshire, across the Blackwater river, to Silchester and beyond.
The playful seriousness of Morton’s prose mixes references to Blade Runner and Tibetan Buddhism with lyrics from Talking Heads and concepts from German philosophers. He doesn’t offer a plan to make society more environmentally friendly; instead, in what is an inspiringly idealistic book, he calls for a paradigm shift in our relationship to the world.