Thursday, August 11, 2011

Because the Bottle Looks Classy

The heirloom tomatoes are beautiful. The basil leaves are bright and fragrant. I was out of olive oil.

Have you been to the olive oil aisle lately? My eyes started swimming. Or maybe it was my bra
in that was gasping for air. Faced with rows of choices, I made up some quick basis for elimination. These ones are too expensive. Those have too much extraneous stuff: I don't need citrus-infusion and twigs of thyme in the bottle. Greek olive oils are too strong for this dish. These bottles are too big. Those are too small.

And still there are too many choices.

Pretty soon, I am rejecting bottles for random reasons: the label color is too trendy, the font is trying too hard to be old-world, the description has too many exclamation points.

All I want is a good-quality olive oil. Short of tasting every single bottle, how was I to decide? Are the oils described as" vibrant" the same as those described as "fresh?" What does "harmonious" mean? And how is "distinct" a helpful adjective? Why can't I remember any of the brands that I'd read in Cook's Illustrated or some other olive oil survey done in Simple Magazine?

In the end I bought an unfiltered extra virgin olive oil from Italy. I am sure I chose it in part because of ridiculous reasons: the pleasing shape of the bottle: straight sides, skinny; its plain label in a muted green and well-placed letters in a sans serif font; and descriptions that are devoid of hyperbolic claims and exclamation points.

Publishing is supposedly doing fairly well in the face of all the uncertainties of the industry and the wider economy. Books are still being published, lots of them. But when I browse in a bookstore, not even necessarily a big one, I feel the same way as I did in the olive oil aisle. How do I know?

In the end, I go with award winners and honorees, I go with authors I've read before, I go with recommendations from other readers, bookstore employees, librarians, blogger friends, I go with captivating titles and intriguing subject matters. I am sure book covers play a role in my decisions, unfortunately. I've come across many fine books but I can't help but fee las if I am missing out on some gems because they haven't managed to call themselves to my attention.

My olive oil tasted fine, by the way. Subtle and mild but not bland. But I wonder about that other bottle with the trendy label or the one who surely looks too common to taste good.


Laoch of Chicago said...

Nicely done.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Tasty analogy, and I know exactly what you mean. ;)

tanita davis said...

Hahahah! Oh, Yat Yee. I feel your pain - there really are too many olive oils, and you never CAN remember what the people in Cook's said you were supposed to look for -- so you have to come up with your own rules. And then, sometimes, throw them out, if you like the shape of the bottle.

I don't always read award winners. I get sick of hearing about them, frankly. I am sure that Libba Bray is a nice person - I've met her twice now, and she's unfailingly bubbly and bright. And I haven't read her last two books because everyone has read them, talked them over to death, and there are so many more which go unsung which are equally good or better. I try and find things off the beaten path.

Awards, to me, are a little arbitrary. This isn't to say I'm not grateful for them (!) or recognize the power they give an author in getting publishers to take them more seriously, but I do think they're just a crew of people who are arbitrary... like editors sometimes are you reject/accept a work that a week before they would have had a flipside opinion about. It's all a roll of the dice.

But you can get great olive oil out of it sometimes.

I hope you enjoyed your tomatoes. What a fun analogy.

MG Higgins said...

I am an absolute sucker for beautiful book covers (and bottle labels). While I won't necessarily buy a book because of the cover, it does grab my attention. And covers (I've seen a few lately) going for the same look as best sellers is a definite turnoff. They may be excellent books, but I'll think 20 times before reading it. Like you, I wonder what I may be missing. (My favorite bottle label is Seeds of Change Tikka Masala sauce. Thankfully, the taste lives up to its label.)

Domey Malasarn said...

I also choose olive oils based on whether or not I think they'll fit in my cupboard. Some are too tall. :)

And I have the same fear about books. Every once in a while, I try to randomize my search by scanning through every book on the literary shelf to find any I don't recognize. When I find one, I read a page to see if I connect.

Yat-Yee said...

I am glad that I'm not the only one who has felt this way about how things look. Makes me wonder if I will start to shelf my books according to the color of the cover. I think I need some in the indigo range.

Tanita: your response is stirring up enough words for an actual post. So stay tuned.