Anthony Bourdain and the Writing Craft

Anthony Bourdain’s devotion to new experiences and authenticity hooked me on his show, “Parts Unknown.” He was no snob; he loved good food wherever he found it, whether he ate it from fine china or paper plates. You could tell his appreciation was genuine, as the above video clearly reveals.

In addition to his career as a chef, Bourdain was a gifted storyteller. If you haven’t read his groundbreaking New Yorker article about the delights and dangers of dining, you really owe it to yourself to read it, savor it, and digest it. That article, a combination exposé and love letter to the restaurant business, showcases Bourdain’s view that eating food is an adventure, as well as the best gateway for experiencing the world. As he once put it, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

Bourdain understood that telling a good story requires revealing one’s inner self, one’s vision of life, an act that takes awareness, guts, and craft. It means the writer must be honest with himself and his reader. It means he shines his light unflinchingly on his characters and follows the action, wherever that may lead. Fearless openness exerts an irresistible draw, as this CrimeReads article explains:

Despite his immense popularity, there was something about Bourdain that made you feel like he was letting you in on a secret. Here was a wildly popular TV host who didn’t condescend to the masses. He conveyed his passions to the viewer, no matter how esoteric. His work felt conspiratorial, pulling back the curtain on the restaurant business and then the world. He shared his personal demons just as he shared his impeccable taste in food, film, and books. We all felt like his travel companions and his confidants. We all felt like his friends.

Isn’t that what all writers want to do?

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Stephen Hawking predicted race of ‘superhumans’

Here’s a troubling insight from one of history’s great scientists, via The Guardian:

The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA.

Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the predictions in a collection of articles and essays.

The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday.

Can’t help but remember this episode from Star Trek TOS:

Who can forget this blistering exchange between Spock and McCoy:

SPOCK: Hull surface is pitted with meteor scars. However, scanners make out a name. SS Botany Bay.
KIRK: Then you can check the registry.
SPOCK: No such vessel listed. Records of that period are fragmentary, however. The mid=1990s was the era of your last so-called World War.
MCCOY: The Eugenics Wars.
SPOCK: Of course. Your attempt to improve the race through selective breeding.
MCCOY: Now, wait a minute. Not our attempt, Mister Spock. A group of ambitious scientists. I’m sure you know the type. Devoted to logic, completely unemotional

The problem with selective breeding, as Spock later points out, is that “superior ability breeds superior ambition.” Instead of Ghandis and Einsteins, you get Hitlers and Napoleons.

Indeed, that’s the problem with all utopian schemes, from eugenics to communism — those pesky unforeseen consequences. Our minds evolved to adapt and survive in small social groups facing a harsh, unforgiving environment. The complex processes underlying the universe are beyond our grasp, just as our muscles are incapable of tossing boulders into orbit. Our muscles and our minds are not only useful, but extraordinary, but each have their limitations. True wisdom is the recognition and acceptance of those limitations.

That’s why we should heed Hawking’s last words.