In my studies of the culinary arts much of my focus was put into theory. Cooking a delicious meal is more than following a recipe or putting ingredients in the correct order. Attention must be put into tastes and flavours. Tastes are the few distinct features that our palates recognize, or our taste buds detect, broken down in to six basic elements; bitter, sweet, salty, sour, savory (or umami) and metallic (not meant for cooking, but a taste we recognize none the less). Flavours are all the features in-between that blend and bring food to life from cocoa to cilantro. Understanding and balancing tastes while using flavours to bring that out is the core to creating a dish that appeals to your palate.
Books have this in common with food, where there are a few prominent genres; contemporary, romance, science fiction/fantasy, horror/suspense, etc.. Then there are all the little flavours, or sub genres in-between; adventure, psychological, dystopian, crime, paranormal, etc.. Again it takes a certain blend and balance to create something that appeals to our imaginations.
When cooking if there is a saturation of a certain taste it becomes dissatisfying. Example; if the only taste your palate recognizes is sour the food becomes inedible, if you mix in a bit of sweetness suddenly the food comes to life. As an experiment you can try some lemonade before and after the sugar is added, or vice versa with and without the lemon. It is not that we crave a taste more than the other, it is the balance that appeals to us. The same is true for storytelling, if a book featured nothing but romance readers would become disinterested. If you sprinkle in a bit of adventure and comedy suddenly you have the Princess Bride.
I am a sucker for a fantasy story, mix in a bit of heist or ensemble elements and I am bound to enjoy it, assuming the chef has his techniques mastered. Basic sentence structure is just as valuable as not over cooking that steak. A chef and author have to know the essentials like a well executed pan fry or a strong introduction chapter. It takes a talented cook to put all the right elements and sides on a plate. The author needs to know just how much of an element to add without over coming the main course. A little bit of romance will bring depth to a mystery novel, the same way a squeeze of lemon can breath life to a savory salmon.
The comparisons can be made across the board of gastronomy and literature; what would Lord of the Rings be without the adventure; what would chocolate be without the sugar. Balance is everything when choosing what goes in our bodies and minds. When looking for that next book look for all the different flavours the story offers. As the readers and consumers there is much value in knowing what elements and combinations are working, sharing that with the creators and each other we create a culture of delicious books and thought provoking meals.
Thanks booknerds, happy cooking.