The acknowledgments section of your book is not really the place to get all flowery and "express yourself." You thank your agent, the publisher you probably haven't met, your 'rents, and the friends who put up with your bitching over the last two years. If you're Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee, however, and you've just written a book about the Chinese food diaspora called The Fortune Cookie Chronicles—well, the acknowledgments section might take on an overlong, strange life of its own. (Remember her totally adorable blog overshares?) In four pages of hugs and kisses, she probably thanks you! Excerpts, plus shots of the whole damn thing, follow.
A personal literary project like this has a long trajectory, starting with the phone call where someone first asks, "Have you ever thought of writing a book?" Over the past four years it has become so intimately intertwined with my daily life that the contributions I acknowledge are not only for content but emotional support, as a wisp of an idea morphed into a finished project.
She goes on to say that her editor was "the insightful editor everyone told me he would be," that "I must hug my agent," and that her copyeditor's work "astounded me with its grace and precision." She is grateful to her "friends and roommates" who were "supporting and patient when I disappeared for weeks and weekends, hunting for great Chinese restaurants and fortune cookies." Wild!
She also thanks Times metro desk whiz kid Sewell Chan, "who I have known and worked with since seventh grade." Also! "The talented programmers who brought us Google, Google Maps, Google Scholar, ProQuest and Kayak." It goes on and on. She thanks Maureen Dowd. Enough said.
Then came a shocking revelation. Fortune cookies weren't Chinese. It was like learning I was adopted while being told there was no Santa Claus. How could that be? I had always believed in the crispy, curved, vanilla-flavored wafers with the slips inside. (page 13)
On food porn:
Our family gathered around the table as we pulled out the boxes, each one bursting with the potential of anonymity. Out came chopsticks, the little clear packets of black soy sauce, and crunchy fortune cookies. Each untucking of the lid released a surge of aroma and a sight to spark the appetite. Would it be the amber-colored noodles of roast pork lo mein? The lightly sweetened crispiness of General Tso's chicken nestled in a bed of flash-cooked broccoli? Or the spicy red chili oils of mapo tofu? Virginal white rice would be doused with steaming sauces, the mingling of simmered soy sauce, piquant vinegar, slivers of ginger, and fragrant garlic. The Chinese food begged to be mixed together: sweet, sour, salty and savory flavors layering upon one another. They tasted even better the next day when the leftovers were reheated. We'd break open the fortune cookies for the message inside, rarely eating the cookie. The cheerfully misspelled, awkwardly phrased, but wise words of the Chinese fortune cookie sages gave me comfort. (page 12)
From Chapter 7, "Why Chow Mein Is the Chosen Food of the Chosen People; or The Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989":
If the nation hadn't been in the midst of a kosher duck shortage, Micheal Mayer's suspicions wouldn't have been piqued when he walked into the Moshe Dragon Chinese restaurant that fateful August morning. If the crispy, sweet taste of Peking duck hadn't become de rigeur for upscale Jewish house parties in suburban Washington D.C., there might not have been such an unmet appetite for kosher duck, leading to the kind of temptations that arise when demand outstrips supply. If all this had not been so, the Great Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989 might have been averted and the community's faith in its religious leaders might not have been shaken. Reputations might not have been sullied, careers might not have been derailed, and cover-ups might not have been alleged. Moshe Dragon might even still exist today, hosting bar mitzvahs and catering celebratory Shabbat dinners. But "if" is a word upon which history pivots into hypothesis. What happened happened. In a community filled with long memories and short tempers, the effects still reverberate today.