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New Books and ARCs, 4/2/21

No foolin’, April’s first stack of new books and ARCs has got something for just about everybody in it. What here is a book you’d like to have for your own this spring? Share in the comments!

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Reader Request Week 2021 #8: Local Favorites

srs asks:

Whenever we visit family in Ohio, they like to take us to Marion’s pizza. As an Ohio resident, can you explain the appeal?

(I didn’t think it was bad, just completely unremarkable and not deserving the enthusiasm)

We have a Marion’s near me (they’re Marion’s Piazza’s, not “Marion’s Pizza”; it’s describing a place, not a food), and I would agree with the assessment that the pizza there is perfectly fine but not particularly memorable or exceptional in any significant way. Likewise the ambiance is not especially notable; the one near me has an interior that is meant to resemble a piazza, which is doesn’t, really, but it’s their thing, so fine. You order in a line and then you pick up when your order is called and then you eat and then you leave. It’s fine! But it’s not the greatest dining experience you’ll ever experience (and if it is, get out more).

It’s not great! But it’s local, and it’s what people grew up with and establish as their baseline of what pizza (or burgers, or burritos or whatever) are and should be. It’s their version, the version that looms large in their head. And therefore, it’s the best! And therefore, they want to share it with you.

And it get it — not with Marion’s, which I did not grow up with, but with In-N-Out Burger, which I did. To me, the In-N-Out Double Double (animal style, of course) is the platonic ideal of the fast food burger, the burger all other fast food burgers aspire to be, and largely fail at becoming. It’s not that those other burgers are bad, some of them are quite good, they’re just not the Double Double. They can’t be blamed for that. The only thing that can be a Double Double is a Double Double.

Then people who did not grow up with In-N-Out try a Double Double and… they think it’s fine? But not the greatest burger in the history of fast food burgers and perhaps not worth making an actual pilgrimage for, and waiting in either In-N-Out’s ridiculously long drive-thru lines or jamming one’s self into their famously crowded (in pre-COVID times) dining rooms. “It’s good but it’s not Whataburger/Culver’s/insert regional chain they grew up with here” is their take.

Which makes sense to me, because that’s what they grew up with. That’s what’s established in their mind as the platonic fast food burger. And they are no more wrong about that as I am about the Double Double being the best fast food burger, or srs’ family thinking Marion’s is the exemplar of pizza, or anyone thinking their own particular area’s specific weird food of choice is pretty amazing and worth sharing.

The last one, incidentally, is how Krissy and I found ourselves at Maid-Rite a couple months after moving to Ohio, because locals swore their loose-meat sandwiches were legendary and we couldn’t consider ourselves locals until we had some of our own. Well, we wanted to experience the local thing! So we went! And it was fine! But also I’ve never developed a fanatical love for loose-meat sandwiches in the time since. I missed the window in which the “it’s local and therefore awesome” filter would get passed over them. This is also why I am entirely immune to the so-called “charms” of “Cincinnati Chili,” which strikes me as an abomination of the word “chili” and also of the word “food.” But other people love it. I am content to let them love it. They can have my share. More for them.

The thing about local favorites is this: when people are taking you to the local favorite, what they’re doing is saying “this is a what I love, and is a part of how I see myself, I want to share it with you.” It’s not about the food so much as it is about the experience and what it means to them. And one can certainly honor that impulse, even if one finds the actual food underwhelming. And they will do the same, when you are sharing your personal regional favorite, if you have one, which you almost certainly do.

— JS

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