We love to be right, but we're often wrong, and that's okay, according to Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong. Being right, she says, is "a second-order pleasure at best," unconnected to the pleasure centers in the brain that make chocolate, kissing and other delightful experiences so much fun. "And yet, the thrill of being right is undeniable, universal, and (perhaps most oddly) almost entirely undiscriminating," she adds. "We can't enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything." We also have great difficulty recognizing when we're wrong, she says, because being wrong usually feels exactly like being right. Until the moment we recognize we're wrong, we're like Wile E. Coyote after he has run off the cliff chasing the Road Runner, but before he has looked down and realized the ground has disappeared beneath him. "Call it the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Error," Schulz suggests. "We can be wrong, or we can know it, but we can't do both at the same time."
This witty and provocative book applies to absolutely everyone, since we're all wrong once in a while, whether we're willing to admit it or not. In fact, one of the greatest joys of this book is watching Schulz expose the contortions of logic and self-justification we employ to convince ourselves we're right despite all evidence to the contrary. And yet, Schulz displays a type of respect that verges on affection for being wrong because it is such a powerful teacher. In a recent interview in the New York Times Books section, Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, said that Being Wrong is the book she would most like incoming freshmen to read because it "advocates doubt as a skill and praises error as the foundation of wisdom." A willingness to be wrong (which may indeed bring humiliation, pain, and dejection), in other words, also cultivates the capacity for risk and perseverance that success requires.
A person who admits to being wrong is said to eat humble pie, a crude and unappetizing concoction of offal — heart, kidneys, and other organ meats, usually from a deer or wild boar — baked in a crust. But humble pie can have class too, according to Emily Bauer. On her blog, powertothebauer.blogspot.com, she posted a version of humble pie she devised that is certainly palatable, and rather cute too.
A person who admits to being wrong is also sometimes said to eat crow, so an appropriate drink for discussing Being Wrong might be Grant's Union Maker, offered by Old Crow Bourbon. As the website explains, the drink is named for Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War general who saved the Union, and was allegedly a friend of Dr. Crow himself. Whoever claims that's true might be wrong of course, but the drink still sounds like a pretty good (and simple) accompaniment to Being Wrong: Fill glasses with ice, add Old Crow to taste, and toast to reconciliation.
Book inspired muffins
A recent Read & Feed suggested Brazilian nut shortbread during a discussion of Ann Patchett's recent novel, State of Wonder, set in the Brazilian rain forest. When her book club read State of Wonder last fall, Jan Anderson of Tampa served orange marmalade mini muffins, and provided the recipe.
Tom Valeo, Special to the Times
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.