I've loved words my whole life. It's amazing that words, which are essentially made out of arbitrary combinations of sounds and characters, yield such power. They can be used as effectively to woo as to harm, as is proven so powerfully in Max Barry's 2013 thriller Lexicon.
The novel opens with a needle driven deep into Wil Parke's eyeball — for reasons he does not know. He is held captive by two strange men in an airport bathroom. They insist he is safe with them. Given the needle-eyeball incident, Wil is reluctant to agree. What follows is a botched escape attempt and a rapidfire succession of murders capped off by a suicide. A lot of people are after Wil, and he cannot figure out why.
Smash-cut to Emily Ruff, a homeless 16-year-old in San Francisco whose skill at three card monte nets her a few bucks from time to time. One day, she is recruited by a nameless organization, which ships her off to D.C. to train her at an als0-nameless academy. She is among an elite class of individuals who can harness language to persuade anyone to do anything.
The story is a complicated one. Barry asks the reader to figure out Wil, a native Australian, and Emily's connection through a series of bewildering events. At the same time, he tells us that the academy's graduates — who take on monikers such as T.S. Eliot and are referred to as poets — use specific sound combinations to elicit a neurochemical response that unlocks the listener's (or reader's) brain. "Vartix velkor mannik wissick," for example. Once in, the poet can speak any command and the listener will be forced to comply.
Thriller that it is, Lexicon moves fast but close readers will recognize that Barry offers a moral argument alongside his plot. As much as we balk at the ways the poets infiltrate others' minds, how much do we think about the ways our government and media do the same in real life? Words, as we know, can be weaponized. This book is just a reminder.
Read it if you love: puzzles, conspiracy theories or psychology
Every organization houses good people and bad, and the poets are no exception. They use carefully constructed phrases to peel back the layers of another's mind and some use that power for evil. We may be normal humans, but we can use our fingers to pull apart the layers of these flaky classic biscuits. There's no hiding the butter in these, but let's concede that what they lack in nutrition they make up for in taste. See? They're not all bad.
CLASSIC FLAKY BISCUITS
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 scant teaspoon sea salt (table salt works too!)
- 1 1/2 stick (6 ounces) unsalted butter (frozen)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, cold and shaken OR 1/2 cup milk plus one teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 large egg, cold
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon milk (or 1 tablespoon water)
30 minutes before starting prep, place 6 ounces of butter (1 1/2 sticks) in the freezer.
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a box grater, grate the frozen butter onto the flour mixture. Transfer the bowl to the freezer while you gather the wet ingredients, about 5-7 minutes.
In another bowl or large measuring cup, whisk egg into buttermilk or milk and vinegar combination. In a small bowl, make the egg wash, whisking together the egg and milk. Transfer both to the refrigerator.
Remove bowl from freezer and combine ingredients using your hands until butter resembles small peas. Add buttermilk mixture all at once to flour mixture. Mix until barely combined using your hands. Lightly knead dough until it forms one solid mass. Sprinkle kitchen counter with flour and turn dough onto it. Press dough into a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut out biscuits using a 3 1/2-inch round, ending up with about 6 biscuits. Transfer to baking sheet.
Place baking sheet with biscuits in freezer for 5 minutes to re-freeze butter. Remove, then brush tops with egg wash. Bake in oven for 12 to 16 minutes. (Mine took 16.) Serve warm with your favorite condiments.
Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen