They say that it's easy to get trapped by a metaphor. But some metaphors are so magnificent that you don't mind getting trapped in them. Perhaps the cooking metaphor is one such, at least in this case. The only problem I have with it is a personal one—I feel a bit like Betty Crocker's mother. The work in question is so monumental that anything I could say here would be either redundant or irrelevant.
However, that never stopped me before.
Cooking is perhaps the humblest of the arts; but to me humility is a strength, not a weakness. Great artists have always had to serve their artistic medium—great cooks just do so literally. And the more humble the medium, the more humble the artist must be in order to lift the medium beyond the mundane. Food and language are both humble media, consisting as they do of an overwhelming profusion of seemingly unrelated and unruly ingredients. And yet, in the hands of someone with a bit of creativity and discipline, things like potatoes, pasta, and Perl are the basis of works of art that "hit the spot" in a most satisfying way, not merely getting the job done, but doing so in a way that makes your journey through life a little more pleasant.
Cooking is also one of the oldest of the arts. Some modern artists would have you believe that so-called ephemeral art is a recent invention, but cooking has always been an ephemeral art. We can try to preserve our art, make it last a little longer, but even the food we bury with our pharoahs gets dug up eventually. So too, much of our Perl programming is ephemeral. This aspect of Perl cuisine has been much maligned. You can call it quick-and-dirty if you like, but there are billions of dollars out there riding on the supposition that fast food is not necessarily dirty food. (We hope.)
Easy things should be easy, and hard things should be possible. For every fast-food recipe, there are countless slow-food recipes. One of the advantages of living in California is that I have ready access to almost every national cuisine ever invented. But even within a given culture, There's More Than One Way To Do It. It's said in Russia that there are more recipes for borscht than there are cooks, and I believe it. My mom's recipe doesn't even have any beets in it! But that's okay, and it's more than okay. Borscht is a cultural differentiator, and different cultures are interesting, and educational, and useful, and exciting.
So you won't always find Tom and Nat doing things in this book the way I would do them. Sometimes they don't even do things the same way as each other. That's okay—again, this is a strength, not a weakness. I have to confess that I learned quite a few things I didn't know before I read this book. What's more, I'm quite confident that I still don't know it all. And I hope I don't any time soon. I often talk about Perl culture as if it were a single, static entity, but there are in fact many healthy Perl subcultures, not to mention sub-subcultures and supercultures and circumcultures in every conceivable combination, all inheriting attributes and methods from each other. It can get confusing. Hey, I'm confused most of the time.
So the essence of a cookbook like this is not to cook for you (it can't), or even to teach you how to cook (though it helps), but rather to pass on various bits of culture that have been found useful, and perhaps to filter out other bits of "culture" that grew in the refrigerator when no one was looking. You in turn will pass on some of these ideas to other people, filtering them through your own experiences and tastes, your creativity and discipline. You'll come up with your own recipes to pass to your children. Just don't be surprised when they in turn cook up some recipes of their own, and ask you what you think. Try not to make a face.
I commend to you these recipes, over which I've made very few faces.
—Larry Wall, June, 1998
Copyright © 2003 O'Reilly & Associates. All rights reserved.