“Keeping to Eat”: Nourishment for the Literary Mind, Summer 2021
Welcome to our new quarterly column celebrating the art of prose. Associate Editor Suzanne Grove takes us on a journey through recent and forthcoming publications from short stories to books to essays and beyond. Happy reading. —CRAFT
In Montréal, the newlyweds delay the satisfaction of my hunger.
The duo drifts forward down Rue Saint-Sulpice, not more than one hundred steps outside the Notre-Dame Basilica with its archways and neon blues and vaulted ceilings tumbling with 24-karat gold stars that remind me of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. The bride drags lace and tulle behind her, the long train and veil converging to bob along the cobblestones like a rumpled creature attempting to keep up—no elegant gliding, but a skittering. The edges curl and gather dirt, turning the deep, dusted color of truffles. Or muddy pistachio shells. Or burnt brown sugar.
I am starving, and desperate to arrive at Garde Manger, the restaurant co-owned by chef and restauranteur Chuck Hughes. I’ve spent a sleepy afternoon scanning the St. Lawrence River on the Bateau-Mouche, visualizing lobster soaked in butter and dill fanning itself over smoked salmon, the crystalline plumpness of scallops and martinis with extra olives, that cool gulp of salt spreading over my palate.
But after my party shouts its congratulations to the couple and walks a few more blocks to the restaurant, we find it unexpectedly closed. This is the one item on the itinerary that belonged to me—my singular contribution to the trip. I’m offered a few admonishments, a few eye rolls that carry a ravenous, juvenile enthusiasm.
For the rest of the week, I can’t stop picturing the bride—the soft scoop of her back, the six neat buttons climbing her spine—or repeating the words garde manger to myself. Years earlier, I was taught these words meant something analogous to pantry. Later, a friend told me to use them in reference to an area where cold dishes are stored, or to the cook who manages their preparation. A professor once defined the phrase as “keeping to eat.”
This is the definition that remains with me.
Over the first weeks of this summer, those words kept slipping into the stream of my consciousness as I found myself accumulating new books, stacked in piles around my house. My phone filled with screenshots from Twitter—book deal announcements and writing tips. I kept four separate browsers open and filled with short stories, flash fiction, essays, and novel reviews. Twelve tabs grew into thirty-one, into sixty-seven, and then seventy-eight. But even when I had a surplus of time and wanted to settle into one of these saved pieces of writing, all I could manage was to click around, bouncing from one tab to the next. A quick and dirty psychological analysis might say that I was delaying beginning because beginnings only lead to endings.
Now, when I think about these reading lists, I imagine them as a sort of pantry.
I think, Keeping to eat.
That August in Montréal, not too far from the Old Port, I’d failed to deliver a meal, leaving us hungry. But now, I can offer a different kind of nourishment. Below—and recurring every few months in the future—you’ll find a collection of favorite stories, essays, craft advice, and crumbs related to—what else—the craft of writing. —Suzanne Grove
“Prune Yourself, Girlfriend!™” by Liz Breazeale, Joyland
“The Bodies Correcting” by Nina MacLaughlin, Virginia Quarterly Review
“Mango Market” by Amber Officer-Narvasa, TriQuarterly
“One Last Night with the Worst Best Friends” by Brandon Taylor, Recommended Reading
“Birds of New Mexico” by Katherine Vondy, The Iowa Review
“Removing” by A.A. Balaskovits, Kenyon Review
“Haunting” by Edee James, X-R-A-Y
“The Glacier” by Idra Novey, The Yale Review
“Learning to Write My Truth as a Deaf Queer Writer” by Ross Showalter, Catapult
Appleseed by Matt Bell, Custom House
“Woven together out of the strands of myth, science fiction, and ecological warning, Matt Bell’s Appleseed is as urgent as it is audacious.”
Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford, Flatiron Books
“Rather than reduce these painful memories to a reflective interpretation, Ford lifts the language into a shimmering lyric register that is polyphonic… Her understanding that the ones we love are imperfect crafts a shining star for the reader to follow.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, Atria Books
From the publisher: Urgent, propulsive, and sharp as a knife, The Other Black Girl is an electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.
Virtue by Hermione Hoby, Riverhead Books
From the publisher: In language at once lyrical and incisive, Hermione Hoby offers a clear-eyed, unsettling novel of the allure of privilege and the costs of complacency.
Low Country by J. Nicole Jones, Catapult
“Ghosts and legends swirl in an affecting family memoir… A captivating debut… [Jones’] confidential asides to readers create a genuine sense of intimacy. Lyrical prose graces a deftly crafted narrative.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Future Feeling by Joss Lake, Soft Skull Press
From the publisher: An embittered dog walker obsessed with a social media influencer inadvertently puts a curse on a young man—and must adventure into mysterious dimension in order to save him—in this wildly inventive, delightfully subversive, genre-nonconforming debut novel about illusion, magic, technology, kinship, and the emergent future.
My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee, Riverhead Books
“My Year Abroad is an extraordinary book, acrobatic on the level of the sentence, symphonic across its many movements—and this is a book that moves…. My Year Abroad is a wild ride—a caper, a romance, a bildungsroman, and something of a satire of how to get filthy rich in rising Asia.”
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell, Harper Wave
From the publisher: Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.
Objects of Desire: Stories by Clare Sestanovich, Knopf
“Sestanovich’s elegant prose takes seriously the quiet unrest that can ravage a life, and makes room for the pleasure and discovery that can be found in that ruin.”
—Raven Leilani, author of Luster
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams, Grand Central Publishing
From the publisher: With its keen observations of creative life in America today, as well as the joys and complications of being a mother and a daughter, Seven Days in June is a hilarious, romantic, and sexy‑as‑hell story of two writers discovering their second chance at love.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder, Doubleday
“A feral, unholy marriage of Tillie Olsen and Kafka—Nightbitch is an incredible feat.”
—Carmen Maria Machado
Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman, Hogarth (August 3)
From the publisher: A novelist discovers the dark side of Hollywood and reckons with ambition, corruption, and connectedness in the age of environmental collapse and ecological awakening—a darkly unsettling near-future novel for readers of Don DeLillo and Ottessa Moshfegh.
LITERATURE ON INSTAGRAM
From Ocean Vuong (@ocean_vuong) on June 29:
Fully Booked by Kirkus Reviews: Marie-Helene Bertino
“Capture a moment after which nothing can ever be the same.”
“Into the dark, smoky restaurant, smelling of rich raw foods on the buffet, slid Nicole’s sky-blue suit like a stray segment of the weather outside.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night