“Keeping to Eat”: Nourishment for the Literary Mind, Fall 2021
Welcome to our 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
“High Tide” by Megan Callahan, Nashville Review
“Milk Blood Heat” by Dantiel W. Moniz, Ploughshares
“Color and Light” by Sally Rooney, LitHub
(You can also listen for free on The New Yorker’s The Writer’s Voice podcast)
“Cattle Haul” by Jesmyn Ward, Electric Literature: Recommended Reading
(Originally appearing in A Public Space)
“Some Other Life” by Rumaan Alam, Wigleaf
“This Is How You Fail to Ghost Him” by Victoria McCurdy, Monkeybicycle
“Sticks” by George Saunders, from Tenth of December
“Why We Must Believe Women: My Family’s Legacy of Violence and Murder” by Chelsea Bieker, Catapult
“There I Almost Am” by Jean Garnett, The Yale Review
How to Wrestle a Girl: Stories by Venita Blackburn, MCD x FSG Originals
“This collection of extremely short stories builds its power as it goes along… I love how Blackburn lets the rawness into her voice in a number of the stories, many of which push against gender norms and expectations of sexual desire.”
Assembly by Natasha Brown, Little, Brown and Co.
“Assembly captures the sickening weightlessness a Black British woman, who has been obedient to and complicit with the capitalist system, experiences as she makes life decisions under pressure from the hegemony. Stripped back to prose poetry and at times plainly essayistic, this is a bold and elegant statement, all the more powerful for its brevity.”
A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris, Little, Brown and Co.
“Good old-fashioned faux metafiction about death and family, full of panic and glee.”
Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados, Verso Fiction
“Marlowe Granados writes with a delicious joy and confidence. She conveys frivolity without being frivolous, and describes the adventures and degradations of the lives of her characters with an intelligent distance and effervescence that is such a pleasure to read.”
Smile by Sarah Ruhl, Simon & Schuster
“In this stunning work, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Ruhl reflects on her long and arduous battle with Bell’s palsy after giving birth to twins…. As she recounts learning to find joy in small things—such as regaining the ability to blink—Ruhl proves that even life at its most mundane can be fascinating. This incredibly inspiring story offers hope where it’s least expected.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins, Riverhead Books
“Our most significant rising writer of the American West…. I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness is a road trip story gone wild…. It’s career-redefining and absolutely bonkers in all the best ways.”
Harrow by Joy Williams, Knopf
“Elegantly deranged… A hypnotizing novel, funny in places and chilling in others, filled with wacky and tragic characters, that unspools the absurdity in just one of our many very possible bad futures.”
—Emily Temple, Literary Hub
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, Harper (November 9)
“The many-hued, finely patterned weave of Erdrich’s funny, evocative, painful, and redemptive ghost story includes strands of autobiography…Erdrich’s insights into what her city Minneapolis experienced in 2020 are piercing; all her characters are enthralling, and her dramatization of why books are essential to our well-being is resounding.”
—Booklist (starred review)
Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King, Grove Press (November 9)
“These are stories of outsiders finding their people, of new perspectives, and they place King—already one of our most poignant and moving contemporary novelists—among Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, and Mary Gaitskill as one of our great short-story writers as well.”
The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 19)
“With both a precise focus on a single day and the range to cover decades, The Days of Afrekete beautifully captures what it feels like to find yourself going through the motions of a life that used to pulse with color, wondering what you traded for survival or success. Asali Solomon illuminates what it means to grow away from what felt like the truest version of yourself, what the way back might look like, what Black women in particular are asked to give up, and what it might mean to refuse. Solomon is a treasure: wise, hilarious, and full of poignant insight.”
LITERATURE ON INSTAGRAM
From Stephanie Danler’s Story Highlights on Writing (@smdanler):
Fully Booked by Kirkus Reviews: Shruti Swamy
The New York Times: Book Review: Colson Whitehead
“There is no terror in the bang, only the anticipation of it.”
—Alfred Hitchcock via Megan Abbott’s Instagram stories
“Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.”
—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
“Eventually I realized, while watching the cat turn its ears and listen and watch out the window and clean itself five times a day, that attention was its own kind of existence.”
―Gabe Habash, Stephen Florida