“Keeping to Eat”: Nourishment for the Literary Mind, Winter 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
“Once Nothing, Twice Shatter” by Tyler Barton, Electric Literature
“Sometimes the Ocean Loves Too Much” by Sarah Jane Cody, The Common
“My Stalker” by Catherine Lacey, Esquire
“The Lunch Party” by Jemimah Wei, Aquifier: The Florida Review Online
“Smoothies” by Venita Blackburn, Split Lip
“American Spit” by Vanessa Chan, Passages North
“Girls on the Playground” by Ruth Madievsky, Guernica
Devil House by John Darnielle, MCD (January 25)
John Darnielle’s most ambitious work yet, a book that blurs the line between fact and fiction, that combines daring formal experimentation with a spellbinding tale of crime, writing, memory, and artistic obsession.
The Perishing by Natashia Deón, Counterpoint
“Natashia Deón builds on the promise of her debut novel Grace with this mind-bending blend of speculative fiction and history that recalls the politically-engaged work of Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin.” – Chicago Review of Books
Trust by Hernan Diaz, Riverhead Books (May 3)
“Sublime, richly layered novel. A story within a story within a story . . . This is just sublime.”–Roxane Gay
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu, Tin House (February 1)
“Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is one of those rare collections that never suffers from which-one-was-that-again? syndrome. Every story here lights a flame in the memory, shining brighter as time goes by rather than dimming. Kim Fu writes with grace, wit, mischief, daring, and her own deep weird phosphorescent understanding.” – Kevin Brockmeier
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez, Flatiron (January 4)
“The extraordinary accomplishment of Olga Dies Dreaming is in how a familiar-enough tale—a woman seeking love, happiness, and fulfillment in the big city—slowly reveals itself to be something else altogether . . . the very idea of the American Dream.” – Rumaan Alam
Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby, Penguin (January 11)
“Excellent…The prose is sharp and calibrated to suit each of Kirby’s temporally and geographically diverse settings…[with] risk-taking and assured, well-developed craft. This is remarkable.” – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Last Resort by Andrew Lipstein, MacMillan (January 18)
“Lipstein wittily captures all the savagery of the publishing industry, from Goodreads reviews to awkward author photos. But for all the metafictional layers here, at its heart [Last Resort] is a surprisingly traditional, almost Dickensian, story about the vagaries of fate. For anyone who can’t look away from a juicy literary scandal.” – Kirkus Reviews
The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund, Atria (February 15)
“Emme Lund’s The Boy with a Bird in His Chest is a beautiful, tender book. I was deeply moved by this story; very caught up in the ways in which family, grief, love, queerness, and vulnerability all intersect. Lund’s sentences are sweet and stick to your ribs. I found myself falling in love with these characters—these messy, deeply realized, fully lovable, and wonderfully human people. The Boy with a Bird in His Chest is a terrific first novel and Emme Lund is a profoundly gifted writer.” – Kristen Arnett,
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel, Knopf (April 5)
The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.
The Four Humors by Mina Seckin, Catapult
“Mina Seçkin’s brilliant and understated first novel describes a young person’s quest to situate herself geographically, culturally, historically, and physiologically—to map out a place for her inner self in the world, in her family, and in her own body. Funny, heartrending, illuminating, informative, brimming with cultural specificity and human universality.” – Elif Batuman
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara, Doubleday (January 11)
“Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred)
LITERATURE ON INSTAGRAM
From Kate Baer (@katejbaer) on October 28:
So Many Damn Books: Episode 147 (October 13, 2020), Rumaan Alam
“We tend to see themes as products: once we produce work around them, they should be “done with” and therefore abandoned; we should then “move on.” Otherwise we would repeat ourselves. A culture bent on “fresh new flavors” frowns on obsession, which is misread, particularly in the western lens, as stasis and therefore death. But it’s arbitrary that any book should be an ultimate container for its investigations.” — Ocean Vuong via Electric Literature