The Pleasure Of... Fresh Starts

But not quite yet. Also literary icons, weird herbs, and SoulCycle schadenfreude.

I’m not at liberty to disclose the details yet, but the book I’ve been working on has a home, and I’m in the happy, teetering-on-the-edge moment where it’s all possibility. I’m wildly ambitious for this book, and feel like I have a right to be, and also feel like it’s real from the start. My first book didn’t feel real until far too late, partly because I was working full-time and found it hard to focus on, partly because it was a project that had been brewing for good decade, and partly because *nothing* prepares you for the weirdness of a book with your name on being out in the world. It’s beyond surreal. But the fact of its existence means that now I can imagine the new project as an arc leading to an actual end point, something solid, a victory arch not a rainbow, and I know I need to assemble and pile up the bricks, not just wait and pray for rain.

At college, Pete De Bolla, one of the professors I loved & feared the most, told us early on that we should expect to be reading for at least three hours a day. I still think about that, not that I ever really manage it, despite telling myself it is literally my job, or at least 50% of my job. It still feels like shirking, so I sit in front of the computer and pretend that’s work instead. But I’m trying to make space for it. Yesterday I went to the park and sat under a tree and read a book I need to read—not for three hours, but for a while. That physical separation from my screens and devices, and time to read and think, will be a big part of the schedule I have to work out. Because it’s real now. 

The Pleasure Of… Summer Suppers

It’s difficult, of course, to think about making a big new start in August, a sybaritic month before pencil-sharpening September. I am the nerd who made calendars counting down to the beginning of the school year, but I’m trying to enjoy the last of summer, mostly through food. In Vermont we picked blueberries off our friends’ bushes (different varieties, different tastes, from almost citrus-sharp to floral), and are eating our way through a giant punnet of them; we have a quart of maple syrup from their neighbor’s trees, and fudge and cheese from the country store. Back home I’ve been getting local farm boxes via FreshDirect, an irregular delight, this week from Hepworth Farm, with herbs I’ve never tasted before (Mexican Mint Marigold! Flowering dill! Red Shiso!), and a glut of vegetables including corn, tomatoes, arugula, baby eggplant, cucumbers, and a purple pepper. I’m racing joyfully to get through it. We made Melissa Clark’s Green Goddess Pasta Salad (adapting the herbs to what we had) and it was incredible. I hate the name but that dressing is insanity.

The Pleasure Of… Tribute Reading

Bittersweet, of course, but I’m learning so much. I read Beloved and Jazz when I was a teenager, and felt rattled by them in ways I was not quite able to parse, so it’s been fascinating to hear from those writers for whom she was an inspiration for the opposite reason, because she was speaking to them, about them, and for them. The experience of reading across the difference of race and nationality is both intimidating and galvanizing, and I want and need to do it more. I was in a room with Morrison when I was on the National Book Critics Circle board, and we gave her our Ivan Sandrof lifetime achievement award at the ceremony in March 2015. We were recognizing her primarily as an editor and critic, rather than as a novelist, and she spoke about the history of book reviewing and the convention that lumped together all books by black writers as somehow related and a niche—a cultural ghetto. I remember how excited we all were that she was able to come, since travel was difficult for her and she was understandably selective, but her presence, her gravitas and humor, were breathtaking. It honestly felt like we should have been kneeling. Her speech, and poet Rita Dove’s gorgeous introduction, are online, and the video is here.

The Pleasure Of… Pressure

It has been hard to feel much good in anything in this week of terrorism. I’m taking heart where I can from boycotts and backlash against donors to this monster of a president, using capitalism against capitalists like Stephen Ross. It’s a good day to read about Florence Kelley, socialist, NAACP co-founder, and pioneer of the consumer boycott as one of the few ways middle-class women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century could exercise political power. It was double-edged even then, nudging up against the often coercive, conservative morality of the Progressive Era. But honestly, NOT acquiescing, not letting these people get on with their lives in peace, feels like something. Katie Rosman’s New York Times piece is revealing for how desperately people do not want to be made to think about their complicity. (She tweeted that “I have never been screamed at for (very respectfully) doing my job like I was in the parking lot of Soul Cycle in the Hamptons.”) Pretty much the only person who comes out of this not stinking is the teenager who works the front desk. 

Upcoming Pleasures

I’m looking forward to this event on Monday in Bryant Park with Alicia Malone and a fantastic line-up of female critics, celebrating her book The Female Gaze, about women film directors. I interviewed her last year, and I’m excited to meet in person.