This Week in Books: An Everlasting Meal

The False tomb of the child of Akbar in the Tomb of Akbar the Great in Agra on an overcast day. Robert Ruidl/Getty

Dear Reader,

The book that’s been the most help to me during lockdown is a book I’ve never read; I didn’t need to read it for it to save my life. I just needed, just one time, from a review or maybe from simply reading the jacket copy, to absorb its premise and go “huh that makes sense” and then to lock that information away deep in my nether-brain where it would be reserved for the occasion when I would really, really, really need it.

I am, of course, talking about Tamar Adler’s (no doubt) incomparable An Everlasting Meal, a (if I’m not mistaken) wonderful book, the main thrust of which (as I have been led to believe) is that to properly run a kitchen, you have to be constantly planning how the leftover ingredients of one meal will seamlessly blend into the next. This (surely) is a way of thinking and strategizing your grocery shopping which Tamar Adler wrote an entire book about. And I used to be such a bad cook — a non-cook, if you will — that when I first learned oh so many years ago about this concept from the book’s jacket copy or (as I’m now recalling) from my friend Hannah, who described the contents of the book to me (yes, that’s it, she once described the book to me) on the phone (honestly I barely have interacted with this book) or perhaps as we rode together on the train, I was so struck by the powerful logic of it that I locked it away tight in my hind-brain, my deep and permanent lizard-brain. In fact, so stunned do I remember being by this tremendous insight of Tamar Adler’s which (I have reason to suspect) she laid out in detail in the book An Everlasting Meal, that I have got to believe it had an impact on my grocery shopping and meal-planning right away; but the effects weren’t all that pronounced for a very long time, since back then I (truly) did not know how to cook anything. I did not know how to cook anything until last year and therefore until last year I never had an everlasting meal; I never had much more than an everlasting sandwich.

Last year is when I started getting really into recipes. But, reader, I was still a mere “shopping for one recipe at a time” person, a type of person which I have, these past few weeks, come to regard as a very weak and inferior type of person when compared to this accomplished and frankly powerful “shopping for three weeks of meals at a time” person that I have become.

To be totally clear, I placed a Fresh Direct order 3 weeks ago and we have not left the house since. I am a god.

Not a day of lockdown has gone by on which I have not thought of Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, a book I have not read. Not a day has gone by on which An Everlasting Meal has not made me mighty.

I still have plans to make so many — so many different — curries that it would make your head explode. If I told you how many I’m afraid the information would hurt you.

I have never read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, but, if I never get the virus, friends, I am attributing my survival entirely to the fact that I once merely heard about Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal (a book so powerful that I am beginning to think that no one ever actually could read it without suffering some sort of permanent brain injury, or descending into madness, or raising up a creature from the Dark Pool Below the Tower in My Dreams and unleashing it on an unready world) and that, upon merely hearing of Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, I inscribed in my deepest and darkest most everlasting thoughts a message that will never leave me, that I cannot — that I will not! I refuse to! — forget: “Thus darkly and alone is the Way to everl

 

[Editors’ note: This draft of Dana’s weekly books newsletter, which we received in an email from a strange address that included several photographs in the attachments, each of which is labeled “the False tomb of the child of Akbar at the Tomb of Akbar the Great in Agra on an overcast day,” ends abruptly mid-sentence. We will update this post when we finally hear from Dana what the message of An Everlasting Meal is.]

 

1. “In ‘Afropessimism,’ a Black Intellectual Mixes Memoir and Theory” by John Williams, The New York Times

In an interview, Frank B. Wilderson III talks about his memoir-theory hybrid Afropessimism, which, true to its title, makes the pessimistic case that black suffering is “essential” and even “necessary” to the psychic life of society. It’s hard to read the coronavirus death statistics this week and not see his point.

2. “Beth Alvarado: Grieving in Dreams” by Kimi Eisele, Guernica

Two novelists discuss what it’s like looking back at the books about grief, mass death, and apocalypse they wrote before the coronavirus. “We had no idea then that the virus was there, waiting, and about to be so swiftly spread. Or maybe we did know, could sense, our own precarity. What could possibly sustain a world so stacked toward some and against others?”

3. “No One Disagrees With Rebecca Solnit” by Jennifer Wilson, The New Republic

Jennifer Wilson takes a turn touching the third rail of book criticism by pointing out that a widely lauded feminist author of many books is maybe a bit too easy to agree with.

4. “The Brilliant Plodder” by David Quammen, The New York Review of Books

Many years ago, I intensely read David Quammen’s extraordinarily gripping book about how pandemic viruses emerge. I liked his writing so much that I picked up his book about Darwin and read that, too. Ever since corona showed up, Quammen’s name has been popping up in my feeds a lot as various publications have asked him to weigh in, but I never click on those articles; in fact I feel alarmingly triggered by them, because that book was so terrifying that, honestly guys, the fact that David Quammen is weighing in means we are in terrible trouble. So, uh, here’s an article he wrote about Darwin instead. I read it; it’s delightful. Let’s all read this one and not the others; let’s not become paralyzed by fear when David Quammen says the Big One has come, as he foretold it would.


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5. “For the Union Dead” by Daniel Mason, The Atlantic

A short story from Daniel Mason’s forthcoming collection A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth, in which the narrator discovers a startling aspect of his recently deceased uncle’s favorite hobby.

6. “Broken Pieces” by Cody Delistraty, Poetry

This is a really excellent profile of the poet Cynthia Cruz. “Throughout our afternoon together, Cruz earnestly asks me to help her interpret her poetry, as though she has located the lock to the deepest recesses of her mind but not the key.”

7. “Rereading Sanmao, the Taiwanese Wayfarer Who Sold Fifteen Million Books” by Han Zhang, The New Yorker

One of the world’s more popular writers has recently been translated into English for the first time. Han Zhang reflects on her girlhood fascination with Sanmao.

8. “from Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight,” Bomb

An excerpt from Rebecca Dinerstein Knight’s novel Hex. After a lab accident, a disgraced toxicologist makes a choice. “I guess you could say that I like revenge and they like common decency. I guess you could say I don’t approve of myself enough to protect myself.”

9. “Season of the Witch” by Ana Cecilia Alvarez, Bookforum

A review of Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season, a novel about a real-life murder which she wrote in lieu of an investigative report because “in Mexico… they kill journalists, but they don’t kill writers, and anyways, fiction protects you.”

 

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