Monday, January 17, 2011

The Book Club at

I can’t offer a close read of five chapters, today, though I may do so later in the week. For now, I want to quickly paint for you the difficulty of discussing four or five stories per week from The Spirit of Food:

Chapter 2: I’ve eaten October tomatoes at Brian’s house.

When I first walked into Brian’s house, I spied a pan of steaming bruschetta, fresh from the oven: little rounds of bread topped with yellow and red tomatoes, smelling of olive oil and basil. We’d been eating at restaurants for days, on the road. My children and I were on a long October road trip, from Boston to Pittsburgh for a wedding. My husband Scott drove with us to that celebration, then he flew back home while the kids and I traveled further west toward my dad’s house in Indiana.

Sometimes a visit “home” tears me to pieces. “Well we’ll put you back together as much as we can, then,” Brian had said when I planned the trip. “And we’ll probably enjoy doing it.” We stayed for one night before visiting my hometown. And we stayed another night before the long drive back to the coast. I overheard an earnest argument between Brian and his wife over who was getting more time to talk to me. They played my favorite music on the stereo, just by guessing, and they plied me with wines from Wendell Berry’s vineyards. To be “at home” while traveling—I found myself near tears, eager to soak up their hospitality. It wasn’t my last visit. The next time I brought my husband Scott, so we all could be charmed.

I saw this essay in process, long before I knew of any food book. I can see Art, with the thumb’s worth of dirt above his brow. I love how beautifully-edited the story is, now. I suffer good-family-envy when I read the story. And I also see the marketplace, the faces of the people who greet Brian on the street, his vibrant wife, the backyard garden.

Chapter 3: Jeanne has a magical voice. Go listen to it on the Image Journal website!

I love how her prose sounds exactly like how she speaks. I’ve been through an ugly church breakup, and I’ve seen how some non-religious communities feel a lot more like communion than some churches. I feel like I’m with her.

Chapter 6: Robert Farrar Capon is one of the true loves of my life, and I say so later in the book.

Chapter 9: Someday I will tell you how I came to be a part of this book.

Chapter 11: When I met Alissa, she was just entering the health crisis that would challenge her way of eating, but you wouldn’t look at her and say “crisis.” I saw her shinny up a tall lamppost in the pouring rain—the lamp shone all night, and we’d all been complaining about it. She covered it with a garbage bag. While climbing, she wore a long knitted duster and her cat-eye glasses glimmered. She looked like a superhero to me, when she returned dripping, triumphant. Last summer I heard Alissa read this essay aloud for her graduation from the SPU MFA program.

Chapter 12: Nancy Nordenson read this story in a small circle of friends in a hotel room, after a day at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. I realized, then, that she’d experienced this disaster while we were both in Santa Fe—she, for her last graduate residency, and me for my first. I had been so wrapped up in my own life as a new student, I knew nothing of what she endured. I continue to admire how she weaves stories together. Such a rich thinker! See her story in Comment.

Chapter 14: Kirstin was the first editor who accepted my work without knowing me in person. She wrote such a glowing letter of recommendation for me—I carried it around in my journal for years.

This is how The Spirit of Food goes for me. I could keep numbering a paragraph or two for each of the chapters, each remarkable essay. I know exactly how lucky and blessed I am to have my writing included in this collection. I think Brian said something like, “I will hope to live up to this.” Yeah. The Great Cloud of Witnesses, that’s what I sense when I read the book. We are all—those who write, those who read, those who eat—so deeply blessed by Leslie’s editorial vision. 


Laura said...

The entire collection is a work of art. I feel like an honored guest each time I open the book to read. I cannot go on enough about how transforming this experience has been--just the reading leads me into such deep places.

Thank you again, Denise, for your contribution--both to the book and to our book club discussions.

Ann Kroeker said...

What an enchanting behind-the-scenes peek at the people whose words and stories comprise The Spirit of Food! Thank you for introducing us to your friends--this post is a kind of hospitality, I think (except we don't get an actual taste of the bruschetta--only a tantalizing description).

I do have a pressing, urgent question: how does one get wines from Wendell Berry’s vineyards??

Denise said...

Anonymous said...

You make me feel like a superhero, Denise. Thank you for this, and for sharing the story of your awakening via the Supper of the Lamb. It is one of my favorites.


leslie leyland fields said...

Denise--you are as generous as always! It is indeed so very fun to hear the stories behind the book. I have stories about it as well (one of which is that writing my own essay and finishing this book on an impossibly tight deadline nearly stopped my heart one difficult week). But I knew it would be worth it--and so it is. I feel the same---if I can live up to what I am still beginning to understand about food,even some small part of it---then I am rich indeed! Thank you for your essential part in this.