First off, Hello! And, yes, I’m trying a new platform and I hope you’re patient with my gaffs, errors, and any fresh look to the newsletter as I try to figure this out in real time. I am my own tech-bro which is to say, uh-oh. Next, I know many of you are new friends to read.write.eat. and I welcome you!
I write to you from aboard a flight to Amsterdam. Everyone around me is asleep, some softly snoring. I’m listening to Gustave Malher in a dark fuselage jetting over the ocean, it feels slightly gloomy-doomy. Life is amazing and weird. I’m off to France to write, to teach, to see family, to read, eat, drink and investigate. I am so ready to be invigorated!
Meanwhile, summer is nearly here, and though I’m currently not a student, I feel like cramming for imaginary final exams. Here’s my cribsheet for undergrad life courses:
Relationship 101: Never, ever say to your partner, when (come on!) you already know the answer, “Someone’s in a bad mood.” Labeling a mood bad rather than giving plenty of latitude is bad form. Labeling makes no one feel better. Another 101, if a partner gently guides you to change the subject with a gentle kick beneath the table, or a light pinch on the arm, do not say “Ow,” at high volume! Not that either of these things has ever happened to me! 😉
Mental Hygiene 101: I am susceptible to a good anxious spiral, are you? A key tool in managing anxiety is switch one’s attention. Focus on your left ear, or your little toe, or the bird feeder, for 10 minutes. Try to anchor the gaze somewhere else in your body, near your body, to know that no feeling is final.
Body 101: The ‘bikini body’ is dead, long live the old body! 💪🏼 Lift weights, eat well, walk up the stairs, park far away, not for a bikini body, but for your old person body! Strong bones, flexible muscles, good balance. (Also, I don’t know what to say about Martha Stewart. I’ve already told you she ruined my 20’s with her unachievable dinner party standards. Now, the cover of Sports Illustrated and we are supposed to celebrate the sexualization of an eighty-something year old? I mean, yay Martha, if you feel good and sexy in your body. But Sports Illustrated gets no points from me for putting a surgically altered and photoshopped model on the cover as if it’s a wink and a bro shake that someone might still ‘do’ Martha.) I’m for the old lady body that keeps me moving, and getting up off the floor without using my hands.
- LITTLE MONSTERS, by Adrienne Brodeur, is a tour de force of family dysfunction! You all know how I love that! It makes me feel less alone. Brodeur dives deep into family, friendship, mental health (+ a terrific therapist), parenthood, childhood, and politics, all in a beautiful setting she knows like the back of her hand. This novel, with its damaging secrets and shift toward healing, left me satiated, happy for the characters, but also with a lingering shadow of worry. Just like life. Buy this one for a terrific summer read.
- Please also don’t miss Brodeur’s memoir, WILD GAME. I loved that book so much!
- LONE WOMEN, by Victor LaValle, is a wonderful, twisty horror/western in which LaValle blends a bit of Frankenstein (the monster and the mob), Beloved (the damage and the haunting within families), and Women Talking (the careful and thoughtful conversations with a bend toward justice as well as forgiveness), mix in a little Pandora’s Box and the Badlands of Montana… voila! L’horreur!! LaValle hooked me with propulsive action, wonderful writing, and the big truth that secrets destroy us. Adelaide, the protagonist, says at one point, “There is no moment when a secret recedes. It’s a sound that never stops playing in one’s ear; a pain in the body that never quite seems to heal.” Gosh, if we all read this novel and took away the truth that secrets are caustic, if we unburdened ourselves from fear and shame, wouldn’t that be marvelous?
- MONSTERS, Claire Dederer. How do we reconcile the art we love with the sometimes-vile behavior of the artist? And what about us, what about our sometimes-vile behavior? Dederer’s brain is expansive and impressive. Cannot wait to read.
- I have a new essay up at Memoir Land, “Tell Me, What Do You Think of You” if you’d like to read it.
I’ve made a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is a way you can support my newsletter.
The always generous and very smart Adrienne Brodeur answered some questions about writing in general and her novel, LITTLE MONSTERS specifially.
How do you know when your characters have come to life?
AB: I always have a sense of who my characters are, but I find it essential to give them time and space to come into their own. Characters, like people, should do unexpected and counterintuitive things in the face of complicated situations. It’s when they surprise me that I know they’re fully formed!
Your novel is full of secrets, which are delicious and propulsive, tell me about why you include hidden truths.
AB: Secrets make for great storytelling because of the inherent tension surrounding them … the anxiety of when and how they will be revealed. I come from a long line of prodigious secret keepers, so it was a delight to invent a fictional family and have a kaleidoscopic look at their buried truths, and at the risks and rewards of confronting them.
Your setting, Cape Cod, is gorgeously rendered. You clearly know it well (lucky you!). Can you say a bit about setting and how it informs your writing?
AB: Environment, whether urban or rural, makes for such powerful metaphor, it would be a waste to overlook it. Plus, by placing readers in a specific location at a specific time, you ground your readers and give them time to settle into your book.
I have a tiny prompt for you. Write about your secret talent … maybe you make a sublime creme brûlée, maybe you are an olympic level sleeper, perhaps it’s capturing indoor spiders to set them free in your backyard. Whatever it is, celebrate it. Write about it. For inspiration check out this piece by the wonderful writer, Laura Moulton.
Big thanks to everyone who has bought me a coffee. I’m so grateful you enjoy my free newsletter, and that you took time to drop me a note and offer support. Yay!
Here is a monsterously decadent Fontainebleau recipe from Mumms Champagne website. I’ve become obsessed with this dessert since reading about it in a wonderful newsletter from David Lebowitz. We’ll be in France for one month, staying at an Airbnb and I hope to buy fresh fromage from the le marché each week and mix this up for a dessert on the terrace, who knows, a little champagne alongside will also be wonderful!
Well, we made it to the end. What would read.write.eat. be without a little bit of Stanley! He’s holding down the fort at home. Gosh, I hope the houseplants get plenty of water.
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