Reading, watching, listening
It was never my intention for this to be a monthly newsletter, I promise. My plan was for it to be biweekly, if not weekly. But back in May, a few days after my last post, my friend gave me a hard deadline to finish the shitty first draft of my novel, which I had been working on since September 2015. She cruelly gave me a 3.75-week deadline to finish, which meant that any and all other writing took a backseat. I put myself on a 1,000-words/day schedule and on the first day of that plan, I wrote -43 words. Don’t ask me how I did that kind of dark magic, but it happened. There were other days when I wrote more than 3,000 words (which is low-key exhausting and I don’t recommend it). But I finished the first draft and sent her a PDF as proof with four hours to spare before my deadline. I know that it needs significant revision and I’m trying not to lose sleep over all the ways it needs improvement, but I finished it. And now it’s in a (virtual) drawer being studiously ignored by me until the end of July.
Also! I’ve landed on the idea for my next novel and can’t wait to get started on it! It involves whiskey bootlegging and stabbing and covered wagons and stealing pigs and there will be period-specific names like Etha Pearl and Eula and Charlotta! Stay tuned.
Over the past month, though, I’ve also read and watched and listened to a lot of things that have opened my eyes and my heart and sparked my curiosity and made me laugh and cry.
Read: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. I actually bought this book when it came out in late April, but I put off reading it for a few weeks because I didn’t want to read a memoir about a mother dying of cancer on or near Mother’s Day. I got off to a slow start on this one, and Zauner’s descriptions of her mother’s decline were pretty difficult to read. I haven’t read a ton of grief memoirs (for obvious reasons) but I appreciated that she didn’t shy away from the ugliness and messiness of losing a loved one, including the loved one’s ugliness and messiness. I don’t want to read a hagiography of someone else’s dead mother, and I’m glad that this one wasn’t.
I’m not super familiar with Korean food, so I didn’t have much of a hook to hang her descriptions on, but I could definitely relate to her how she went through an obsessive phase of making kimchi of all sorts in the wake of her mother’s death. I can identify with that kind of dissociation after trauma (as I’m sure we all can in 2021). This book is very, very, very raw, and I strongly suggest that if you think you might be triggered by reading an account of watching a parent die of cancer and the emotional aftermath, you should proceed with caution.
Listen: The Recipe Club podcast. I’m always looking for new podcasts, particularly because the political ones I’ve been listening to for the past few years are just stressing me out and filling me with rage (looking at you, Pod Save America). The premise of the podcast is that three chefs (Chris Ying, David Chang, and a rotating third, but often Priya Krishna) take a randomly selected ingredient (spaghetti, SPAM, canned tuna), select an online recipe using that ingredient, share it with the other chefs, and all three of them make all three recipes. Then they discuss their experiences with each one and decide, collectively, which chef’s chosen recipe was the most successful. It can be a little bro-y, but I really like the concept. It’s also made me more adventurous in both my cooking and my shopping. The Pillsbury tube dough episode inspired me to try making croissants for the first time ever. (I’ll let you know how they turn out.)
The canned tuna episode inspired me to purchase a can of Dong Won double hot pepper tuna, which Dave Chang says is perfect as-is served with some rice. I haven’t worked up the nerve to eat it, yet, though. And I’m even a little curious about making SPAM musubi, even though literally no one in my house will eat it, probably. (They might surprise me.)
(Also, if you have any non-politics and non-true crime podcasts to recommend, I’m all ears.)
Watch: High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America. It’s contemplative, powerful, heartbreaking, joyful, and endlessly fascinating. It moves through time, telling the story of African American food starting in Africa, moving to the Carolinas, New York, and beyond. Alongside stories of how okra and yams came with enslaved people to North America are stories of gentrification, community, and entrepreneurship.
The last episode takes place in Texas, including at the now-shuttered Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church bbq in Huntsville, which I was privileged enough to visit as part of an oral history project in graduate school.
I loved this show so much, I’ll probably watch it again and again.
Bonus watch: Physical on Apple+ TV. Hooboy. I’ve only watched the first three episodes (because that’s all that’s available), and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. But I couldn’t stop watching, so I guess that’s something. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Now then, I’m off to start drafting my research plan for novel #2, working title Trinity Station.