onstrates a genius for locating a telling
detail and employing it sparingly to evoke
a setting or character trait, keeping the
writing concise and the pace swift. Bailey’s
voice is genial and ingratiating and he
expertly mixes literary allusions from
his career as an English scholar with his
Midwestern charm. His humor is the type
to inspire smiles of recognition rather than
full-on belly laughs. The book encom-passes a wide variety of tones, from the
earthy, with essays inspired by toilets, nail
biting, and the rising trend of vomit in
TV and movies, to the picturesque, in trav-elogue vignettes about Bailey’s experiences
visiting Italy. Not every entry in this collection of 40 essays (some previously published
in literary journals) feels completely realized, but overall the book delights and will
makes readers stop and notice the individual pieces of their everyday lives. (July)
Apprenticed to Venus:
My Secret Life with Anaïs Nin
Tristine Rainer. Arcade, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-
Rainer (Your Life as Story) blends memoir
and imagination in this engaging examination of her relationship with author Anaïs
Nin. “I call this book a novoir—a memoir
with true characters and actual dialogue, but
with the structure and stylistic elements of a
novel,” Rainer says at the outset. Rainer first
meets Nin in New York City in 1962 when
her godmother sends her to pick up books
from the famous diarist. Sheltered and virginal when she enters Nin’s circle, Rainer
is shocked to discover that Nin is a bigamist with husbands on both coasts, but
before long Rainer is covering for her
mentor. When Nin’s The Diary of Anaïs
Nin, Vol. 1: 1931–1934 is published in
1966, Nin becomes a feminist superstar
and icon of the sexual revolution. Rainer,
too, is on her way, pursuing a doctorate
in English literature at UCLA, with her
mentor happily speaking to Rainer’s
undergraduate students. Despite some
ruptures between them, the pair remain
close up until Nin’s death from cancer in
1977. While the line between truth and
imagination in this book is hard to discern
at times, Rainer still manages to take
readers on a fascinating personal journey.
Agent: Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary
What prompted this book?
I have been trying to write, and
wanting to write, this book for about a
decade. I was obsessed with Southern
food. I wondered what could be gained
from a closer look at Southern food.
My pieces for the Oxford American and
Garden & Gun were my investigative
research for the book. Also, I wrote my
master’s thesis on food in the South,
and I discovered the stories of many of
the people I write about in the book,
like Georgia Gilmore.
Is the Georgia Gilmore
story the one that got you
going on the book?
Well, you expect that it
would be, since in a way the
Georgia Gilmore story is the
defining story of this book.
She had worked as a cook, a
waiter, and for the railroad all her
life—cooking for other people—but
then she fuels the Montgomery Bus
Boycott with cooking she did in her
house. But the story of Stephen Gaskin
revealed to me that I had a book. In
that moment—the late 1960s and early
1970s—when it was in vogue to quit
the South, Gaskin, an outsider from
California, starts a farm in Tennessee
and brings with him a bunch of
Haight-Ashbury kids trippin’ on acid.
They grow their own food and weed,
and Gaskin and the others reinvigorate
the South and Southern food with the
products they sold to local companies.
How did you choose the title?
First, it’s a food metaphor: potlikker is
the distilled essence of the South.
You get potlikker when you boil down
a big pot of greens or beans, bobbing
with pork, until the beans are mushy
and the greens are soft, and the liquid
that remains is the likker. Potlikker
is a metaphor for all the different
ingredients that coalesce in the South.
Second, it was the subtitle of my
graduate thesis. I found these letters
from Julian Harris, an editor of the
Atlanta Constitution, to Huey Long
about the relative merits of
dunking or crumbling corn
bread in your potlikker.
Those letters fueled a debate
from other readers at the
time who used potlikker to
write about women’s rights
or class divisions.
If you could have lunch
with three food writers, living or
dead, who would they be?
Zora Neale Hurston: she described
the food culture of the turpentine
camps in South Georgia or the pulpwood camps in South Florida that she
visited. Eugene Walter: he was a true
Renaissance man from Mobile, Ala.,
who toward the end of his life wrote
beautifully about food and the South.
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor: she wrote
Vibration Cooking: Or, Travel Notes of a
Geechee Girl; she was a go-go dancer
with Sun Ra’s Solar Myth Orchestra,
but in the cookbook, she tells stories
along with the recipes; she was practicing culinary anthropology long
before we called it that.
—Henry Carrigan Jr.
PW Talks with John T. Edge
A History of Southern Food
In his new book The Potlikker Papers (Penguin Press, May), food histo-
rian John T. Edge, who directs the Southern Foodways Alliance at the
University of Mississippi, traces the evolution of Southern identity
through its food culture.