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April 01, 2001|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

COMFORT ME WITH APPLES

More Adventures at the Table

By Ruth Reichl

Random House: 302 pp., $24.95

It is not surprising that a very small number of people rise to the top of the food and journalism pyramid. First of all, as Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet Magazine, reveals in this memoir, no one believes it is a real job. "You're going to spend your life telling spoiled, rich people where to eat too much obscene food?" one of the friends she lives with in a Berkeley commune asks when she gets her first real job writing restaurant reviews for New West magazine in the early 1980s. Second, it is such a wonderful job that the competition is fierce. At 30, Reichl had all the ingredients to make it in journalism. She was determined. Her appetite was inspired by a wide-eyed enthusiasm for the high life, a lust for glamour and the belief that food can make everything better. She has an eye for the stories behind the food, particularly if they are Alice Waters' and Wolfgang Puck's stories; she has an ability to spot the go-getters early. As often happened with M.F.K. Fisher, whose writing Reichl greatly admires, the suffering of love often sends Reichl to the table for sustenance. Like Fisher, Reichl heals quickly, if only on the surface, and like Fisher's writing, her writing has very little of the larger context. The wars and discontents of this world are far, far away. Reichl's career begins, shamelessly enough, with an affair with her editor, Coleman Andrews. She is married, //and her marriage takes half the memoir and several affairs to fully dissolve. After exposing Reichl to the varied luxuries of food writing, Andrews reveals that he is marrying someone else. This pain is mitigated by a few recipes and an affair with journalist Michael Singer. (How could anyone keep a job through all this, a reader wonders. The answer seems to be food and travel.) But all this is just rehearsal for the real suffering. Reichl and Singer adopt a baby girl whose mother, after several months, decides she wants the baby back. There's a recipe for comforting this pain, too, to be eaten with many close friends many times over the years.

*

THE SEVEN AGES

by Louise Glck

Ecco Press: 80 pp., $23

Poetry comes with so little explanation. We would never ask a poet, "Is your work autobiographical?" Of course it is autobiographical, yet its source is so deep in the aquifer of the self that it is not even about the self, elusive and yet so immediate, injecting itself right into the reader's blood stream. This collection of poems is an exploration of Eden; inside, outside, experience versus understanding, paradise versus civilization. There is the earth, an Eden that will cease to sustain us if we try to possess it. There is the gender Eden; that last summer of girls on the beach before the deluge of loving men. There is, as in the poem "Radar" the girl who leaves the Eden of childhood: "I wanted my parents awake and vigilant; I wanted them/to stop lying." And there are characters in Louise Glck's poetry: Two sisters run throughout the poems, followed by something ominous that is only partially revealed. My life has been good, Glck says again and again of her first 50 years, and somewhere I will have to pay for it. "Fifty years. Such a long walk/from the door to the table." 'What do we have," she asks fearfully in another poem, "The Empty Glass," 'to appease the great forces?" 'I have nothing," is what she wants to say, "I am at your mercy."

*

ARTS OF THE POSSIBLE

By Adrienne Rich

W.W. Norton: 256 pp., $23.95

Adrienne Rich is shy. While her poetry explores this shyness, her essays on revolutionary thinking and the arts dance around it. It is her poetry that has carried her into other lives, by imagining them on the page and by influencing her readers. These essays, written from 1971 to the present, carry us through Rich's thinking about the women's movement, about the relationship between art and power, about the personal and the political, the I and the We. They show some evolution in her thinking and some stubbornness. Stubbornness, for example, fueled her decision to reject the National Medal for the Arts in 1997, writing in her letter to Jane Alexander that art "means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power that holds it hostage." What a reader sees in these essays is the evolution of Rich's chivalry, her code of honor. Knight-like, she has fought dragons for decades: anger, victimization, deceit and separation. She wanders, searching for the "honorable human relationship" she first described in 1979, that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word "love." In the end, Rich always comes home to language and creation. She wants to wake us up. She wants to be awakened.

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