I’m a longtime fan of M. F. K. Fisher—in fact, hers is the only food writing I’ve read that leaves the genre behind. But there’s one book of hers that I can’t seem to work my way through. It’s called As They Were, and it’s a collection of memories from throughout the author’s life.
It’s all beautifully written, but there’s something in the mood that never quite sucks me forward. On my plane to Lima last week, however, I gave it another try. Fisher is the best companion I know for the solitary food writer, because she revels so in solitude; she even has a kind of aesthetic around the solitary meal. She bucks me up, gives me strength, reminds me of the satisfactions I too have found in being alone, and in taking care of myself while by myself. I need that kind of encouragement sometimes; in part because I’m a very social person, and in part because my daughters are at an age that makes them very hard to leave. Anyway, early in the book, I came across a line that intrigued me. In an anecdote about eating candy alone in bed during her time at boarding school in Southern California, Fisher refers to her friend Max Beerbohm, the English drama critic and wit. Fisher was, she confesses, “basically what Beerbohm calls, somewhat scornfully, ‘a host’ and not ‘a guest’: I loved to entertain people and dominate them with my generosity.” I felt known, in this line—found out, or unmasked.