I’ve been eating oysters. This wouldn’t be news, but I’ve been vegan for five years. My professional life as a food writer depends on this nut-cheese niche, and I’ve abandoned it for mid-day lunches I can’t share on Instagram.
The consumption of these bivalve mollusks began soon after my brother’s sudden death last October. On my first trip out of the house alone, I went to the John Dory Oyster Bar for the release of a cocktail book. There, a table of oysters, four varieties on ice, served as the centerpiece to the room. There were also charcuterie and antipasti and other standard book launch fare, but they hadn’t caught my eye. I got a cocktail and sat by the window, growing restless. I stared at the oysters, thinking about summer lunches on restaurant decks that jutted out into the Great South Bay. What was it my dad always ordered on the half-shell? Clams? Or oysters? Either way, my brother never ate them. The smell of seafood made him cry as a baby. In his twenty-six years on earth, he never developed a taste for it.
On planes, I like to joke to whoever is seated next to me that soon we’ll have to pay extra if we want oxygen masks to fall from the ceiling in case of emergency. My seatmates pretend to be listening to their headphones, because I’ve been talking a lot, but I think they get the point.
The one thing that hasn’t been taken away, I continue, is soft-drink service. And with every drink comes a three-inch-by-three-inch cocktail napkin—which, unlike pretty much anything else, the airlines really, really want to give you.
Have you ever tried to decline a cocktail napkin on an airplane?
Followers of John McPhee, perhaps the most revered nonfiction narrative journalist of our time, will luxuriate in the shipshape prose of “Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process,” a collection of eight essays that first appeared in The New Yorker, his home for more than 50 years. Writers looking for the secrets of his stripped-bark style and painstaking structure will have to be patient with what is a discursive, though often delightful, short book. McPhee’s publisher is presenting it as a “master class,” but it’s really a memoir of writing during a time of editorial cosseting that now seems as remote as the court of the Romanovs. Readerly patience will be rewarded by plentiful examples of the author’s sinewy prose and, toward the end, by advice and tips that will help writers looking to become better practitioners of the craft and to stay afloat in what has become a self-service economy.