When Rick Bass arrived at the home of Denis Johnson and his wife, the Johnsons were naked. At least, that's how Johnson suggested Bass depict their evening together--one of more than a dozen visits Bass undertook following a heart-wrenching divorce, to find intellectual and emotional sustenance through cooking meals for writers whose words had sustained him.
In The Traveling Feast: On the Road and at the Table with My Heroes, Bass (For a Little While; Wild to the Heart) invites himself, and his grad student mentees and daughter, into the presence and pantries of the greats. He likens their literary quests to birds flocking to feeders. Those feeders included Peter Matthiessen, Lorrie Moore, Gary Snyder, Joyce Carol Oates, Terry Tempest Williams and more. He explains, "To stand in the presence of living greatness has inexplicable and inexhaustible value." In his Subaru and at the table, Bass and his crew explore life's hungers, delights and disappointments great and small. A failed pine nut tart. A failed opportunity to ask a question of a dying man. A failed marriage. A failed trip to the Corn Palace.
Some moments reverberate with shy courage. Others whoosh by, eliciting bursts of laughter. Some do both: see the essay on Bass's attempt to cook a dozen quail, "the haiku of poultry," for David Sedaris. Others acknowledge time and its cruelties, the steamroller of change, the weight of grief. Above all, Bass's prose, powerful and poignant, is a reminder of mortality and the feast that comes first. Dig in. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer