“Goodbye, Vitamin” May Be the Best Novel You’ll Read This Summer

Julia Felsenthal in Vogue:

00-lede-rachel-khong“At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary,” Joan Didion once wrote. “My approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day’s events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best.”

Her essay is called “On Keeping a Notebook,” and Didion, to be clear, kept one (perhaps still does)—a place to document not what happened to her, but “how it felt to be me,” scraps of experience, sometimes factual, sometimes embroidered. A recipe for sauerkraut evokes the coziness of a boozy, rainy day on Fire Island; the sense memory of cracked crab for lunch as a child makes her “see the afternoon all over again,” no matter that the crab was almost certainly fictitious. These are reminders not of life, but of Joan. “I think we are well advised,” Didion observed (cannily enough to be endlessly quoted), “to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”

In 2008, writer Rachel Khong began keeping a food log, a list of every meal she consumed. She was inspired in part by Robert Shields, keeper of the world’s longest diary, who recorded the goings-on of his life at five-minute intervals (to the tune of 37.5 million words). Khong hoped that by diligently tracking what she ate, she would open up a channel in her brain to remembering more: where she was; who she was with; how she was feeling. At the time she was reeling from a breakup, contending with the way a tanking relationship exposes a chasm between each partner’s memories of seemingly joint experiences. How can a person trapped in the morass of imperfect recall identify true north without signposts? “I’m terrified of forgetting,” Khong admitted in a 2014 essay that appeared in Lucky Peach, the food magazine where until recently she was an editor. “If I could remember everything, I thought, I’d be better equipped; I’d be better able to make proper, comprehensive assessments—informed decisions. But my memory had proved itself unreliable, and I needed something better. Writing down food was a way to turn my life into facts: If I had all the facts, I could keep them straight. So the next time this happened I’d know exactly why—I’d have all the data at hand.”

More here.