The figurative language of Dwight Garner…

Reading time: About 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about similes and metaphors from Dwight Garner…

My two big hobbies are reading and cooking. So imagine my reaction when I heard about the subtitle of Dwight Garner‘s latest book.

The main title is The Upstairs Delicatessen, which comes from critic Seymour Krim’s metaphor for human memory. (Clever, right?) But it was the book’s subtitle that sealed the deal for me: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading. 

I’ve eaten, read, eaten while reading and read about eating since I was in grade 1, so Dwight Garner had me hook, line and sinker.

And of course the book is both amusing and erudite, telling, in a ’round-about way the story of Garner’s life. I’d almost call it a commonplace book, because it acts as a kind of clearing house of everything that Garner has read about food, cooking or eating.

But his language. Oh, his language! Here are my favourite examples:

  • I’ve looked to novels and memoirs and biographies and diaries and cookbooks and books of letter for advice about how to live, the way cannibals ate the brains of brilliant captives, seeking to grow brilliant themselves.
  • I am equally addicted to cookbooks and food magazines and Substacks and kitchen memoirs, pouncing on them like a flying squirrel upon acorns.
  • Most of [my] fights [with my wife] are about food, although the real issues are as deep and layered as a casserole.
  • I was eleven when I forced myself to start drinking [coffee] every day, made from Folger’s crystals, scalding hot, and nearly stiff with sugar.
  • I’m ashamed to admit I have a lucky coffee mug…I sip from it while on important deadlines, rubbing its belly as if it were a Buddha.
  • When Covid emerged, and quarantine began, breakfast took on new meaning. Some of us were no longer grabbing coffee and a corn muffin from the mini-mart and hustling to work as if Vince Lombardi were chewing us out.
  • From behind, I resemble a bear that has knocked over a trash can.
  • On some nights, bookstore work took a toll on me. I felt I was sliding down along a corkscrew’s spirals.
  • If you’ve been at a table [in a bar] for a few hours with friends, it’s gratifying to see the empties arranged around you like a crenellated embattlement.
  • Fast-food uniforms, of every stripe, seem designed to be humiliating. They were especially so in the 1970s and ‘80s, when they were all ketchup reds and mustard yellows.
  • The oysters in question, Kumamotos, had been “cryo-shucked: — that is, plunged into liquid nitrogen for fifteen seconds to pop their shells like automobile hoods.
  • The Great Gatsby [is] a book so smoothly written you could spread its paragraphs on toast.
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