Lulu Miller on 'The Search for Delicious'

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Lulu Miller, author of “Why Fish Don’t Exist,” first read the young adult book “The Search for Delicious” when she was in that transformative and uncertain stage in between childhood and adulthood. The enchanted fairy tale by Natalie Babbitt taught Miller to still believe in the power and poetry of magic, whatever her age.

I'm Lulu Miller, the author of “Why Fish Don't Exist.” And my bookmark is “The Search for Delicious” by Natalie Babbitt. It's a young adult novel. It's got some pictures, and I remember reading it when I was a kid. I guess it's a book that sort of you read in that in-between space where you're still, there's still possibility, and there's magic, but it's started to leave you behind. And this book kind of entered my world right at that moment when I was, felt like I was supposed to be growing up and not believing in anything magical. And that that was the work of being an adult and a clear-eyed person was to accept that and go forward.

It's a really fun premise. There's basically this little boy named Galen and he is helping the Prime Minister of this kingdom write a dictionary and they are doing all these words. And then they get to the letter D. They get to the word delicious. And the Prime Minister has his idea of what delicious is. Galen has his idea. The King and the Queen weigh in. They read it. The King, I believe the King thinks delicious is an apple. And the Queen is, thinks that's absurd. And she believes it's a certain kind of pie. I might be getting these wrong and I apologize for not checking in advance, but everyone has their different idea of what delicious is. And so it starts this kind of squabble in the monarchy.

And so Galen is sent out to survey the kingdom to find delicious. And so he has to go on this journey through all these little towns and through the forest and ask everyone he meets what they think delicious is, their definition of delicious. And so it's a really fun plot and you get to meet all these different characters. You meet bakers and who do love bread and bakers who don't love bread. And you meet a mermaid and there's all this kind of wonderful fairy tale stuff that goes on.

But along the way, she's just introducing these little philosophical questions and puzzles. Is there an absolute delicious? Well, no, probably not. And so if there's not, is there value in subjective truth? And these aren't things she spells out like that, but it starts to ... I guess it's sort of starts to let you use your 12-year-old, nine-year-old, 10-year-old, however old you are, nascent philosophical brain.

And then there's all this interesting linguistic puzzle solving. So there are things like the bad guy in the story is called Hemlock, and you learn that hemlock, it's a tree, but it's a poisonous tree. And the horse is that Galen rides is named Marrow and you learn, "Oh, marrow means the part of the inside of a bone that really gives strength in life." There's all these subtle wordplay and word nerdiness that, I think for me, I remember reading this book and it was just like, it made me realize there can be an enchanting experience even with the stuff we have around us. So even just with thinking about what a word means or thinking about the definition of a word and whether there is an absolute delicious or not.

And I think that was this first book that let me feel the enchanting feelings, even when we were obeying the laws of physics and made me realize, "Gosh, actually you can sometimes find magic purely through looking very closely at the world or through looking very closely at the linguistic definition of something." I think it just, it was the first book that showed me, even if you peel back the cold dead layer of our bleak earth, there is magic there.