Posts tagged ‘reading’

On Reading Aloud

I had the opportunity to return to View from the Bay last week to speak about the importance of reading aloud, and also to share some children’s books chosen by my son’s school librarians. It was hard to stick to my allotted five minutes! Here’s the clip:

Celebrate World Read Aloud Day

People write to me at Literary Mama fairly regularly, asking me to help them promote this or that event, and most of the time the events don’t have much to do with the mission of Literary Mama. But when I heard from the folks at LitWorld about World Read Aloud Day, it was easy to offer our help, especially since it means I get to a) read aloud to kids (including my own!) and b) go on tv again!

So join me on World Read Aloud Day, March 3rd, at Books, Inc. in San Francisco’s Laurel Village, from 6 – 7 PM for a bedtime story reading! I’ll be joined by my friends and fellow writer-mamas Lisa Harper and Nicki Richesin. Bring the kids in their pj’s for a fun evening outing!

Me on TV!

In case you missed it, here’s the clip of my recent segment on View from the Bay:

Food Is Stories

It has been, by most objective measures, a lousy week. It announced itself with a dog bite on my Monday morning run, developed with Eli’s fever, peaked the night Tony and I spent at Eli’s bedside, putting cold washcloths on his head and wondering whether to take him into Urgent Care, and has now moved into the quiet dull rhythm of boredom and cabin fever that settles on a house when a family member has been sick a while. I did finally make the ultimately ill-advised decision to leave the house, only to back our garage-parked car into our driveway-parked car (another reason I want to sell one of our cars; it might be a bit harder now, though). But I have to say that if my child was going to choose any week to be sick and keep me anchored on the couch, stroking his head while he watched endless episodes of Oswald and Peep in the Big World, at least he chose the week that the New York Times Magazine published the food issue.

Click on over to the other blog to read the rest…

Losing Gourmet

cross-posted from the other blog

It’s not like I grew up with it. My mom learned to cook mostly from her own mom (though luckily got an excellent pie crust education from her mother-in-law). When we moved to the US in the early 70s, I remember seeing The Galloping Gourmet and The French Chef occasionally on our black & white kitchen television, but I think they were on more for entertainment than education. Mom subscribed to the Time-Life series of international cookbooks (the hardcovers now live in my house; the paperbacks, with more recipes, continue to get a workout in her kitchen) but never a cooking magazine, that I recall.

It was after college that I started to pick up Gourmet occasionally. It was a glimpse into another world. It was like a travel magazine to me, so glossy and beautiful. I tore out the occasional recipe – and if it looked good on the page, it always turned out well– but at the time mostly just dreamed over the beautiful pictures. And that’s one small reason I’m sad about losing Gourmet; for someone who doesn’t subscribe to fashion magazines or anything else with beautiful photography, and whose nightly dinner table can get a little dull with plates of pasta, every month Gourmet showed me lovely tables I could aspire to, and reminded me to set out a vase of flowers or put the vegetables in a pretty bowl.

When I moved to California, I had more time for cooking, and although I didn’t have much money, I saved a few dollars every month to pick up Gourmet. It was always fun reading, a perfect escape from my dense graduate school reading lists. When I broke up with my boyfriend and moved into a place without a kitchen, I would amuse myself trying to make some of Gourmet’s recipes with just a toaster oven, hot pot, rice cooker and electric skillet. I made great stir fries, a fabulous (small) lasagne, and baked cookies by the half dozen. When I moved in with a roommate (partly, to be sure, because of the kitchen) we shared a subscription to Gourmet, and celebrated when she passed her oral exams with a cocktail party fueled by the magazine’s recipes. Whether for a single woman without a kitchen, or two budget-conscious grad students who wanted to eat well, those recipes always worked. And that’s another reason I’m sad about losing Gourmet.

And then just as I was finishing graduate school, I met Tony, and we bonded over food. I discovered, at his mom Nancy’s house, a veritable library of cooking magazines, refreshed with new issues every month: Fine Cooking, Food and Wine, Saveur, Cooks Illustrated, Gourmet. Ruth Reichl was the editor of Gourmet by then and it was becoming a home for writers, terrific writers like Laura Shapiro and Michael Lewis and Anthony Bourdain and Jane and Michael Stern. We would hang out at Nancy’s house leafing through all the magazines and tearing out the recipes, but Gourmet was the one to read and we would talk about the essays over dinner and long Scrabble games. I remember in particular an essay by Michael Lewis that came out the month Ben was born, in which Lewis describes a trip to Masa’s for dinner with his wife and toddler. For ages afterward, I paraphrased a line from the piece (which sadly I can’t find online), “If you won’t [fill in the blank with whatever I wanted Ben to do] we’ll just have to stay at home and eat broccoli.”

The magazine was always smart, relevant, and delicious, and I routinely incorporated its recipes into our life, from cookies or savory biscotti for our annual New Year’s Day party to banana muffins for preschool bake sales. Gourmet’s vodka-spiked tomatoes came camping with us this summer, and the magazine’s roasted potato and kale salad is now one of my favorite ways to eat those two favorite vegetables. Flipping through my messy binder of saved recipes tonight, I see that over half of them come from Gourmet. Without their monthly infusion of fresh recipes, the binders will stop bursting from their seams, which is probably a good thing, but it’s another reason I’m sad about losing Gourmet.

After Nancy passed away, we had her mail forwarded to our house and that meant two copies of Gourmet each month. I called the customer service people, who were happy to consolidate her subscription and mine, but there was a little confusion over the name and so it has come to me each month with her name on it. If Nancy liked something, she put her money on it, so the subscription was supposed to go deep into 2012. It was a monthly reminder of the meals and conversations we shared, and that’s the last, biggest, reason I’m sad about losing Gourmet.

Sick Day

It’s been so long (thank goodness), that at first Eli hardly knew what to do with himself.

He was surprised when I told him he wasn’t going to school, but when I pointed out that he could barely lift his sweaty, feverish head, he nodded on the pillow and said ok. He rallied to eat half a bowl of granola, and then flopped on the couch sadly with me after waving Ben off to school. “Do you want to watch something on TV, buddy?” I asked him. “Is there time for a show?” “Oh, there’s time for whatever you want,” I told him; the boys don’t watch much TV (none during the week, maybe a half hour on the weekend) but on days like this, I think of my childhood sick days, watching back-to-back Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ movies, and I’ll queue up movies for hours if that’s what the boys want.

Except by this point, Eli was so cozily cuddled up, he didn’t want me to leave the couch to get a DVD, so our options were limited to a few Tivo’d kids movies: Curious George, Babe, Happy Feet. He managed ten minutes of Happy Feet before declaring it too loud, so we looked at the Tivo list again: movies; Oswald; Peep and the Big Wide World; Bear in the Blue House. We recorded these shows years ago, when Ben was a toddler, but my children are creatures of habit like I am; if a show was good when they were two, apparently it’s good when they are four and seven. Periodically we hear about new and interesting TV shows aimed at kids, and I’m briefly tempted to record something different, but then I think how I would miss the somber opening chords of the Oswald theme, or Peep’s jaunty tune, and I doublecheck that Tivo won’t delete these old shows before we’re ready.

We settled into Oswald. Then we watched a Peep. I was half-watching, stroking Eli’s head, and reading the New York Times magazine section. Life was good. But then Peep ended and Eli sat up. “I want to draw.” Really? We moved to the art table, he picked up a marker and laid his head in my lap. “Eli? Honey? I think it’s going to be hard to draw with your head in my lap.” “OK, let’s draw upstairs,” he decided. I wasn’t convinced he’d be able to hold his head up any better upstairs, but up we went — and then he spotted his bed. “How about we read some books instead?” I suggested. “OK.”

I got out a stack of favorites– The Bunny Planet trilogy; Library Lion; Bread and Jam for Frances; The Bunnies Are Not In Their Beds; Violet the Pilot– and we climbed into bed, and I read, and then I told him the story of the day he was born, and then I told him the story of the day Ben was born and eventually he was asleep, and I took a nap, too, and hours later when he woke he was still sick, but a tiny bit livelier, and I’m grateful for our day.

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

Masha Hamilton’s gripping new novel, 31 Hours, tells the story of a young man, Jonas, who is smart and sensitive, worried about the world and wanting to make a difference. He reminds me of someone one of my sons could grow into someday, someone I would want them to grow into someday. Except for this: Jonas falls under the influence of a man named Masoud who convinces him to participate in an act of terrorism.

Jonas’ is just one of the storylines in the novel, which introduces us to three families: Sonny Hirt, a subway panhandler, and his sister; Jonas and his long-divorced parents; his girlfriend Kit, her much younger sister Mara, and their newly-separated parents. They are all pretty regular folks traveling a Manhattan and Brooklyn landscape that is quite familiar (and more familiar to me than the settings of Hamilton’s earlier, terrific, novels like The Camel Bookmobile or The Distance Between Us). Jonas’ story draws the other families closer, like a dangling thread which, when pulled, tugs the others inexorably tighter. I read with an increasing sense of urgency as the clock ticked down the thirty-one hours to the story’s climax.

The story is told in shifting narrative voices, allowing the reader into a variety of different perspectives on the events. I found myself feeling most for Carol, Jonas’ mom, whose sense that her son is in trouble opens the novel, but I can’t stop thinking about this passage from the ‘tween, Mara, who is suffering quietly through her parents’ separation, hearing her mom cry behind closed doors every day, and wants only to bring her parents back together. Hamilton writes:

It had been left to Mara to rescue her mother. No one else seemed to realize the seriousness of the situation. Mara was reminded of a movie she’d waatched once… The title had long since slipped from her memory, but what she did recall was that a ship went down and two women found themselves in a lifeboat with nothing to eat or drink. They floated alone at sea. At first there were jokes, or attempts at jokes, and then singing, and finally the sharin gof secrets that altered the way the two women felt about each other an themselves. But as their situation became increasingly desperate, much of the talking ended. One woman finally succumbed to thirst and, though her companion begged her not to, began frantically gulping seawater cupped in her hands. And that drove her mad. It caused sodium toxicity–Mara looked it up afterward–which resulted in a shrinkage of brain cells, which in turn resulted in confusion. The woman, now crazed, jumped into the ocean thinking she was walking into the kitchen in her own home to get a snack. She drowned. The audience was meant to weep for her. But Mara cried for the woman left behind, sane still but alone, floating on the vast sea. Mara felt as if her mother had become the dehydrated woman guzzling saltwater, and Mara was in danger of being abandoned at sea.

The lines keep resonating for me, as I think about what’s worse: to be the one who becomes quietly unhinged and dies (but who is protected, by madness, from fear of death); or to be the one left behind, “sane still but alone.” And as I was reading, I pulled myself out of the novel’s spell occasionally to force myself to consider this, and to wonder how I wanted the book to end. I couldn’t decide. Hamilton’s conclusion is absolutely uncompromising, somehow both shocking and satisfying.

Book Review/Giveaway–Who’s Your Mama: The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers

The hardest aspect of editing Mama, PhD was not editing the selections, nor working with the publisher to fine-tune essays, nor copyediting, nor even coordinating all of this work with a coeditor living 3,000 miles away who had two (now three!) kids of her own. No, I think really the hardest part was actually getting the essays. We sent out a call for submissions to our friends, and asked them to send it to their friends; we published it on list-servs and websites and broadcast it as widely as we knew how. It wound up in places that we didn’t even know existed, like the Women and Crime mailing list. But still, many of the essays came from women of similar backgrounds and in similar disciplines as ourselves. For Mama, PhD this wasn’t a deal-breaker: the collection winds up accurately reflecting the diversity of women in higher education. Still, I know there are more stories out there that we didn’t manage to uncover, and I’ll always wonder how we might have found them.

Yvonne Bynoe, who edited Who’s Your Mama: The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers, found an amazingly diverse group of women to contribute to her anthology. The women are different races and ethnicities; they are single, widowed, divorced and partnered, gay and straight, mothers and childless, at home with their kids and working outside the home. The women are not all professional writers, but they contribute deeply-felt stories which are powerfully told.

Mary Warren Foulk’s piece, “Which One’s the Mother?”, beautifully traces her complicated road to lesbian motherhood, and I loved Kathy Bricetti’s sweet essay, “The Baby Bank,” about going with her partner to a sperm bank, way back in 1992.

Christine Murphy is resisting friends’ and family pressure to jump on the “baby train” in “Mommy Maybe…” — and wondering if she’s making the right choice. Liz Prato writes poignantly of her decision not to have children in “Is Life Without Kids Worth Living?” With a mother who died at fifty-eight and two aunts who passed away in their forties, she feels that “knowing the parent-child relationship can come to such an abrupt end has shut down our desire to have kids.”

In “The Mother I Always Wanted,” Robin Templeton describes how her pregnancy makes her finally confront the reality of her own troubled mother; sitting on an airplane on the way back home, she writes, “I fanned myself with the laminated safety instructions, closed my eyes and a neon warning scrolled behind them like an interruption from the Emergency Broadcast System: Beep. This is a test. Beep. You are your mother’s chid. Beep. Your baby will be raised by a woman raised by your mother.”

Eileen Flanagan also addresses the legacy of difficult mothering in her essay, “A Pellet of Poison: I Don’t Want to Feed Racism to My Children the Way My Mother Fed It to Me.” Untangling what she was taught from what she wants to teach her children, she searches out slave narratives, abolitionist histories, novels and songs; she writes, “In the realm of race, I can also face the heat of my family history, sweating out whatever I’ve absorbed and teaching my children to do the same. Stories are like saunas that can help draw the poison out of us.”

And I loved Lisa Chiu’s essay “Ching Chong!” which hopes her son won’t hear the playground taunt that haunted her childhood: “Nico’s classmates haven’t yet asked him where he’s from. But when they do ask–and they will–I hope he will answer the question with clarity and confidence. I hope he will respond in a way that educates people, informing them not just of his own cultural background but of a world that is multi-hued, complex, and complicated.

“It took me years to come up with my own succinct answer to the question, replying that I’m a second-generation Taiwanese American woman who was born in Canada and raised in Cleveland. It took a long time for me to learn how to define myself. Now, it is time for me to guide my son along his cultural identity journey. I know where we’re from. And I’m gaining clarity in knowing where we’re going.”

I like these essays for asking good questions rather than presuming to have all the answers. These are women in the midst of journeys, and it’s interesting to follow along with their thinking.

Want to read this book? Leave me a comment by Saturday, May 30th, and I’ll choose someone at random to receive my advance galley.

A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers

I was delighted today to receive my contributor copy of A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers, in which my essay “The Cookie” has been reprinted. My story is about a particularly trying day of new motherhood and how a little old-fashioned advice and infant Ben’s own ingenuity saved the day.

My Literary Mama colleagues Amy Hudock and Kristina Riggle also have essays in this collection, which is a terrific group of moving, honest, and unsentimental essays about new motherhood. Check it out!

This Week at Literary Mama

There’s a little something for everyone at Literary Mama this week. Can’t stop thinking about the election? Read Children’s Lit Book Group for some books that will get even the youngest readers involved, and The Maternal Is Political for a thoughtful exploration of one mama’s political journey. Sick of thinking about the election? Then read about how Doing It Differently came to take one big step, or follow as Me and My House takes many steps.

In Literary Reflections, you know you all do it — now read about how Heidi Scrimgeour writes in the shower. And finally, I wanted to learn about how my friend and former LM columnist Gail Konop Baker writes anywhere, in addition to mothering her 3 kids, running, and dealing with cancer. So I interviewed her; read our conversation here.