Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tender at the Bone

OK, so the second book I read was called Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. You may have noticed that I have been posting often, but it is only because I read a couple books before creating this blog. Since I am now in the middle of the 3rd book, after this post I'll be posting on my current text as I read.

So, back to the book, Tender at the Bone is a nonfiction tale of a Jewish girl and her pathologically manic mother. We can all relate to that right? Why is everything blamed on the mother! I guess it is because the mother has such a deep impact on her children. We, as mothers out there, can absolutely relate to the pressures of raising children in such a way that they are happy and not serial killers. Every move we make has ramifications, but of course we mothers don't think quite that way. If, on any given day, we were to analyze every word and every action we took with our children as to whether they may be damaged, we would be MAD! both senses of the word. So we go about our day, with only the major instances of bad behavior on our part as mothers and hope it doesn't ruin them too much. And don't forget the forever looming question, "Are they still young even that they won't remember?"

Similar to the movie and book Julie and Julia, this book is also surrounded by food and various recipes. Although I did not find this a book worth re-reading, I found that the recipes may be worth trying. This book will make you hungry, however it is slightly bi-polar in more than one way. First there are the recipes that the young woman picks up as a child from various aunts and nannies because her mother is a horrible and possibly deadly cook, and then there is the underlining story of the girl growing up. The stories are all intertwined, and somewhat hard to believe. The main character goes off to various countries, mostly France but also Egypt and other African countries, for boarding schools and summer job and just for a vacation away. I assume there is not any fiction in the book as it is nonfiction AND a New York Times bestseller??? But, big BUT, it seems unlikely for someone to have done all the things the author has done. Who am I to say, you might ask. Well, good question, the book does read as if her life was written verbatim, but I found it lacked a bit of depth that I always crave in a book. Her life is a mix of wild trips and experiences with various strangers and also a longing to have a mother who does not make her life a challenge. It would have been interesting to read this story from the mother's point of view or alternatively, to hear the author's story of her marriage and family now and how her upbringing helped or hindered her as an adult.

This book did not captivate me, especially because it followed Unaccustomed Earth.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unaccustomed Earth

I chose Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri mostly because I loved the title and the cover. I know, it is revealing the simplicity within myself to say that, but it is nevertheless true. I did not, nor do I plan to, research these books before I read them. I only choose them as I somewhat randomly take one in my hand and open to it's first page.

I have already read Unaccustomed Earth before I began this blog so my details will probably be a little fuzzy and less in depth than say, for example what I may write about future books while I read them.

This novel was literally art with words. The writing had a depth that grew flowers. There is a series of about five stories and although each ended in some sort of loss of soul, the beauty rested in the way she wrote. These are tales of displacement; of a culture rarely written about in novels. So the question is, why did my grandfather choose this novel? It could be as simple as a reccomendation or a day of browsing book shops, but he clearly chose a novel with an extremely talented author; an author in the realm of Remarque, though slightly less grotesque, but poetic in a natural sense as if she were born to write.

The idea of displacement, of never fully belonging where you currently stand is interesting to me. In my own life I experience this dichotomy as I am sure, you as the reader have felt as well. My grandparents, their history and knowledge and learning, represents to me a place I belong. And yet, my parents belong somewhere else; a place where you work and marry young and have children; a place with more disfunction, but perhaps a bit more warmth?

I married at 23 and had two children by 27, in that way I am more like my mother. By 23 I had a Bachelor's of Art in Literature, a teaching credential, and a Master's of Science in Education; in that way I am more like my grandparents. I never fully feel at home without striving for more knowledge, to add to the world in some dynamic way and yet I never fully feel quite at home as an academic either. I am displaced, which is what happens when families experience trauma and members stray and marry others; they become disconnected and rebellious and the children suffer.

In some ways I feel like there may have been some displacement in my grandparent's marriage, perhaps all marriages. There is a photograph of more than 50 years ago when they were married. On my grandmother's side of the photo were her parents, Russian I believe? They look proper and kind and maybe slightly a bit too serious, too concerned. On my grandfather's side, his father is shorter, round and jolly, smoking a cigar and next to him a woman stood, fun and lively; dressed well. I believe they were from Poland? The two sides seem uterly opposite and I wonder how it felt to combine those personalities.

My grandparents are children of immigrants. I wonder how they experienced their own parents' displacement from the countries of their birth. I imagine that in a positive way both my grandparents were given knowledge about a world beyond where they currently lived, perhaps two languages as well. In this way it would make sense that even if there was not such a cultural influence in the Jewish tradition, these children may have been drawn to thinking outside of the box.

Overall, I thought this book to be one of the most well written novels I have read. She mostly writes of deep sorrow, of loosing oneself, of gaining nothing, and yet in her world of loss and fuzziness, there lies beauty in the words the author chooses to express the soul and it's search for a home. When the novel ended I wanted to immediatly go read The Namesake, her other more famous novel, but alas I cannot, for there are more books in the shelf I must read.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A note of explanation

Normally as I read through a book I will post several times as I come to something interesting and worth pausing for. However, since I have not started blogging, but have begun reading, I will only have one post for the first book I read, Unaccustomed Earth by Juhmpa Lahiri, and one post for the second book I read Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. I am currently reading the third book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which I hope to begin posting about in the next few days so that I will be caught up and frequently posting. Shall we begin?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A first

My grandfather, aka Papa, told me recently that he and my grandmother were moving. They have lived in Marin County, California for as long as I can remember. In their home, memories live. Will the memories follow, or do they stay and merge with new families with all their laughter and tears?

To get ready for the move, they have been cleaning and clearing and passing down items. When I heard of all this shifting, I called Papa and asked him for his collection of novels and books. As a little girl, I used to go into their office and stare at the rows and rows of books, touching their edges, inhaling their worlds. There are two long desks running along perpendicular walls so that two of the four walls were hugging long tables. On the tables are computers, one for each, so that they may work alongside each other simultaneously working on different projects. Above the desks are shelves with old pictures and new ones. There are pictures of their five children growing up, and the sixteen grandchildren which I am one of.

On the adjoining walls are degrees, cast in gold trim, holding knowledge and work ethic. One a degree from UC Berkeley, another a degree from Chicago Medical School, along with two Master's degrees in Fine Art and Marriage and Family Counseling. Along these, there are pictures from the Navy, Papa young and bold with a group of men in front of a plane.

And, of course, along those walls are also the shelves that held countless books. Some Papa had bought or received as gifts, and some were Grandma Joyce's collected through the years. Somehow those rows of books represented more to me than pages and print. They are living testimonies of a better life; they represent the human desire for something greater and the possibility that I could achieve that.

So, I sit here now writing to you, asking you to come on a journey with me. A journey unique to me, but not altogether different than your own. I will be reading these books, one by one, except maybe Chess For Dummies, but you never know. Who writes a title with the word "dummy" on it anyway? I will be commenting on them as I read, writing about how the books relate to my life as a thirty year old mother and wife, and also what it may have said about Papa and his life and journeys along side my forever kind Grandma Joyce.