Blood, Bones & Butter

If you like food like I do, then you probably search for cooking shows as often as you can.  The latest series I have become hooked on is The Mind of a Chef thanks to the hub.  When a female chef is highlighted on the series, my interest piques even further since, for reasons I can’t quite wrap my head around, female chefs are in the minority.

Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef and owner of Prune restaurant in New York’s East Village, was featured as I was binging on The Mind of a Chef via Netflix.  I found myself intrigued at the allusions to her past in the series, but frustrated at the lack of full explanation.  I felt I needed to know more, so when I googled her, I discovered she had written a memoir (my favorite genre), Blood, Bones & Butter:  The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.  Next thing I know, I am ordering the book online from my local library and impatiently awaiting the e-mail telling me my book is on reserve and waiting.

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Hamilton begins her memoir retelling her unique, yet idyllic childhood born the last of five children, a childhood which revolved around food.  The daughter of a French woman, Hamilton recalls her mother standing in the kitchen with some stew or underutilized cut of meat simmering on the stove.  When her parents divorce, and she, in essence, becomes forgotten, Hamilton accurately describes how the fracturing of her family affects each child in the same family in a unique manner.  Out of this upheaval, though, Hamilton describes with such grit and honesty how she found her way despite the lack of familial support and eventually becomes the chef and owner of Prune and mother of two, a journey one does not want to miss out on reading.

So, time should be set aside while reading because this memoir will keep even the casual foodie up into the wee hours of the night and make one’s stomach grumble with gluttonous hunger . . .

 

Falling Apart in One Piece

Stacy Morrison’s memoir Falling Apart in One Piece, which focuses on the before and after of her divorce to her husband of ten years, intrigued me because at the time of the book’s publication, Morrison was editor in chief of Redbook magazine, and I am a magazine junkie.

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Set in New York City, Morrison and her then husband Chris had been together thirteen years with a new baby when one day Chris simply stated from the couch, “‘I’m done . . . I’m done with this,'”  (3) and as Morrison further explains in great detail, he truly was.  What ensues is candid writing revealing heartache, desperation, and uncertainty.  Left to navigate solo a money pit of a recently purchased Brooklyn home, full-time childcare, one-sided attempts to resuscitate a dead marriage, as well as a newly acquired editor in chief position, I found myself having to take breaks from the reading in order to take a step back from all of the stress unfolding in Morrison’s life, so the fact she inevitably overcomes all of these obstacles is an inspiring feat in and of itself.

Besides simply an exploration of her relationship with her then husband, Morrison also tells of the after effects of a divorce in regards to family and friends.  What Morrison once considered “our friends and family” became “your friends and family” and “my friends and family,” further collateral damage. For Morrison, friends’ earnest attempts at support often fell short or simply added more ache to her already broken heart.

Refreshing to read writing free of grammatical and mechanical errors, the one mistake I did find  was how Morrison states, “I invited my family to my apartment on Sunday to join me for the very first proper Thanksgiving feast . . ..”  (214), but then later writes “. . . Zach with me and my family for Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday”  (215).

Overall, a motivating look at how what one may first perceive as devastating, may, in fact, be an opening to a path one never knew existed.

Bossypants

Last week my hub was out of town for a couple of days, so I needed a quick read.  As always my sistah from another mistah came to the rescue with Tina Fey’s Bossypants.  Classified as a memoir, Fey’s writing highlights various happenings in her life, but reads as more of a conversational piece on her world view based on her own experiences.  Thus, as Fey writes, “For me this book has been a simple task of retracing my steps to figure out what factors contributed to this person . . .”  (5).  Fortunately for the reader, Fey reflects on her life with much humor and raw honesty.

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Fey begins by telling how she was a “‘change-of-life baby'” (7) for her “old parents” (7) as she arrives eight years after her brother.  Then, at age five she is slashed in the face by a stranger which has since left a scar on her face (which I, as a fan, have never even noticed).  Instead of elaborating on the circumstances regarding what must have been a traumatic experience for a young child, she offers her insight on what she has learned from people who do and do not ask about the mark on her face which reads as a fascinating perspective on human behavior.  This, in turn, made me ponder my own interactions with people after my double mastectomy: which people couldn’t help but stare at my chest (not ever sure what they were looking for), which people offered their own experiences with breast cancer (even if it was a sixteenth cousin twice removed), and which people made me laugh great belly laughs (my favorite, by the way).

What I walked away with after reading Bossypants is that we are not alone in our struggles and triumphs, no matter how many Golden Globes we win or don’t win.  What we take away and learn from life is what matters in the end.

House Rules

The other day my squirts and I were wandering the halls of the Little Library after playing at the adjacent park.  After my oldest collected a pile of American Girl magazines and my youngest discovered Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, I found my way to the memoirs as I often do.  Running my finger along the spines of the hardcovers, Rachel Sontag’s House Rules caught my attention.  Pulling the book in question from the shelf and flipping to the back cover, I discovered the author is a fellow Illinoisan, so I was sold.  Leaving the library juggling thirteen items, we were all ready to return home and snuggle in for some quality read time.

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In House Rules, Sontag retells her abusive childhood with vivid imagery and heart wrenching dialogue, words no child should ever have to hear from the mouths of her parents.  Her parents, a medical doctor for a father and a social worker for a mother, chose to emotionally and physically abuse Sontag while abusing Sontag’s sibling via neglect.  Sontag herself has a hard time remembering if her sister was with the family on various outings or instances of abuse, but she verifies the sister’s existence by noting her presence in pictures; thus concluding, she must have been present, too.

On numerous occasions, she looks to her mother for rescuing from her father’s verbal abuse, but her mother is mostly a mute presence.  One time late at night, her mother wakes Sontag in the middle of the night telling of her plans to escape having researched a small community in Wisconsin in which to flee.  Repeated late night talks with her mother fill Sontag with hope that a reprieve from the paternal abuse is right around the corner.  Yet, when divorce papers arrive in the mail and Sontag’s mother is berated by Sontag’s father, her mother takes out her frustration on Sontag by climbing on top of her and repeatedly banging her daughter’s head against the kitchen floor.  Further empty promises to divorce her father continue for years until Sontag, after much therapy realizes:

I wanted her.  I wanted Mom to be someone she wasn’t, to take on a strength she never possessed, to do what I hoped I would have done in her situation.  I thought that mothers were naturally inclined to protect their children, and she was failing.. . . I remember the aching way in which I knew wanting her would ruin my life. . . . In the years that followed I cut myself off from her completely. . . . I didn’t owe her anything because I’d escaped and she hadn’t.  That was her choice . . ..  (176, 231, 243)

Thus, when Sontag’s mother calls and pleads with Sontag to write a general apology letter to her father so that she would be allowed to attend Sontag’s college graduation, Sontag refuses.  Enough was enough for her.

Sontag’s prose is honest and insightful, and as reader, I find myself cheering her on for her survival and ultimate discovery of happiness with friends and loved ones whom she now considers her family:

The versions of ourselves we present to the world are perhaps the versions of ourselves we most want others to know.  We split and divide at the core, recreating ourselves, until we determine the perception we best like. . . . I was sad knowing that I could never go back . . . . That returning would not be reconciling with Mom and Dad but arriving in a place where I was creating ways to live, not just trying to survive.  (258-259).

Writing Workshop Wednesdays (15)

In classical mythology (who doesn’t love mythology?), the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne are referred to as the nine muses, each responsible for protecting an art or science:  Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (religious music), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy).  Personally, my muses are my two daughters.  Initially motivated by a diagnosis of cancer, I wanted to have some sort of record of my love of reading for my girls.  Thus, the conception of AuthorGroupie.blogspot.com which has evolved into AuthorGroupie.com.

In an effort to convince my English 111 students of the validity of being referred to as authors (aren’t we all authors of our own story?) and after reading their memoirs, I assigned them the task of completing my author interview, Ten Questions.  As responses are trickling in, I, once again, am amazed at my students’ creativity, honesty, and sense of humor.  Mr. Carter writes in response to, “Who or what is your muse?”

“My muse would be the fact that if I don’t write I will receive a bad grade. I think that’s enough motivation for anyone to sit down and write something amazing.”

So, for this week’s Writing Workshop Wednesdays, who or what is your muse?

Tracy McMillan’s I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway

A fan of the memoir, I discovered this latest read, I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway, while perusing the shelves at Horizontal Books in Cleveland, Ohio.  Tracy McMillan writes with honesty as she details her childhood dysfunction and its lasting effects which reach into her adulthood especially in her relations with men.

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What drew me in as a reader were her thought processes from the perspective of her childhood self as well as her adult self intermingled with one another within a single chapter.  The weight of what McMillan had to endure as a little girl resulted in my taking numerous breathers from the reading.  Born to a father who was a pimp/drug dealer and a mother who worked as a prostitute, McMillan finally found some normalcy at the hands of Gene and June Ericson, her foster parents, for four and a half years.  Then, she was uprooted from this home only to live with her father and his girlfriend until his return to prison.  Her parenting then fell into the hands of her father’s girlfriend turned wife, Yvonne.

As an adult and reflecting on her current relationship with her stepmother which is pretty much nonexistent, McMillan writes:

I feel a twinge of sadness, not because I wish that we were going to be a part of each other’s lives- I don’t see a life of merry Christmases and summer vacations with Yvonne- but there’s a part of me that loves a happy ending, and as endings go, this one isn’t happy.  It’s just okay. . . . on second thought, an okay ending will do just fine.  (312)

This is just one of many sympathetic introspections the author engages in throughout the memoir resulting in a resolution of profound thought.

Furthermore, in dealing with her son who questions McMillan as to why she divorced her third husband, McMillan takes full ownership of her role as parent, “I know my choices have affected you, honey.  I’m so, so sorry. . . .We can make it count for something”  (333), and responsibility to stop the cycles of dysfunction.

If reading I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway for book club, perhaps a trip to Paris (where McMillan and her son commenced a fresh start) for discussion will fit into everyone’s schedule.  If not in the budget, then perhaps coffee to mirror how McMillan not only starts her day, but how this beverage makes an appearance during many of McMillan’s life-changing events.