Love for Momma Love


Nearly two years ago, I posted this, about discovering Ali Smith, being smitten, and my quest to get my hands on her seemingly elusive book.  The mystery was solved when she responded directly to me, letting me know that I couldn’t find it because it hadn’t yet been published.  She was close, very close, to finding a publisher.  Her photographs were so stunning, felt so important, that I just assumed the publication was in progress, the details of which can be drawn-out over years, and I’ve been here, twiddling my thumbs, waiting.

Turns out her publisher folded, along with the funds she had put towards the book.  Today I made my first foray onto Kickstarter to contribute to get this book, (now twelve years in the making), published at last.  I knew about Kickstarter, mostly via swissmiss, and found it both mystifying and heartening that people were helping other people get projects off the ground, strangers, simply because they believed in the work or product.  It is, in reality, not an investment, but a gift.  The “return” on your “investment”, in this case, is that something you believe in, that has meaning to you, will exist in the world.  There was an interesting article about this in the New York Times (click here to read).

I am so not into trying to separate people and their money. You will never find me on any fund-raising committees. Can’t do it.  So consider this a Public Service Announcement.  Her Kickstarter campaign ends tonight.

Reading list-In-Progress

I have a terrible habit of starting a book and then starting another one, and another one, until I have a few books going at a time, and often don’t end up finishing any. It’s a very A.D.D. way to read. (And live. But one area at a time). Every now and then, one comes along that pulls me in completely, and I couldn’t even think of reading anything but. All day, I look forward to bedtime, when I get to settle in and get back to it, and stay up way too late to finish, in the morning tired but sated. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough.

To keep me honest and help me stay focused, I’m posting my reading list. I’m even giving it its own tab along the top of my site so that I can get to it easily, and, I hope, often (as soon as I figure out how). Some are books that have been sitting on my nightstand, waiting for their turn, some are old loves I re-read periodically when I come across them on my bookshelves, and most of them are to feed my writerly aspirations. I will post what’s on my current stack, cross each one off as I finish, and add to the list as new books and recommendations come in. I may (or may not) post about them as I check them off.

  • You Are Not A Stranger Here by Adam Haslett: This was the very first book of short stories I ever got into. And there has been only one other (Birds of America, Lorrie Moore). Generally, I don’t “get” short stories, but this one opened the door. I’ve read it twice already and look forward to revisting these carefully, lovingly drawn characters.
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: Recommended by a writer friend when I explained that I like poetic prose. Haven’t even opened yet.
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf: A gift from a friend, read a few years ago, was awed by Haruf’s delicate, deft touch, his compelling, simple story. He makes it look so easy.
  • A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas: I’ve written about Thomas before. She keeps writing the books I wish I’d written. I’ve been stuck at halfway through my second read since October. I started re-reading this as soon as I finished. That’s how much I love her writing.
  • From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler: Recommended by my current writing instructor, on writing fiction.
  • Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik: I never finished this the first time (when it came out twelve years ago). Brought it on my recent trip to Paris, am a few chapters in. He gets that Parisian mood so right.
  • Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson: When I was twenty-two and living in Paris for the year, I was on a serious Jeanette Winterson tear. I think her intensity and breathlessness matched mine at the time. Her books were heady and emotional and I read everything of hers I could. I brought this one along, too, on my Paris trip, to try to remember what I loved so much.
  • Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich: A poet friend read me an essay she had written on Rich’s passing which was, among other things, a lament on not understanding Rich’s profound influence on her work until after her death. Besides making me cry, the essay made me determined to discover her myself. How did I get this far without reading Adrienne Rich?
  • Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes: I have started this book three times and never gotten past the first chapter. It has one of my favorite first lines ever, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” Which pretty much sums up my religious life for the past fifteen years. This line alone keeps me coming back to try again.
  • An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler: A gift from a friend who knows how I love food writing. And food. This book is dog-earred at the halfway mark, and deserves finishing. Some of the lustiest, elegant food writing I’ve read. More about an approach to food than distinct recipes. Lamar is singlehandedly responsible for my return to bread and salt. God bless her for giving me permission.
  • My Stroke Of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor: I saw an interview with Taylor by the one and only Oprah on OWN in a hotel room in Baltimore this fall. I was riveted by Taylor and despite my children begging me to turn the channel, I insisted on watching the whole thing. A memoir about a Harvard brain scientist’s experience with an incapacitating stroke, what she learned about the brain. In a nutshell: “Don’t believe everything you think.”
  • Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie: My husband reads History and Economics pretty much exclusively. Massie is one of his favorites. While he was reading Catherine this fall, he couldn’t stop talking about it. I’m taking him Wednesday to hear Massie read. Once I get my book autographed, I’m jumping in.

(not pictured, but on their way)

I’m keeping a separate list for Childrens/Young Adult Lit. These are all “research” for something I’m working on. Or not working on. We’ll see.

  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Clearly: Ramona was among my favorites growing up. Revisting to see what I loved so much.
  • The Memory Bank by Carolyn Coman: Coman recommended by current teacher (see below).
  • Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1) by Christopher Paolini: My son, Ben, is a voracious reader and is so excited about this series. He told me that I must read it, that both the story and the writing are “so good”, that the writing is almost “poetic”. He got my attention with that one.
  • Lizard Love by Wendy Townsend: A gifted and generous teacher I’ve been fortunate to study with this semester. She is A-mazing.

Please share what you’re reading in the Comments section! I’d love to know!

“Momma Love” Book Mystery Solved

Don’t you just love how the internet makes it possible for us to reach out to pretty much anyone in the world, even if we don’t know them?  Yesterday I contacted Ali Smith through her website in an attempt to go straight to the source to solve the mystery of where to buy her book, Momma Love.  And don’t you know I heard back from her today, just like that.  It’s magic, really.  A source of great time-wasting sometimes, this internet (Facebook, I’m talking to you).  But also an amazing tool for connecting people.

Ali’s response:

 “I appreciate your post so much and am thrilled you responded to the work! It’s been getting really strong responses from so many. Makes me feel very good about the project. Like it’s really needed.  The book project is currently with my agent and I’m hoping it will find its proper home soon. I will definitely keep you informed about the progress and when there’s purchasing info, I’d be grateful if you could share it with your crowd”.

Being able to connect with someone whose creative work I really admire  via the invisible  but all-knowing web is really an amazing thing.  Today it’s making me feel like the world is wide open, all out there for us decide what we would like to select from the buffet.

Do you have any experiences to share about connecting with your tribe or like-minded individuals or sources of creative inspiration?  I’d love to hear about it in comments section.

If you’re interested in Ali’s work, check out her blog here.


Momma Love

A while back, I came across the work of Ali Smith at momfilter, and made a mental note to find out more.  A conversation with a photojournalist friend last week jogged my memory and thankfully, I circled back to Smith’s book project that had initially caught my eye. Smith spent eight years photographing mothers with their children. The resulting project, Momma Love; How the Mother Half Lives, looks like a gorgeous pairing of these photos with text.  As I am endlessly interested in and moved by the lives and stories of mothers, I must. have. this. book.  All Google searches have left me empty-handed as far as a buying option.  Never fear!  I will not be deterred!  I will find this book.

Image from "Momma Love" by Ali Smith

In the meantime, watch the lovely video trailer for Momma Love:

And if you know where to get it, kindly let me know in the comments section.

What I’m Reading (when not reading cookbooks)

I’m still reading this one, mainly because I’m trying to stretch it out to make it last.  I love it that much.  I’m hanging on to the last few chapters, just don’t want it to be over.  Flynn is a poetic, inventive writer who just happens to have an amazing story to tell.  The one about his life working in a homeless shelter in Boston intersecting with his relationship with his estranged, homeless father.   It’s complicated, as you can imagine. 

Think Growing Up by Russell Baker and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls on crystal meth, without the redeeming characters or unconditional love.  Or Mary Carr’s Liar’s Club but without Carr’s twangy humor.  Yet somehow not grim or depressing.  Somehow clear-eyed and beautiful.  Illuminating.  Full of humanity and vulnerability. 

It’s such a compelling story that I wasn’t surprised to find that there is a movie version being made (Julianne Moore in the cast!).  Quick!  Read it before the movie spoils it for you. The movie may end up being great, who knows?  But like I tell my boys, always read the book first.  That way you get to see it in your head first the way you imagine it.  Seeing the movie spoils that possibility.  Discovering halfway through that there’s a movie version crept into my reading, (as in, how in the world will they film this scene?), and I kind of resent that.  So let’s forget I mentioned it.

(Find the book here).

Have you read it?  What did you think?  What are you reading?  I’m lining up my next book , always looking for recommendations, dear readers. . . .

Food Writing

“One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating.  And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends”.  – Laurie Colwin, from Home Cooking

My friend, Nicole, and I call our food talk, “talking dirty”.  Pictures I take of dinner before I put it on the table and email to her will most likely carry the subject line, “more food porn”.  Describing to Nicole what I made for dinner over the phone or what I had in a restaurant or talking about the food we are eating as we’re eating it, unintentionally takes on this hushed, almost salacious tone and is pretty much my favorite thing to do in the world.

Turns out my second favorite thing is READING about food.

There are a few books I keep on the shelves that I circle back to every few years.  Reading them is like touching base with an old friend.  Their voices are reliable, grounded, familiar.  This is probably my sixth or seventh go-round with Home Cooking.  To me, this book is the perfect combination of Colwin’s compelling voice and a topic she clearly loved (food)– and how you can be writing about food (or anything), but really be writing about other things (like life, or love).

To be honest, I have never used any of the recipes from the book, but that’s not what this book is about for me.  While I’m reading, I feel like I’m front row in a master writing class.  It’s magic, really: how someone can write about Baked Eggs or Steamed Chocolate Pudding and make it riveting.  The backstory of her unexpected death by heart failure in her sleep one night at age 48 somehow creates another layer of meaning for me.  Her enduring voice (still so clear) feels especially poignant. That she wrote about food and home and family and friends with such love, even more so.

I like this article written about her life and writing (click here).

Another book with great Food Writing is this:

Rachel gave this to me last summer for my birthday and I kept picking it up and reading it all summer.  Have I made any of the recipes?  you ask, confused.  No.  Don’t you get it?  I really really like food writing.  (I should mention that Rachel made the Olive Oil Bundt Cake from this book for her son’s birthday party I attended over two years ago, and I haven’t stop thinking about it, thinking maybe one day I might actually make it, too. . .)

I’ve picked this book up again. It feels especially summery and even if I don’t explicitly use the recipes, I love summer cooking and feel inspired to fire up the grill and let all the fresh flavors from all those summer vegetables speak for themselves (the Frankies would encourage me to do this).  Find the book here.

Three blogs with some really juicy food writing (along with gorgeous photography) I visit for inspiration:  (I have even actually used the recipes to create real food to feed my family)


Smitten Kitchen

101 Cookbooks

Neil Selinger

Neil at home with his wife

I came across this article in the NY Times back in March (find it here).  I’ve been holding onto it unsure what to say about it, letting it steep.

The article is about writer Neil Selinger and his first book coming out, all against the backdrop of his ALS diagnosis two years ago.  When I first read the article, I instantly recognized his name.  We were in a writing class together at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence a few years ago.  I remember his first drafts of pieces that presumably became a part of his book, A Sloan Product (you can find it here).  When I sat across from him, though, he bore no outward evidence of what I now know must have been newly diagnosed or soon to be diagnosed ALS.  He was a recently retired lawyer with a kindly face and a soft voice.  Like the rest of us, he was there to dip his toe in the writing pool, try out his stories and their telling on us, listen stoically to feedback.

The progress of his disease has been devastating.  As the article describes, “Now, two years after a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, he has deteriorated with heartbreaking speed from cane to walker to wheelchair, to puréed food, an inability to speak and almost total immobility”.  His friends and neighbors formed a group that takes turns cooking, driving, walking the dog.  His writing group from Sarah Lawrence moved to his house.  His mentor and members from the group read from his book at his book party as he could not.

So Neil’s story is tragic, yes, but fortunately, that’s never the whole story.  There’s also the part about the light that glimmers in the darkest of places.  How grace sidles up right next to calamity.  The unexpected twists and turns of what’s up ahead, the stream of life carrying us to places we’d never imagined.  How our bodies are so little of what we really are, how the spirit aches for expression.  How you can’t keep a good story (or writer) down.  In the vortex of the unraveling of his physical body, he finished his book while he could still type with one finger.  He continues to write using a special machine that responds to his gaze.    And probably my favorite, the goodness of people sticking by people: (from the article) “He thinks often of a Springsteen song with the lyrics: “And should I fall behind, wait for me.” He is amazed that so many people have”.

And this:

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
Leonard Cohen

Tina Fey and Me

In in case you missed it this weekend in the NY Times Style section, check this out:  Tina Fey and Me.  Or I suppose you could read her new book, Bossypants, if you haven’t already, because that’s where the quote I love comes from.  This is the money I’m talking about:

“Of course I’m not supposed to admit that there is triannual torrential sobbing in my office. … But I have friends who stay home with their kids and they also have a triannual sob, so I think we should call it even.”

I had missed it because I was too busy having my own “triannual sob”.  (I’m so glad to know there’s a name for it and that I’m in such good company).  But I’m okay now, thanks.  Dusted myself off, whispered my prayers of gratitude to the powers that be for being in such a privileged position to fall apart about such things, and recommitted myself to doing my best at creating something close to balance.

Blessed is she whose ambivalence is fleeting and does not dwell but makes and does for herself and her own.  The best that she can.  For she shall inherit the earth.

(The Word according to me).

The Hours

Last week was a little rough. Found myself fantasizing about the scene in The Hours where Julianne Moore drives away. FROM IT ALL.   And of course I would never never never do such a thing.  Does that even need to be said?  It’s not that I want to leave my family (okay, there are moments when I do, but only during particularly torturous moments, and really, a week alone in Paris would be nice).  It’s just that domestic life sometimes feels like it’s taking up all the air.  In the movie, (and book),  even though we see how unthinkably devastating the whole scene is, we also GET that she’s saving her own life.

Have I mentioned I can be a touch dramatic?  Anyway, thinking about the scene gave me both consolation (that author Michael Cunningham somehow gave voice to the reality of women historically being trapped, like butterflies in amber, unable to be who they really were, existing only for others) and a good laugh (at myself that I am such a shameless drama queen).  Family life can be like this.  And not just for women, right?  The paradox being, of course, that my family life is both grounding (in the best ways) and carries a richness in feeling and experience which makes my heart break wide open in ways I’d never imagined.  The balance ebbs and flows between feeling limited and fed by it.  On the best days, they exist exquisitely side by side and my gratitude runneth over.  On my worst days, I’m waiting on the sidewalk hoping to hitch a ride with Julianne.

Today I have two stuffy flushed cheeked boys home from school resting. My plans: foiled.  But some days, like today, I can surrender to what is, take the long view: there will be other days.  Today I feel blessed to be able to be here with them, to have time slow down for a day.  Too often it’s whizzing right by.  At the moment, Ben and James are cuddled up together in my big bed, limbs intertwined, air still and warm, Ben reading patiently to James, such beauty resting right up against the ordinary, always.  Sometimes I see it, and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I’m in too much of a rush. Some days I want to HAVE IT ALL and RIGHT NOW.

Do you want to hear the soundtrack that I was playing in my head while she (me) was driving away?  I really upped the drama.  Go here to listen.


To be reminded of how amazing The Hours is, see the trailer here or find the book here.

Interesting coincidence that must be noted: the boy who played Julianne’s character’s son in the movie lives across the street from my parents.  He’s not so little anymore.  Sometimes he’s outside shooting hoops by himself.  I can’t go to my parent’s house without being haunted by the image of that little boy standing on the curb watching his mother drive away.  *sigh*  I know, I know, it’s not real, it’s just a movie.

Notes to self:

What I’m Reading. . .

Am I the only one who didn’t know about this little gem?  My friend, Rachel, sent this to me a few weeks ago (remember her from here?)  It’s just so stunning I can’t believe I missed it when it came out (April 2000).  Though sometimes the right book comes along at just the right time. This book has been like that for me.  Have you ever been holding a book in your hands, incredulous, slightly envious, because it’s a book you wish you had written?  *sigh*

Is it poetry?  Is it prose?  I love that hybrid kind of writing.  It’s what I’m drawn to and also the style I lean towards when I’m writing writing.  Which is, like, close to never these days.  (*sigh*, again). But I am reading, which is a part of writing, after all.  Writing’s dreamy, faithful twin.

Stark, wise, poetic, the chapters are most often only a paragraph, never more than a page and a half.  Most of them, in my opinion, stand on their own.

Here, let me show you:

page 9

See what I mean?

Here’s one more:

page 54

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend adding it to your line up.  And if you already knew about it and hadn’t mentioned it, why were you holding out on me?


You can buy this book here.

To learn more about Abigail Thomas, go here.

And, as always, I’d love to hear what you’re reading.  Do tell. (In the comment section)  I’ll need a new book to love soon.