Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Food memoirs: yummy!

Know that FiftyFiftyMe Challenge that I started back in January? Read fifty books and see fifty movies in one year? Well, I'm on schedule to meet that goal in terms of theaters and movie rentals. But the reading? VERY behind. Me, get behind in reading? Say it isn't so. Very unusual. I enjoy reading more than many people enjoy breathing.
The reading was going too slowly; I wasn't enjoying it. Literary fiction? Turns out it's not my thing. I wanted it to be my thing, just like I wanted hot tea to be my thing, thinking that it was cultured and a little Bohemian and literary, but no matter how much I tried, it turns out I just don't like hot tea. Not with honey, not with lemon. Iced tea? Sure, sign me up. Hot tea? No. I've tried, this tea thing, for about five years now. It's not going to happen for me. I accepted the defeat. I have stuck with coffee, which appeals to me in all its forms ~ hot, cold, lukewarm, iced, frozen.
So what's up with the slow-go with the reading? I was trying to be too cultured, thinking that literary books would make me happy, or smarter, or more refined. Turns out refinement and I don't mesh too well. Marilynne Robinson might have won the Pulitzer for fiction (GILEAD) and the Orange Prize for HOME, but her writing makes me want to pull out pieces of my hair. Check out this passage:
          An excerpt from HOME (page 69):
 "As she considered the prayer she was not yet disconsolate enough to put into words, the unwelcome realization came to her that she loved Jack and yearned for his approval. This was no doubt inevitable, since it was assumed to be true of the whole family, separately and together, excluding in-laws, who might hever have met him or even heard his name, and who could only be a little amazed by the potency of this collective sentiment if by some means they became aware of it. He was the black sheep, the ne'er-do-well, unremarkable in photographs. None of the very few stories that mentioned him suggested the loss of him could have been wholly regrettable. It was the sad privilege of blood relations to love him despite all. Glory was thirteen when he left for college, having been by that time ignored by him for years. And here she was in middle age feeling the fact of his touchy indifference a judgment on her, so it seemed to her, though he had been so grievously at fault, and her intrusions all those years ago, her excesses, whatever he might have called them, were no such think ~ she had defended them in her mind a thousand times and would defend them to his face if the occasion ever arose, which God forbid, God forbid."

After nine days ~ nine DAYS! ~ of trying to read this damned book, I made it to page 110 and have learned nothing about anything, only that Glory and her brother are sister and brother and he's aloof and she's milquetoast and their father is dying and now they're both in the same home they grew up in. Occasionally Glory makes Jack coffee; sometimes he smokes a cigarette out on the porch.
Breathe, Kathleen. Breathe.
Always the problem solver (i.e. middle child), I made the decision four days ago to read only what truly interests me (as of this summer): food, and the writing of food and food products.
So I threw HOME by famed and acclaimed literary novelist Marilynne Robinson across the floor; I suggested to Millie that she eat the edges off the boring-ass book. She said No. It wasn't her thing, either. She requested something meatier.
I then went to my bookshelves and started looking for books that were about my favorite subject: eating. First up: A HOMEMADE LIFE: stories and recipes from my kitchen table, by Molly Wizenberg, and this, THIS, is what I was received. On page 19.

     "I know there are a million recipes out there for pound cake, and probably berry versions, too, but as you can see, I consider this one to be very important. It accompanied be through crucial times. It's also delicious, and it's my mother's, and more than any of that, it has the lightest, most delicate crumb I've ever seen on a pound cake. In fact, I'm tempted to call it a butter cake instead, because the word pound is too heavy for what is actually going on here. It's rich, yes, but not too much so, and its crumb is fine and tender. The batter is very smooth, and folded gently around fragile berries and scented with fruity liqueur, it bakes up into the kind of cake that you can't help but want to eat outdoors. Preferably on a picnic blanket, with your mother."

Well. I gobbled up Wizenberg's book in one day. ONE DAY. I would have read it straight through, but there was a shower to take and beds to make and laundry to do and groceries to buy and a dog to let in, let out, let in, let out, let in, let out. And it wasn't a short book: At 313 pages, it was, really, over way too soon. I wanted more from this writer who isn't considered literary, but, GUESS WHAT? is readable! I did not have to reread a single paragraph. I got it from the get go. Wizenberg made me laugh. She made me cry. Really, there were tears, because in the middle of the book, she writes about her dad dying in the family's den, and there's skin mottling going on, and hospice nurses involved, and this kind of thing hit way too close to my heart, but I plowed through my tears and kept going.
When I finished A HOMEMADE LIFE, I went back to my bookshelf and grabbed FINDING MARTHA'S PLACE: My Journey Through Sin, Salvation, and Lots of Soul Food, by Martha Hawkins with Marcus Brotherton. Consider these words about lima beans, from the introduction:

     "The lima beans at Martha's Place are cooked with a whole lot of love. When you put them against your lips they feel plump, like you was smooching the back of your baby grandson's knee. The beans are soft and piping warm, straight out of the pot they was cooked in. They're cooked in together with a lot of good country butter, and flavored with salt and pepper and a few kitchen secrets only a handful of folks know. And if you close your eyes and let them, those lima beans will remind you of sitting at home with all the people you love, and on the supper table in front of you is spread a country banquet on a red-checked cloth, and all of your friends are enjoying themselves and diving in and helping themselves and joking together and having a good time. Those lima beans are on my menu because I know how food can become more than just food. It's what a body uses for change. Like crackers and grape juice passed around at church, food can become what centers things when everything has gone astray."

Now THAT's beautiful writing. Why didn't Martha Hawkins win some kind of literary prize?


Charity White said...

I applaud your decision! As a reader myself I find it very humbling, somehow, to not finish a book. It just feels... uncomfortable. However, I too, have put down a book. It sounded SO interesting, but halfway through I just couldn't make myself plow through it any longer! The Club Dumas, I believe it was. I recently picked up a book by the same author and ALMOST got taken in by the book jacket. It sounded great. Good thing I remembered the author's name! I recommend The Lovely Bones if you haven't read it. Great writer. Tough, unusual subject. But a great writer! I do book reviews on my blog, too! I hate the ads and may have to move it, but for now, it's there! :o)

Kate said...

Thanks for your input, Charity!
Yes, I have read THE LOVELY BONES, and I remember plowing through that. However, when Sebold's next novel came out, THE ALMOST MOON, I was disappointed. Not up to the quality of BONES.
I am SO going to check out your blog. Lovelovelove reading people's blogs!!!

Charity White said...

That's too bad... I wonder about "Lucky"?

Anonymous said...

I decided long ago that I am too old and life is too short to read stuff I do not like...even book club selections. I can't even get into Shades of Grey and we are supposed to read books 1 and 2 for summer book club...blah, her writing is so poor that if the content wasn't so titillating, this would end up in the dollar bin at Family Dollar store in mid-town. BUT am loving Wolf Hall about the 1500's and royalty, courts, and intrigue in England...historical fiction catches me every book I've ever read, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry...some of his other stuff, ickity, ick, ick, ick, but this one was a prize, once in a lifetime present to myself. Seize the day Kathleen and DO NOT read what you DO NOT like....