Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book reviews: Two books about crazy mothers

Ruth Reichl: Tender at the Bone, with the subtitle Growing Up at the Table, is the memoir of the current Gourmet editor and former New York Times critic Ruth Reichl. Her stories about her mom, The Queen of Mold, are hilarious and sad and include a variety of occasions when her mom served moldy or rotten food which made people very sick. not until later in life did she realize that her mom was manic-depressive. She was sent to a French school in Canada on a whim by her mom and had to stay for three years, just to learn better French. But through the whole book is the theme of food, from baking with grandma, making sure guests are not eating her mom's food, to secret pastry runs from the school in Montreal. It is a very honest book and a great read and not only of you are foodie. I especially liked the first part about her earlier years and her character descriptions of family, friends, and people like the quilt-maker in Manhattan, the commune members in Berkeley, and the wine importer she traveled with to France. She makes her co-workers in life human without being mean. Read this book first, and then Comfort me with Apples, the sequel, which I already blogged about.

A little example from Tender at the Bone:
"Don't eat that," I ordered my best friend Jeanie as her spoon dipped into one of Mom's more creative lunch dishes. My mother believed in celebrating every holiday: in honor of St. Patrick she was serving bananas with green sour creme.
"I don't mind the color," said Jeanie, a trusting soul whose own mother wouldn't dream of offering you an all-orange Halloween extravaganza complete with milk dyed the color of orange juice. Ida served the sort of perfect lunches I longed for: neat squares of creme cheese and jelly on white bread, bologna sandwiches, Chef Boyardee straight from the can.
"It's not just food coloring," I said. "The sour creme was green to begin with; the carton's been in the refrigerator for months."
Jeanie quickly put her spoon down and when Mom went into the other room to answer the phone we ducked into the bathroom and flushed our lunches down the toilet.

The next book I read recently is also a memoir, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. It is the true story of four children growing up with two totally irresponsible parents, one alcoholic innovator (her father) and a self-centered artist mother. They rarely live in a place for more than a few months, are often taught at home, an suffer through extreme poverty which her parents mainly see as a great adventure. It is a very vivid story, and reading it makes you feel very sad, and glad that the children after all survived and made it all by themselves. Also this book is honest, she is not making any excuses for her parents, but she also gives them credit for learning to have a positive attitude despite hardship, to be able to be awed at nature's beauty, and to be able to appreciate art. But the main theme through the book is despair and disappointment with your parents. It is really a great book, even if it sounds like a sad story.

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