Tag Archives: memoir

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Having read The Mermaid Chair and  The Secret Life of Bees, both by Sue Monk Kidd,  I was excited when this was chosen as one of our book club selections. That was in November. I just finished reading the book now. What does that tell you?

Traveling with Pomegranates should have been a better book than it actually is. This is a mother(Sue)/daughter(Ann) memoir about travel, faith, love, creativity and writing. At the beginning, as I settled in, I thought that it was going to be quite compelling. I felt a kinship with Sue:

“I didn’t understand why I was responding to the prospect of aging with such shallowness and dread, only that there had to be more to it than the etchings on my skin” (4).

In Sue’s capable hands, this journey is – if not always engaging – at least well written and thoughtful. Sadly, I can’t say the same for Ann’s part. I found her whiney and entitled. I never warmed up to her.

Mother and daughter visit Greece together in 1998. Ann is 22 and Sue mourns the loss of the little girl she was. She is also acutely aware that something troubling is going on with her daughter. At first glance it might seem that Ann’s disappointment has to do with the fact that she didn’t get into graduate school, but as the mother/daughter writers unspool the story it turns out that they are both looking for something more complicated. And they spend the rest of the book kneeling at the feet of Madonnas (and other powerful female icons) in Greece and Crete and France…trying to find it.

Ultimately, it turns out that graduate school was never what Ann truly wanted; she wants to be a writer. And how wonderful for her that her mother is and that they could do this book together.

Lesa’s Book Critiques

Washington Examiner Review

Although the women in my book club were wishy-washy about the book, we unanimously LOVED this Pomegranate Salsa. It’s delicious!

Pomegranate Salsa

seeds of 1 pomegranate
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 bunch parsley (equal to cilantro)
1/2 sprig mint
1 small red onion
2t lime zest
2 T lime juice
2 t oil
1 jalapeno pepper
salt/pepper to taste

I use the seeds of 2 pomegranates and adjust the quantities of everything else to taste. This keeps well; I made a big batch for Christmas Eve and I am still eating it.

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Julie Powell had me at : “we both recognize the genius of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That revelation comes early on in her book Julie & Julia, a  memoir that builds upon the “Project” she embarked on just before she was about to turn 30. Disheartened with her life as a government drone in New York City, Powell was, as many of us were, looking for meaning in a post 9/11 world. But further to that- she was looking for meaning in her own life. Or at the very least, she was looking for something meaningful to do.

While visiting her parents in her native Texas, Powell confiscates her mother’s copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MtAoFC) by Julia Child.

“Do you know Mastering the Art of French Cooking? You must, at least, know of it,” Powell says. “It’s a cultural landmark, for Pete’s sake!”

And from this cookbook…and a conversation with Powell’s long-suffering (and incredibly supportive) husband, Eric, springs the Julie/Julia Project. Powell decides to cook every single recipe from the book and blog about it.

Blogging. Ahh, yes. Curious thing, that. You write and people read and the next thing you know you have a book deal. Or something like that.

Julie & Julia follows Powell’s project from beginning to end- and includes everything from her failures in the kitchen to her friend’s extramarital affairs. It is laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally self-indulgent (but what blog isn’t?). It’s peppered with expletives and bits of strange insight.

So this search for meaning (personal meaning, at least) has been done before. Elizabeth Gilbert (whom Powell thanks in her acknowledgments) did it in a little best-seller called Eat, Pray, Love. I liked Powell’s book better and here’s why…

I could relate to Powell. And, no, it’s not just because of her Buffy-love (although that certainly earned her free points.) Where Gilbert took a year off to spend four months each in three different countries, Powell could only afford the occasional day of playing hooky from her crap job while she cooked her way to enlightenment. Her house was unkept, she drank too-much and swore even more. She didn’t set off on the Project for fame and glory- she wanted to find an essential piece of herself that she thought was missing.

And she does…one recipe at a time.

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FOOD

(It has to be Child’s recipe for Potage Parmentier doesn’t it?)

Potage Parmentier

1 lb potato, peeled and diced (I leave skins on)

3 cups of leeks, thinly sliced, white and tender green parts only

2 qts of water

4-6 tablespoons of whipping cream or 2-3 tablespoons of softened butter

2-3 tablespoons of minced parsley or chives

Simmer vegetables, water and salt, partially covered, for 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

Mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork or puree in blender. Correct seasoning.

Off heat and just before serving, stir in cream or butter one spoonful at a time.

Serve hot or cold.

In This Dark House by Louise Kehoe

What makes another life fascinating enough to commit it to paper? I know that memoirs are all the rage these days and I have read a few and this once did not disappoint. In This Dark House was the winner of a National Jewish Book Award and uniformly praised by critics who called it “well constructed and beautifully written, has an emotional honesty which generates its own kind of lasting truth” (Susie Harris, The Times Literary Supplement) and a “heartbreaking story…astonishing enough on its own, but her riveting luminous prose style transforms it into a triumphantly beautiful and moving work of art.” (Booklist)

Louise Kehoe was born in England in 1949, the youngest of four children. Her father, Berthold Lubetkin, was a well known architect who had been born in Czarist Russia  and her mother, Margaret Church, was born in England and met Berthold as an architecture student.

Kehoe recounts her childhood living at World’s End, a remote house in Upper Killington, England. A practicing Communist, Louise’s father is intellectual and emotionally remote. One might say he’s actually abusive- he withholds and doles out praise like a dictator.  Kehoe’s mother does her best to moderate, but her loyalty is to her husband and her children, although she clearly loves them, come a distant second.

What Kehoe doesn’t know until her father’s death (at nearly 90) is that he is harbouring a horrible secret and the beauty of this book is that Kehoe, despite the barren emotional landscape of her youth, cares enough to search it out. Uncovered, the secret opens a door wide into her father’s life and makes him much more sympathetic. And, of course, Kehoe is able to forgive him which she does eloquently and with love.

A beautiful book.

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Reading Guide

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert’s well-received book, Eat, Pray, Love tells the story of the author’s own search for meaning in the world. Personal meaning, that is. In order to find it, she takes a year off from her very successful writing career (she’d have to be successful, wouldn’t she) to spend four months in each: Italy (for pleasure), India (for prayer) and Indonesia (for balance).

This book is huge- practically every woman alive will have read it- or plans to- and don’t let my cynicism dissuade you. Gilbert is a wonderful writer. It’s hard to sustain the perfectly pitched conversational tone her book does and not be a skilled craftsman, but…

But, here’s the thing. Lots of people wish they could stop their hectic, horrible, messy, complicated, screwed up lives in order to find their deeper purpose; in order to mend their broken hearts and psyches, in order examine their place in the world, their connection to the people with whom they share the planet…and their relationship with a higher power (God, in Gilbert’s case, although she says “I could just as easily  use the words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus.”) Not everyone has the means. Plus, although Gilbert’s journey was preceded by a divorce, she has no children. Trust me, I’d love four child-free months in Italy, too.

That said, the book is so engaging that even though I didn’t internalize Gilbert’s search, I certainly enjoyed listening to her talk about hers.

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The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison

Appalling but beautifully written…jumping back and forth in time yet drawing you irresistibly toward the heart if a great evil. – Christopher Lehmann Haupt, The New York Times

Memoirs are all the rage these days and I have read a few- but I’ve never read anything like The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison. I’ve read a couple other books by Harrison and I now more fully understand some of the recurring themes in her novels (dysfunctional families, issues of love and the withholding of it, estrangement, emotional blackmail) after finishing The Kiss.

This is a well known book, I think, despite having been published ten years ago. It received copious praise and, despite its difficult subject matter, I can see why. In fandom, we often write incest fic and consider it to be hot- but Harrison’s story of her affair with her father is never titillating. Instead, it’s a breathtaking and gut-clenching examination of how her seemingly unrequited love for her mother manifested itself into an all consuming and ultimately devastating sexual affair with her estranged father.

Harrison’s father left the family (at his in-law’s request) when the author was six months old. Until she was twenty she only saw him twice. Her father, a well-educated preacher, drew her into an affair with a kiss.

The book is frighteningly honest – Harrison doesn’t spare herself or her part in the relationship. She turns a keen, intelligent (but very emotional) eye on her life, the important relationships she had (or desperately wanted to have) and her father- who is one of the vilest characters I have ever met.

I couldn’t put this book down and when I was done I felt such a great sadness for her.

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