Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Now Reading: January 2014

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Our editors have brought such a wealth of contributions to this month's list that I see no point in adding to it myself.  Read on for their raves; then go forth and read!

Irena Smith, Columns Department Editorial Assistant, insists that you needno, really NEEDto read this book: “Anya von Bremzen grew up in the former Soviet Union, salivating over Technicolor pictures of gastronomical abundance in Kniga o Vkusnoi i Zdorovoi Pische, The Book of Healthy and Delicious Food.  That book, with its recipes containing ingredients you couldn't buy anywhere and its depictions of aspics, caviar, and spilling cascades of fresh fruit drowning in cream, was at once fetish and taunt for every Soviet household where real-life scarcity contrasted with the fictionalized abundance depicted in those pages.  When, at age 10, Anya emigrated to Philadelphia in 1974 with her mother, that book became the embodiment of all the contradictions of Soviet lifestunning generosity and stifling selfishness, boundless imagination and petty bureaucracy, honesty and sham.  In Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, part memoir, part family history, part food narrative, von Bremzen takes us through the history of Russian gastronomy (and, notably, drinking) from pre-Revolutionary Russia to the present-day.  She uses history and politics as well as her own culinary experiences as lenses through which to explore dishes ranging from those gloriously described in Chekhov's short stories and Tolstoy's fictional banquets to those prepared on a shared stove in her grandmother's communal apartment in Moscow.  Von Bremzen's first published cookbook, Please to the Table, won the James Beard Award, and it's clear that she has a sure and skillful touch when it comes to writing about foodbut this is so much more than a book about food.  As the subtitle itself makes clear, it's a story in equal parts of food and longing.”

Managing Editor Katherine Barrett offers us a foretaste of a book she’ll be reviewing soon for LM: “I've stayed up late reading Ghostbelly by Elizabeth Heineman (pub. date, 2/15/14).  Heineman and her partner, Glenn, choose to have a child and a home birth at Heineman's 'advanced maternal age' of 46.  Despite a healthy pregnancy and experienced midwife, their baby (named Thor for reasons explained in the book) is stillborn.  Heineman spends the following weeks creating memories for herself and a life for Thor; she does so in ways that are unforgettable, disarming, and utterly right.  In the subsequent months, and for the course of her book, she asks, ‘Why?’  Why did this happen, and who, if anyone, is to blame?”

Kristina Riggle, Fiction Co-Editor, is on the edge of her seat: “I'm reading Allegra, by Anna Lisle, a historical novel about a London wife, Alice Clarke, in 1838.  Alice is a bright, spirited young woman saddled with a brutal husband who controls her activities, punishes any steps out of bounds, and uses her as an accessory to further his business deals.  Her origins in a convent and the motives of her 'Aunt' in plucking her from there are mysterious, as are the cloaked woman and Greek man who seem to be following her every move.  I am thoroughly engrossed.”

Creative Non-Fiction Co-Editor Kate Haas is on a nostalgia trip: “I'm reading Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and the Journey of a Generation.  I grew up with the music of these women, but at some remove; I discovered and loved their early songs long after they had made their first impact.  Sheila Weller, the author of this compellingand, I admit, gossipytriple-biography, puts that music in context, conjuring up the times of these talented singers.  All emerged from the constricting early sixties, when early marriage (King) or adoption (Mitchell) was the only option for an unmarried pregnant woman, and found themselves in the heady atmosphere of the 70's, when female songwriters and singers could begin to write lyrics reflecting their deepest experienceseven if that included being some guy's ‘old lady’ (a term Weller describes as ‘a proud sign of emotional security’ for a young woman who didn't need marriage).”

“Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa recommends a book that just might be unlike anything to have appeared in LM’s previous reading lists: “I just finished The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom by Manabu Makime, translated by Wendy Uchimura.  In this hilarious adventure novel, a teen named Ryosuke travels to his clan chief's home on Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake, and battles to save his family from oblivion.  To prevail, he has to wield an innate power that he resents, and make peace with his decidedly strange kin.  Both corny and suspenseful, this romp of a novel offers fun for literary mamas as well as their preteens/teens. Just released in English on ebook, The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom will hit movie screens in Japan in March.”

(The ebook is available here.)

Amanda Jaros, Blog Co-Editor, is wading in a fascinating literary bayou: “I am captivated by Sheryl St. Germain’s Swamp Songs: The Making of an Unruly Woman.  It’s a memoir of the author’s youth in the stormy world of New Orleans.  St. Germain recounts family drug addictions and alcoholism, and how she lived through it all.  She is constantly drawn back into the natural landscape of Louisiana, the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, and the swamps, but also into the human landscape of Carnival, Mardi Gras, and the delights of Louisiana food.  I think what interests me most about this book, besides the eloquent and evocative way her words roll easily along, is how candid St. Germain is about herself and her family.  She doesn't hold back in relating the dysfunctions of her youth.  But she also doesn't hold back in allowing that those dysfunctions, as horrible as they were, left room for glimmers of hope that were a part of her becoming the woman she is today.”

Christina Marie Speed, Literary Reflections Co-Editor, is reading one from last month’s Now Reading list, one that clearly merits a second endorsement: “I'm deep into Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, the tale of a young teen who loses his mother and spins into the whirlwind of life thereafter.  The characters drive the narrative and are thrust into situations that beg the reader's consideration: Would I do that?  Could I handle that?  Would I say that?  At once, I find myself engaged both emotionally and also mentally, following along with curiosity.  Tartt's ability to keep the reader engaged seems effortless, but once I’ve closed the book for the night, the feeling it leaves behind is one of deep intent.  This is a story that will stay with me for many months to come.”


Libby Maxey lives in rural Massachussetts with her husband and two young sons. With her academic career as a medievalist having died a stunningly swift death by childbirth, she now works as an editor, writes poetry, reads when able, and sings with her local light opera company. Her work has appeared in The Mom Egg Review, Off the Coast, Tule Review, Crannóg Magazine, Mezzo Cammin and elsewhere.


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