Tag Archives: New York City

My Notorious Life

Unknown-1In contrast to the saving graces of the characters in Call the Midwife, the BBC Masterpiece series based on Jennifer Worth’s memoir of her experiences in postwar London, Kate Manning’s heroine in My Notorious Life earns a fortune by helping women give birth and sometimes helping them stop it.  Manning’s midwife is based on the real life of Ann Trow Lohman, known as Madame Restell, who practiced as a “female physician” in New York City in the late eighteen hundreds.

Like Restell, Axie had no medical training and had little formal education.  Manning weaves a story around her poor background and her longing to reunite with her brother and sister after their mother’s death forces them on the orphan train.  Axie eventually lands in the home of an older midwife who teaches her the trade.  Eventually, she marries Charlie, another orphan train victim, and they start a business peddling powders and concoctions to cure women’s ailments.  Soon the business expands to midwifery and abortion.

Although the fictionalized life of the real woman is embellished with romance, adventure, and a great deal of angst, the story stays true to the misery of Victorian times.  When I found the Smithsonian article on Madame Restell, I was amazed at how close Manning came to appropriating her life in fiction.  Manning offers a different ending for her character, and you should read the Smithsonian article after you read the book – no spoiler here, for Restell’s real life was just as compelling as the fictionalized one created for her by Manning.

In an interview, Manning noted her purpose for writing was to produce

“a rip-roaring tale from the 19th century. I wanted to write a good old-fashioned story with plot and character and depth, and I don’t want it to get hijacked by a current political debate that really doesn’t seem to go anywhere, you know.”

She succeeded in 434 pages of vivid Dickensian characters with a commentary on America’s never-ending battle over women’s rights.  If you missed it when it first was published in 2013, you might consider reading it now.

 

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Cookbooks 101

9780847837939_p0_v2_s192x300.jpg   Did you know you can study for a Ph.D. in food studies at New York University?  To support the program The Fales Library at NYU created a door stopper of a book, 688 pages – 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes from Fannie Farmer to Thomas Keller – compiled and edited by an academic committee (of course).

The first half of 101 Classic Cookbooks is the canon of cookbooks, beginning with Fannie  Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896).  Books by Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Emeril Lagasse and Betty Crocker,  James Beard and, of course, Irma Rombauer’s bible – The Joy of Cooking are a few of the famous included.   Just flipping through the glossy pages, you will see clear copies of cook book covers and recipe pages excerpted from each; the editors also offer a short introduction on the history and significance of each cookbook (which I confess I did not always read).  The collection crosses regions from Southern cooking to international, and from comfort food to  Alice Waters’ farm to table.

The editors  include a few spiral bound cookbooks (we all have a few) from the Junior Leagues of Charleston and Augusta, and one of my favorites – The Moosewood Cookbook.    Mark Bittman and Thomas Keller are the anchors, finishing the collection with books from 1998 and 1999.  The current century is still in committee.

Recipe pages in the first section copied directly from the cookbooks are not readable, but the second half of 101 Classic Cookbooks becomes 501 Classic Recipes, the best ideas culled from all and clearly printed (with an editor’s caveat warning older recipes may not always work).  With ten categories, from Drinks and Nibbles to Baked Goods and Desserts, this section is overwhelming – too much even for those of us who like to read cookbooks. But this is a textbook.

The Index is the place to start. Recipes, authors, and books are cross-referenced – a map to finding your favorite cookbook author or honing in on a recipe you might like to try. The recipe for Lord Baltimore Cake caught my eye.

An ambitious undertaking, 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes is a first in reference books for food studies, but it also could be a happy diversion for anyone who would rather cook than study – or just likes to read cookbooks.

Related Review:  My Visit to Thomas Kellor’s French Laundry

Reviews on Other Cookbooks:

 

 

Laughing Out Loud – Imaginary Mitzvahs

After a day of smiling at strangers, trying to follow the Chinese wisdom of Michael Puett’s The Path, I came across Calvin Trillin’s essay for The New YorkerImaginary Mitzvahs – and my true self reverted to type.

When I travel, I often tear out essays I want to read again from The New Yorker, before recycling the magazine to a flight attendant.  Trillin is one of my favorite funny cynics, and his litany of good deeds gone undone restored my cranky equilibrium.  But I did have a good laugh.

In Imaginary Mitzvahs, Trillan reviews his attempts to be a good person. When he graciously moves to a middle seat on the plane between a woman holding two crying babies and “a man whose stomach hung over the armrest” to accommodate the two men who “hadn’t seen each other in years…{this} flight is the only time we have to catch up,” he notices one man falls asleep throughout the flight and the other reads.

When he obliges his newly gluten-free vegan cousin by foregoing the sumptuous meaty French meal he had anticipated, his taste buds suffered but he felt virtuous.

Finally, when a cat in a fiery building needs rescuing, he resists – despite his inclination to do good.

There is a limit, after all.

Have a laugh – Read the essay : Imaginary Mitzvahs

9780375758515_p0_v1_s192x300And if you have not read Trillin’s Tepper Isn’t Going Out – my favorite book, here is my review:  Tepper Isn’t Going Out

 

 

 

The Nest

9780062414212_p0_v3_s192x300A million dollar book?  Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney made headlines last year when Harper Collins publishers paid her a million dollar advance for her debut novel The Nest.  With a ten percent commission on sales, the sales expectation is for at least one million copies.

The Nest tells the story of the dysfunctional Plumb family of four brothers and sisters who are counting on an inheritance, held in trust until the youngest turns forty.  Each has already spent most of the money in expectation of receiving a lucrative share. When their mother breaks the trust to bail out the eldest, Leo, the others are determined to get their money back.

Sweeney weaves old grudges together, exposing greed and irresponsibility in the siblings, while using their partners as the balance for trust and selflessness. The setting is New York City and Brooklyn, with familiar landmarks marking the action, but more familiar are the tense moments among the characters.

Each sibling fulfills a well marked role: Leo, the eldest, and “most charming,” who sells his successful publishing business, squandering the proceeds; Bea, “the brightest,” an aspiring writer suffering from writer’s block after the death of her husband; Jack, “the most resourceful,” gay antique dealer whose store never makes a profit; Melody, “the youngest” whose birthday will trigger the release of the money – married to a forbearing husband and the mother of teenage twins, trying to keep up financially and emotionally.  

Sweeney adds subplots to add interest.  The 911 fireman who lost his wife at Ground Zero, finds an expensive Rodin sculpture while sifting through the ashes, and hides it in his apartment until Jack, the antique dealer who recognizes its worth, discovers it.  Stephanie, the literary agent who is in love with Leo,  changes her life by taking him back. And, the catalyst for the dispersal of the trust – the opening scene with a drunken Leo and a young waitress who drive away from a wedding party.  All ends well – sort of – with the old moral of love being more important than money.   

I read the book in a day and enjoyed it; I kept reading, hoping for a good resolution, and Sweeney neatly ties up all the loose strings in the end.  Was it worth a million dollars?  You’ll have to read it to decide for yourself.

According to Jennifer Maloney of The Wall Street Journal, the typical advance for a literary debut novel remains less than $100,000, yet other first time literary novelists have recently made the million dollar club, including:

  • Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s  The Language of Flowers
  • Anton DiSclafani’s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls
  • Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have A Family
  • Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise

City on Fire by first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg received a nearly $2 million advance from Alfred A. Knopf, one of the largest ever for a literary debut.

Related Reviews:

Was Atticus Finch Really Not Gregory Peck?

9780446310789_p0_v6_s192x300Like many who grew up analyzing To Kill A mockingbird in English class, and mesmerized by the9780062409850_p0_v9_s118x184 famous movie with Gregory Peck, my impressions of Atticus Finch had him as a tolerant man who was also the icon for fairness and justice in a disparate legal system.  Nelle Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set A Watchman, attracted my interest when it was first discovered, but I had not thought much about it until I read the article this morning in the New York Times – Amid Shock, Readers Also find Reality in Bigoted Atticus Finch.

What?  Atticus Finch a bigot?  Could editing of a first draft from a first-time author really have changed the character so much to produce the revered lawyer in To Kill A Mockingbird?

By now, most readers have heard of Harper Lee’s rewrite, at the suggestion of her editor, transforming her original book to the now famous coming-of-age story with Scout and her father Atticus Finch.  In interviews, the eighty-eight year-old – now living back in her Alabama hometown, after years in New York City – claims she “did as she was told,” and rewrote the story into the classic known today as To Kill A Mockingbird.

I had not intended to read Go Set A Watchman.  Most first novels, especially first drafts, are often not as good as the author’s later work.  The initial controversy over the authorship stirred my interest, but I wondered if the spin was just another publicity ploy, meant to increase sales of the newly discovered book.  Oprah Winfrey recalled from her informal discussion with Lee (Oprah was never able to convince Lee to submit to an on air interview):

“One of the things that struck me: she {Lee} said, ‘If I had a dime for every book that was sold…” And I {Oprah} was thinking, “I hope you have more than a dime, because nobody expected this.’ “

Was this about the money?

Interestingly, Lee, who worked with her friend Truman Capote on research for In Cold Blood, has not written another book (that we know of) since the Pulitzer prize-winning novel was published. A self-described recluse, Lee has worked on another non-fiction book  about an Alabama serial killer, which had the working title “The Reverend” – maybe that book will be next to be “discovered” and published.

Megan Garber in her article – Harper Lee – The Sadness of a Sequel  – for the Atlantic said:

“All we will have, in the end, is a book, a thing that will raise as many questions as it answers. And, for better or for worse, that is probably just how Harper Lee—Nelle to the small collection of people who really know her—would prefer things.”

Guess I’ll read the book after all and decide for myself, but not soon – I am 258 on the library reserve list.

Do you plan to read Go Set A Watchman?  What do you think about it?