Posts Tagged ‘advice’

glass ocean book tea cafe

We’re headed for December already – and between the feasting, the commuting, the running and the rest of life, this month included some fantastic books. Here’s the latest roundup:

Black is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine, Emily Bernard
“Brown is the body I was born into. Black is the body of the stories I tell.” Bernard, an author and professor, explores race and family history in these powerful essays. Incisive and moving and so compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 29).

The Matchmaker’s List, Sonya Lalli
Still single at 29, Raina Anand reluctantly agrees to let her Indian grandmother play matchmaker. Secretly, she’s still in love with her ex, who reappears while Raina is helping plan her best friend’s wedding. A fun story of clashing cultural expectations (Canadian and Indian), with a likable (if frustrating) protagonist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 22).

Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist, Meredith Goldstein
Goldstein writes the Love Letters column for the Boston Globe. This memoir is about that work, her mother’s illness, her own struggle to find love, and the surprising community she’s found through Love Letters. Funny, warm and surprisingly insightful.

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, Kate Christensen
Christensen has a complex relationship with food: finding comfort in it, avoiding it, exploring it in new contexts. She recounts her peripatetic childhood, her lost teenage years, her fierce love for her sisters and mother and her romantic travails, with accompanying food experiences and occasional recipes. Some delicious moments (and a lot of ill-advised decisions). Found last month at the wonderful Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine.

The Huntress, Kate Quinn
In the aftermath of the Nuremberg trials, most people want to move on from war stories. But British journalist Ian Graham has made hunting down war criminals his life’s work. His estranged Russian wife, former pilot Nina Markova, joins Ian and his partner in a quest to track down the titular huntress. Their story becomes intertwined with that of Jordan McBride, a young aspiring photographer in Boston, and her family. A gripping narrative of war, revenge and love – even bigger, darker and deeper than Quinn’s excellent The Alice Network. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 26).

Not For the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Persistence, Wendy Sherman
Sherman is a distinguished diplomat and a faculty member at my former workplace, the Harvard Kennedy School. Her memoir chronicles her deep involvement in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, as well as her background in social work and the lessons she’s learned as a woman in high-stress workplaces and unexpected situations. A solid, thoughtful political memoir.

The Glass Ocean, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
I enjoyed The Forgotten Room by these three authors (and I’ll read pretty much anything Williams writes). I also enjoyed this compelling novel of three women: two aboard the RMS Lusitania and one historian trying to piece together their story a century later. Tess, the young con woman trying to go straight, was my favorite.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?


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read bbf ya panel Boston public library

November. Already. How did that happen?

The second half of October was a wild ride. Here’s what I’ve been reading on commutes, before bed and whenever else I can squeeze in a few pages:

Nothing Happened, Molly Booth
I heard Booth speak on a YA panel at the Boston Book Festival (she’s second from left, above). Her second novel is a modern-day retelling of Much Ado About Nothing set at a Maine summer camp. Lots of mixed signals, crossed wires, teenage drama and a whole range of gender identities. So much fun.

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It, Lauren Graham
Does a commencement speech count as a book? I don’t know, but this one was lighthearted, fun and wise, as you might expect from Lorelai Gilmore. I’m trying to take her titular advice. Short and sweet – recommended for drama nerds and Gilmore Girls fans.

The Law of Finders Keepers, Sheila Turnage
Mo LoBeau and her Desperado Detectives are back, trying to locate both Blackbeard’s treasure and Mo’s long-lost birth mother. A sleazy treasure hunter, unexpected snow and several mysterious objects keep them plenty busy. This middle-grade series has so much heart, and I loved this fourth installment.

Joy Enough, Sarah McColl
Sarah used to write the wonderful blog Pink of Perfection, and I was excited to read her debut memoir. It is slim and tense and poignant: it is about her mother, love, grief and womanhood. Some luminous lines and some sections I really struggled with: beauty and frustration, like life. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15).

Annelies, David R. Gillham
What if Anne Frank had survived? That is the question Gillham addresses in his new novel, as Anne tries to adjust to life in Amsterdam after the camps. Reunited with her father, but deeply traumatized, Anne struggles to make peace with her wartime experiences and move forward. This was a hard read: well done, but heavy, as you might expect. Anne did seem real to me, and Gillham renders postwar Amsterdam in vivid detail. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15).

Saving Hamlet, Molly Booth
Emma Allen is looking forward to sophomore year and her school’s production of Hamlet. But everything starts going horribly wrong – and that’s before Emma falls through a (literal) unauthorized trapdoor and lands in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, circa 1600, where everyone thinks she’s a boy. Time travel, Shakespeare, snarky friendships and budding romance – what’s not to love? I liked this even better than Nothing Happened.

Seafire, Natalie C. Parker
Caledonia Styx runs a tight ship: her female-only crew is fast, cohesive and skilled at staying alive. As they navigate the dangerous seas, Caledonia receives word that the brother she’d given up for dead may still be alive out there. A fast-paced beginning to a badass adventure trilogy. Recommended by Liberty.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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strawberry rhubarb crisp

I saw a recent post on Dinner: A Love Story in which Jenny and Andy, the writers of that blog, thanked the folks who have taught them important lessons in the kitchen.

Naturally, it got me thinking about my own kitchen teachers, and I thought I’d write a few thank-you notes of my own.

  • Thank you, Ryan and Amy, for teaching me about the joys of rhubarb in the summertime – and for sending me home with armloads of rhubarb from your backyard.
  • Thank you, Cockney fruit sellers at the Oxford farmers’ market, for hawking your (delicious) wares in rhyme and making me smile when you call me “luv.”
  • Thank you, Jacque and Jamie, for teaching me to whip up a meal out of whatever’s in the cupboards, often topped with a fried egg.
  • Thank you, Elizabeth, for teaching me about the versatile deliciousness of stir-fry.
  • Thank you, Marcela, for teaching me how to tell if a mango is ripe, and how to eat them savory (with salt and lime juice) and sweet (in desserts, or simply cut into juicy chunks).
  • Thank you, Janine and Jacque, for teaching me how to brew real English tea.
  • Thank you, Dad, for teaching me to add a little vanilla to pancake batter.
  • Thank you, Julie, for teaching me to use real butter.
  • Thank you, Amanda Hesser, for teaching me that the key to great scrambled eggs is low heat, real butter and patience.
  • Thank you, Pop, for teaching me to make chocolate chip cookies (and the importance of quality control).
  • Thank you, Neno, for teaching me how to snap green beans, how to cook fresh peas from the garden, and for applying calamine lotion to the chigger bites I got picking raspberries on your farm.
  • Thank you, Molly Wizenberg and Ron Morgan, for two very different but equally perfect scone recipes.
  • Thank you, Mimi, for teaching me to laugh about kitchen mistakes.
  • Thank you to the dungeon guys for eating everything I ever baked for you, with relish – even the less-than-perfect cookies and fruit crumbles.
  • Thank you, Lizzie, for introducing me to the restorative powers of apple crumble with fresh custard (either homemade or from Tesco).
  • Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your love of creative sauces and dressings, and your mom’s homemade peppermint fudge.
  • Thank you, Happy, for teaching me to love goat cheese.
  • Thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to boil water, make guacamole, plan meals, grocery shop, and bake and cook a hundred dishes. And thank you for teaching me that dinner is at the center of family life.

Who are your kitchen teachers? And what important lessons (or great tips!) would you thank them for?

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Sometimes all the bad news seems to hit at once, until you start to fear picking up the phone when a family member calls, afraid someone else is sick or in trouble or dying.

Sometimes you work hard all day and seem to produce exactly nothing, crossing items off a to-do list that seems imaginary and unimportant, and you leave craving real, tangible results – anything instead of words and pixels on a screen.

Sometimes the weather swings wildly from frigid to balmy, matching your moods when you can’t figure out how to navigate the roller coaster of life and work and loss (see above).

Sometimes you go home planning to relax and end up scrubbing the sink and toilet and stove top at 11 p.m., promising yourself you’ll get up and wash the dishes in the morning.

Sometimes you long to write something, anything, but can’t figure out what to say.

Sometimes you ache for a project to sink your teeth into, a novel or memoir or collection of essays, something that will make all the bits of disjointed writing and scribbling (and increasingly chicken-scratch handwriting) make sense. But you are fresh out of ideas.

Sometimes you read and read till your eyeballs nearly fall out, because books make you laugh and cry and think and provide a place of escape, and yet you still can’t seem to muster up the creative juju to start writing one of your own, even though you want to.

Sometimes, when this happens, you need to stop.

Sometimes you need to make a pot of soup just for you, chopping and stirring and simmering, even though there is no one else to enjoy the steaming golden liquid eaten with crumbled crackers from a red bowl.

Sometimes you need to go out for crepes filled with apples and pears and Brie and cinnamon, and a spectacular movie with a dear friend.

Sometimes you need to take a few days off, because your beloved college roommate and her husband are coming to visit, and it’s time to soak in community for a while.

Sometimes you take a deep breath and step back from the Internet, prying your fingers away from the keyboard, trusting that when you come back, after a few days of laughter and long walks and good conversations, your little corner of this global web will still be here, and your readers, however few, will not abandon you.

Sometimes you need to give yourself the advice you would give a dear friend, which is: Relax. Breathe. Sleep a little longer. Enjoy some time with the people dear to you. Scribble a few ideas in a notebook. The rest of the words will come.

(As you may have guessed, I’m feeling seriously burned out – and I have company coming in today. So I’ll be back in about a week, friends. See you then.)

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I have had many English teachers in my life, but far fewer actual writing teachers. All three of them happen to be male, quirky, kind, dryly humorous, and skilled at striking that tricky balance of tough love and gentle encouragement.

One of them, when I was a shy undergraduate in his creative writing classes (I took three of them), said to me, “Real writers can’t not write. It’s ungrammatical, but true.” I am, and have long been, someone who can’t not write, who not only wants but needs to express myself in words. And I’ve reached for Al’s words time and time again, when I’ve needed reassurance that I’m a real writer.

Sometimes – lately, almost all the time – I forget Al’s wise advice, and start to beat myself up for only writing journal pages and blog posts and book reviews, and the occasional poem or newsletter or press release. I tell myself it isn’t “real” writing, not like magazine articles or essays (both of which I do write occasionally) or books, that tangible, seemingly unattainable touchstone of real writing. I let the fear paralyze me, or I give in to the weariness after a day spent at the computer, and I don’t even try to write anything “real.” I glance at the notes for my book and sort of glaze over. I think about writing personal essays, but then I wonder what the point is, if no one will read them.

The truth is, though, that all the “unreal” stuff I write is actually real writing, and is helping me shape my craft, whether I realize it or not. All that editing I do at my day job has a place, too; it makes my writing tighter and cleaner, helps me think more clearly about what I’m saying and to whom I am saying it. (My jobs in marketing have been an education all on their own.)

Those journal pages are “my free psychiatrist’s couch,” as Madeleine L’Engle says, and they are also a record of my life, of the things I need to wrestle through or don’t want to forget. These blog posts are mini-essays, explorations of what I love or what I struggle with, or sometimes a chance to share photos and celebrate. All these scattered pieces are just as real as any book or magazine, and if I keep at it, keep writing other scattered little pieces, I just may end up with a book one of these days.

It’s hard to remember, when I get panicky that maybe I’m a fraud, a fake – what if I’m not a real writer after all? What kind of real writer can’t muster up the courage to work on her book? What kind of writer dreams about writing and then doesn’t do it? What kind of writer chooses to do something else, rather than write?

And then I turn back to the page, or the screen, and tackle the next wee project one sentence at a time, one word at a time. I keep writing, hoping that all this drafting and scribbling and practice will give me the courage and skill to tackle the big projects, when they come along. And trusting that even if I don’t feel like writing, or even if I (gasp) take a break for a few days or weeks, I will pick up the pen again, and go back to the thing I love to do, and can’t not do.

It’s all real writing, the emails and blog posts and journal-entries-cum-grocery-lists. It’s all a chance for my soul to exhale. I need it and I love it and, most importantly, I keep on doing it – and that is what makes me a real writer.

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1. “You don’t have to know.” (From my friend Tracy Shilcutt, who was listening to me freak out about what to do with my life after college graduation.)
2. “Give yourself something to look forward to every day.” (From the ever-wise Jacque, on combating boredom and loneliness.)
3. “Go home at five o’clock. The work will wait for you.” (From Glenn, my supervisor at my first grown-up job.)
4. “Use real butter.” (From Julie, and Julia Child, and many other good cooks.)
5. “There is no judgment or competition in yoga.” (From the lovely McKay, yoga teacher extraordinaire.)
6. “Throw your hat in the ring.” (From Tara Austen Weaver, aka Tea.)
7. “Fresh herbs make everything better.” (Jon has never said that, to my knowledge, but he uses fresh herbs in his delicious dishes whenever he can.)
8. From my mom: “If you don’t love it, don’t buy it.” “Stand up straight.” “Put an avocado pit into guacamole to keep it from turning brown.” “Plan ahead.” “At least try to look nice.”
9. “Real writers can’t not write.” (From Al Haley, my college creative writing professor.)
10. “You can do anything for one more week.” (From my friend Frankie – helpful in either surviving crisis mode or just sticking it out.)
11. “Keep your elbow in!” (From Cole, while swing dancing.)
12. “Knowing what you don’t want is just as important as knowing what you do want.” (From the ever-wise Mr. Walker, teacher, advisor and mentor extraordinaire.)
13. “Proofread everything.” And other editing advice, from Ron.
14. From my dad: “The male ego is a fragile thing.”

What advice do you cherish? We can all certainly use a few wise words.

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