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Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Wayby Ruth Reichl
Synopses & Reviews
Bestselling author Ruth Reichl examines her mother's life, giving voice to the universal unarticulated truth that we are grateful not to be our mothers
In Not Becoming My Mother, bestselling author Ruth Reichl embarks on a clear-eyed, openhearted investigation of her mother's life, piecing together the journey of a woman she comes to realize she never really knew. Looking to her mother's letters and diaries, Reichl confronts the painful transition her mother made from a hopeful young woman to an increasingly unhappy older one and realizes the tremendous sacrifices she made to make sure her daughter's life would not be as disappointing as her own.
Growing up in Cleveland, Miriam Brudno dreamed of becoming a doctor, like her father. But when she announced this, her parents said, "You're no beauty, and it's too bad you're such an intellectual. But if you become a doctor, no man will ever marry you." Instead, at twenty, Miriam opened a bookstore, a profession everyone agreed was suitably ladylike. She corresponded with authors all over the world, including philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, political figures such as Max Eastman, and novelists such as Christopher Marlowe. It was the happiest time of her life.
Nearly thirty when she finally married, she fulfilled expectations, settled down, left her bookstore behind, and started a family. But conformity came at a tremendous cost. With labor-saving devices to aid in household chores, there was simply not enough to do to fill the days. Miriam — and most of her friends — were smart, educated women who were often bored, miserable, and silently rebellious.
On what would have been Miriam's one hundredth birthday Reichl opens up her mother's diaries for the first time and encounters a whole new woman. This is a person she had never known. In this intimate study Reichl comes to understand the lessons of rebellion, independence, and self-acceptance that her mother — though unable to guide herself — succeeded in teaching her daughter.
"The slender size of Reichl's memoir of her late mother's life belies its powerful tale of a young woman, Miriam Brudno, who bowed to societal and familial pressure to become a wife and a mother over pursuing a fulfilling career. While Reichl, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, is well known for writing about her culinary adventures (Tender at the Bone; Garlic and Sapphires), this beautifully crafted homage follows a more personal path as she pushes past 'Mim Tales' — stories she told about her mother to entertain her readers and friends — to dive deep into her mother's diaries and letters, paying tribute to a woman who was raised when 'good women didn't work if they didn't have to.' So Miriam Brudno struggled to fit the mold of the perfect housewife, until she finally told a friend, 'Who cares about menus... when there are so many more interesting things to think about?' When Reichl discovers an unopened letter to herself, she reads that her mother 'was cheering me on and pointing out that I had an obligation, both to myself and to her, to use my life well.' Reichl has created a masterful portrait of a mother-daughter relationship that will resonate with readers across generations." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Ruth Reichl opened her first memoir, "Tender at the Bone," with a story about her late mother serving moldy food to guests at her brother's engagement party, a move that sent a couple dozen people to the hospital. Similar tales of her bipolar mother's bizarre forays animate Reichl's two other memoirs, "Comfort Me With Apples" (2001) and "Garlic and Sapphires" (2005). Miriam Reichl emerges from these... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) pages as a chaotic, somewhat irritating and often comical counterpoint to her daughter, who became a restaurant critic for the New York Times and editor of Gourmet magazine. Ruth Reichl, however, has never gotten over the feeling she's betrayed her mother and, in her latest book, has decided to make it up to her by telling the woman's life story. Rather than rely on her own memories, Reichl mines her mother's letters and diaries. Unfortunately, the result is a thin volume that, while moving, feels incomplete in a way that Reichl's books about herself did not. She never quite seems comfortable inhabiting her mother's skin. Her mother, after all, was exactly what she never wanted to be: an unhappy housewife. Reichl casts her as a kind of feminist martyr: born too late and too well off to be content solely with the roles of wife and mother but too early to have developed the sense of empowerment made possible by the pill, Title IX and Oprah. Miriam's dream of becoming a doctor like her father was crushed by her parents, who told her she would ruin her chances of landing a husband — a prospect already jeopardized by her homeliness. Miriam instead earned a doctorate in musicology and opened a bookstore, a venture that allowed her to befriend literary luminaries such as novelist Christopher Morley. But she felt pressure to marry and rushed into an unhappy union with a man who walked out on her. After a few years on her own, Miriam met the kindhearted Ernest Reichl at a party. Though Ernest was a far better match for her, Miriam resumed the role of unhappy housewife. She despaired at her inability to keep a neat house. Then there was her cooking. It seems Miriam Reichl had a knack for concocting treats out of spoiled food: Recalling a delicacy her mother made for her Brownie troupe, Ruth Reichl writes: "As I watch, Mom mixes the jam into the not very moldy chocolate pudding and adds the prunes." Reichl doesn't mention her mother's bipolar diagnosis as early or often as she has in previous books, perhaps to avoid undermining what might be the moral of Miriam's story: that a career is a prerequisite for happiness. It's a lesson that seems out of place in the era of the opt-out revolution. If women have learned anything in the last 30 years, it's that having it all isn't what it is cracked up to be. That sense of bitterness and disappointment, especially among highly educated professional women, has spawned its own subgenre, starting with the 2002 anthology "The Bitch in the House." Novelist and mommy-war veteran Ayelet Waldman fits into that genre with her new book, "Bad Mother." The title refers to the bogey mama all other moms love to revile. (Think Octomom or Britney driving with her kid on her lap.) It's a role Waldman took on herself after she wrote an essay confessing that she loved her husband more than their four children. Waldman hates to hold back, and that trait serves her well in "Bad Mother," a collection of 18 essays, many of which have been published previously. She covers a lot of the terrain of modern motherhood as experienced by a privileged subset of women — feeling hounded by the breastfeeding police, being ambushed virtually on mommy listservs and discovering that marching in a Take Back the Night rally in college does not guarantee that a man will do an equal share of housework. Waldman managed to find a wannabe house husband, novelist Michael Chabon. But after becoming a mother, Waldman, who is also an attorney, felt betrayed by her feminist forebears as she tried writing briefs and handling jailhouse phone calls from clients while tethered to a breast pump. She decided to quit her job and become a full-time stay-at-home mom, which sparked another identity crisis. She resolved it by turning it into a career, starting with her novel "Nursery Crimes," about a stay-at-home mother who is so bored she starts to solve mysteries. Waldman has covered much of this ground in other pieces, including her decision to have an abortion after learning the baby she was carrying had a genetic defect. She also talks about being bipolar and her decision to remain on her medication while pregnant, which led to a similar scare. After reading these stories, plenty of parents will fault Waldman for something or other. Plenty more will be able to relate. Annys Shin is a financial writer for the Washington Post. Reviewed by Annys Shin, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Bestselling author Reichl embarks on a clear-eyed, openhearted investigation of her mother's life, piecing together the journey of a woman she comes to realize she never really knew.
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Bestselling author Ruth Reichl examines her mother's life, giving voice to the universal unarticulated truth that we are grateful not to be our mothers.
Bestselling author Ruth Reichl examines her mother's life-and gives voice to the unarticulated truths of a generation of exceptional women
A former New York Times restaurant critic, editor in chief of Gourmet, and the author of three bestselling memoirs, Ruth Reichl is a beloved cultural figure in the food world and beyond. For You, Mom. Finally. is her openhearted investigation of the life of a woman she realizes she never really knew-her mother. Through letters and diaries-and a new afterword relating the wisdom she's gained after sharing her story-Reichl confronts the transition her mother made from a hopeful young woman to an increasingly unhappy older one and recognizes the huge sacrifices made to ensure that her daughter's life would not be as disappointing as her own.
About the Author
Ruth Reichl is the editor in chief of Gourmet magazine and the author of the bestsellers Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples. She has been the restaurant critic at the New York Times and the food editor at the Los Angeles Times.
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