I just discovered the charming work of Last Lemon. They are clearly book lovers and create all sorts of groovy illustrations with smart phrasing attached. I know you’ll have fun discovering them for yourselves. (Last Lemon home page) Here are a few of my favourites: 6e8ab9fb7d6c46731a516aa25f579914.jpg

7c8ca5f5e4673ef53cb9416b5a0f7e8f.jpg

1a1a5a24569005168a7dd6e6fbe65b68.jpg

And my ultimate favourite, for obvious reasons …

53217038f555aa45abab80bf0b92bd35

Many years ago, I spent a summer working in a shop. During the inevitable quiet times, my co-workers and I needed to get innovative in order to avoid debilitating boredom. (It only took so many minutes to tidy the shelves. Clearly it wasn’t a book shop or boredom would NEVER have set in!)  One of our preferred pastimes was to entertain one another by making up stories about the people walking by the window; the more outlandish the tale we could muster, the better! It was clear to us everyone had a unique story. Now imagine collecting images of the people who pass and learning their real stories. Brandon Stanton is a photographer who began a project whereby he intended to simply archive 10,000 photos of people in the city of New York. After a period of time he began to also record the brief conversations he shared with his subjects. Brandon’s gentle kindness and the way he clearly relishes the time he spends with each subject creates lovely moments. And stories … such stories! Poignant, funny, thought-provoking, disturbing, romantic, cheeky … all united in their human-ness. Brandon uploaded the images and, understandably, an enormous following gathered. His blog can be found here at Humans of New York.

The blog beget the book, such a beautiful book …

Humans-of-New-York-Blog-Finds-Beauty-in-Regular-Joes-Starts-Worldwide-Trend-396949-2

For a glimpse into Brandon’s story, here’s a clip:

Hibernate_019

Well, hello there!  It’s been a while … No, I was not lost in a giant bookstore, or trying to read my way out of an avalanche of unread books, nor did I choose to hibernate like a bear, cuddled up with pages and pages to enjoy. (As appealing as all of those options sound!)  No, I am afraid I very simply slipped out of the blogging routine. I’ve missed our chatting and appreciate all the kind inquiries as to what the heck happened. Ready or not, Bedside Table Books is back in action.

The writing may have come to a halt but I did keep up some slow-paced reading. I thought I’d bring you up to date on the good ones and encourage you to share any happy discoveries you’ve made too. ( Click on the book covers to learn more)

book-u6-a183-b207-r423 6a00d83451bcff69e2015434e15cbe970c 3181564 soldiers_wife3009781476714240

13707579

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger: This had been languishing on my bookshelf for some time and now I realize it was a treasure hiding in plain view. Inspired by true events, this fits into that Fictional Memoir/Historical Fiction category I so adore. Off to Egypt with you – you’ll be glad you did!

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal: A loaner from the UK (thank you A.L.!) … I devoured this. What an exciting foray into history and a man’s compelling investigation of his own story. So beautifully written you’ll want to have a pen on hand to jot down some of the sentences. I borrowed but will have to collect a copy of my own to take pride of place on my shelf.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa: A slight book with some might. This is truly one of those stories you’ll be able to finish in a sitting and savour every moment doing so. Very moving and, well, just lovely!

The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy: Thank goodness for well-read hockey moms … I had just surfaced from a lo-o-o-ng slog through A Winter’s Tale and was in desperate need of something to restore my faith in a good straight forward, engaging story when a fellow hockey mom recommended this one. Just the ticket! (Yay P.D.!)  If you loved the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society …

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler: The title alone had me snookered, of course. I will be honest, I went in to this expecting a treacly chick-lit romp but have to admit, there was a little depth here that pleasantly surprised. Furthers romantic notion of book shops being magical but also brings attention to the untethered folks in big cities and to how important belonging is to us all.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood: Alternating points of view from chapter to chapter which can be off-putting to some but a thoughtful tale of two women in different eras whose stories connect.

And there you have a few highlights of my reading season. What have you been reading lately?

P.S.  Has this been happening to you too?

sight

Beach Bag Books

June 2, 2013

Beach Reading by Colin Page

As the month of June and a whiff of a promise of summer arrives, book columns inevitably turn to “The Beach List”. Summer reading seems to have a sensibility all its own – an excuse to read something lighter in most cases; I think perhaps fresh and light does feel more right. Last summer I read Beautiful Ruins and it was a perfect sunny days experience – I may not have been on the Italian coast but I felt its warmth just the same. Add that one to your list if you haven’t enjoyed it yet. (You can visit previous years’ lists here and here.) This summer, my list seems to embrace fresh characters … and primary coloured Primary art work if the covers are any indication! I didn’t notice the trend in quirky cover art until I started positioning the images for you. Is this a greater trend or am I just drawn to drawing? Let us know what your own reading recommendations are and if you have anything fresh and light on your list.

0be1bcb667efa6da21d1e7d3de38f16f This story was recommended by the well-read manager of my favourite local bookstore. She seemed to have been enchanted so I was won over.  “A novel as creative, brave, and pitch-perfect as its narrator, an imaginary friend named Budo, who reminds us that bravery comes in the most unlikely forms. It has been a long time since I read a book that has captured me so completely, and has wowed me with its unique vision. You’ve never read a book like this before. As Budo himself might say: Believe me.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Sing You Home

17335097  There are a few hits on my shelf with a Canadian/Irish connection – Janet E. Cameron is a Canadian (a Maritimer) living in Ireland. Her author Bio and Website entries confirm she’s witty and warm and evidently a nice blend of both her cultures. When asked to describe “Cinnamon Toast” she wrote:  “It’s funny, it’s sad, and we’ve all been there. Plus there are drunken house parties, midnight confrontations, the Cold War, hippies in cabins, pick-up trucks, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, bar fights, prom night, Star Trek, a roll in the hay (literally), gratuitous 80s song references, and a happy ending, even after the end of the world. What more could you want?”

the-knot Author Mark Watson is an English stand-up comedian though from reviews I’ve read this isn’t an entirely comic piece and, in fact, features a “dark secret”. Perhaps I’ve been hoodwinked by the pastel cover?! The story of a Wedding Photographer who captures moments in families’ lives explores his own family experiences. ‘A pitch-perfect tragicomedy of ordinary – and not so ordinary – family life‘ –Jonathan Coe

9781443422666 This story almost had a blog entry of its very own. I’ve been waiting for its Canadian release ever since reading Australian and English rave reviews. It’s been called ” The feel-good novel of 2013.”  The Harper Collins description: A first-date dud, socially awkward and overly fond of quick-dry clothes, genetics professor Don Tillman has given up on love, until a chance encounter gives him an idea. He will design a questionnaire—a sixteen-page, scientifically researched questionnaire—to uncover the perfect partner. She will most definitely not be a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker or a late-arriver. Rosie is all these things. She is also fiery and intelligent, strangely beguiling, and looking for her biological father a search that a DNA expert might just be able to help her with.

The Rosie Project is a romantic comedy like no other. It is arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, and it will make you want to drink cocktails.” Summer cocktails I presume 

9780393345094_custom-776b617a76b6da1e9a68ffe00a05ca33c989d1a5-s6-c30  Capital is a modern day tale, featuring a cast of many – a creative peek behind the curtains in London in 2008.  “John Lanchester’s new book Capital tells the story of the residents of Pepys Road, and how their lives are changed by the global financial crisis; a post-crash, state-of-the-nation novel told with compassion, humour and truth.” This one brings the recent headlines to life and may not be as light as the others but offers fresh (fictional) insight.

images-154 I have been increasingly curious about The Fault in Our Stars as I’ve watched it become cult-like in status. The writing has been described as “exquisite” and “devastatingly beautiful”. The premise seems less than cheery, two cancer-stricken teens form a romantic relationship, but it is apparently a study in how we live life, love, and leave legacies. While categorized as a YA (Young Adult) novel, it has gained a huge following among adults as well. Reviews indicate the tears flow but the story sticks with you in a most inspiring way. Pop on your biggest sunglasses and enjoy.

So that’s a little list I’ll be working through.  The sun is shining this morning and I’m off to travel back to Nigeria in Will Ferguson’s 419 for a while … Happy Reading!

Gatsby

May 10, 2013

tumblr_m1yedi61JT1qbqc9qo1_400

Today is the release of the latest cinematic version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Are you Gatsby-ed out already?  Are you thinking of re-reading the book? Or going to read it for the first time perhaps? It’s not a long endeavour (fewer than 200 pages) so I’m considering a refresher. The movie appears to be an extravaganza – influencing trends in fashion and design for almost a year now and promising to launch what marketers claim we’ll remember as the “Summer of Gatsby”.

A few Fitzgerald/Gatsby inspired books are appearing on the shelves too – the biggest among them probably Z – a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. So maybe I’ll set aside Gatsby and take on Zelda instead. It’s a fictionalized memoir, focusing on Zelda’s search for self during the roaring 20’s.  I read an article today recounting how she and F. Scott hunched on all fours on a stranger’s doorstep in New York City, barking to be let into the party. When the door was finally opened to them, Zelda marched in and up the stairs to have a bath. Hmmm … if that’s any indication, this could be a rather lively read. Click on the cover for a summary if you’re intrigued.

9781250028655_custom-4188299bd401473127a3e1bf8d1ea1aad9b50518-s6-c10

And if you’ve done all of your reading already and are thinking of heading to the movies, here’s a trailer of what’s in store:

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin is a novel categorized as Fictionalized Memoir or Historical Fiction. This has become one of my favourite genres as so many superb novels have recently appeared on this shelf. I believe it may have all started with Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. Or maybe it goes further back to The Red Tent, Memoirs of a Geisha, or Girl with a Pearl Earring. See what I mean? All excellent reads. I have just finished another in the genre by Tanis Rideout called Above All Things about George Mallory, and his wife Ruth, during his famed ascent of Mt. Everest in 1924. It does indeed deserve the exuberant praise of its cover blurbs! Here is a link to an essay by Tanis about the challenges with writing “Fact and Fiction”   When I finished reading Above All Things, I immediately wanted to learn more about the inspiration behind the tale. So … (back to the Aviator’s Wife!) in anticipation of reading about Anne Morrow Lindbergh in novel form, I have rallied a few non-fiction pieces to have at the ready when the cover closes.

First, here is a summary of The Aviator’s Wife courtesy of the author, Melanie Benjamin’s website:

“For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Drawing on the rich history of the twentieth century—from the late twenties to the mid-sixties—and featuring cameos from such notable characters as Joseph Kennedy and Amelia Earhart, The Aviator’s Wife is a vividly imagined novel of a complicated marriage—revealing both its dizzying highs and its devastating lows. With stunning power and grace, Melanie Benjamin provides new insight into what made this remarkable relationship endure.”

Enticing stuff already! Some of the younger among us will not recall the actual headlines but may be more familiar instead with the beautiful book Gift From the Sea written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh herself. It is a classic and to be savoured, over and over.

Gift from the Sea Lindbergh

Susan Hertog had significant access to Anne and the Lindbergh clan but has been accused of misrepresenting her writing goals – the family apparently believed she was researching for a study of feminism. When it was clarified that the interviews would be sources for a biography, the family balked. Apparently neither Anne, nor her husband Charles, wanted biographies researched or published during their lifetimes. Controversial as it is, this has been a well-reviewed Biography.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh - Her Life by Susan Hertog

And finally, Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of Charles and Anne, has written her own version of events in Under A Wing. Goodreads describes it as: “At once an eloquent reminiscence and a slice of American history, Under a Wing is, at its core, a heartfelt tribute to an extraordinary family.” 

1585889

Are you a fan of this genre? Any recommendations, recent or classic, you’d like to share?

Happy reading!

A zest for adventure, deep loyalty and devotion, a charming naïveté, a genuine desire to help others, self-deprecating humour … all qualities Paddington Bear (affectionately known as “Paddy” in our household) displays with his own brand of loveable flair. It surprised me to learn that our earnest and sticky-pawed friend has been around since writer Michael Bond first introduced him to us in 1958 Paddington is a treasure with whom we’ve grown up and been able to enjoy again with our children and perhaps even grandchildren. Twelve chapter books were published between 1958 and 2008 with many incarnations of each issued in picture book formats as well.  In 2012, old Paddy Bear couldn’t resist the excitement of Olympic Fever and has come out of hibernation to hit the track running.

It may impress you to know that Michael Bond, now 86 years old, has written prolifically beyond the realm of Paddington. He is responsible as well for the equally charming Gastronome Sleuth, Monsieur Pamplemousse and mischievous guinea pig Olga da Polga. In all, Bond has written more than 150 books and shows no sign of slowing down. In a recent BBC interview he indicated Paddington may have a few more “jams” ahead of him to be recounted in a new book or books.

I simply cannot do justice to the extent of Paddington’s endeavours – he is one busy, busy bear! He has served as a diplomat (was the first offering to the French by the British when the Chunnel connected for the first time), has flown with Richard Branson on speed record seeking missions, been honoured by the Queen with Mr. Bond, Michael Bond, and has seen his image manifested on everything from PJs ( Marks and Spencer’s best-selling ever!) and bed sheets, to tea bags and wall paper. He will always be my favourite “teddy” bear – I cherish mine while my boys have their own. For an entertaining peek into the world of all things Paddington take a few minutes to visit his website here.

And now for even more breaking news: Paddington is going to the movies! We will have to wait until 2014 but meanwhile according to The Guardian:

Harry Potter producer David Heyman is behind the film, described as “a modern take” on Michael Bond’s best-selling books which have sold more than 35 million copies.

He said: “Paddington Bear is a universally loved character, treasured for his optimism, his sense of fair play and his perfect manners, and of course for his unintentional talent for comic chaos.

“Michael Bond’s books offer such wit and wonder, and I am so delighted at this chance to bring Paddington to the big screen.”

We didn’t see Paddington among other literary characters at the Opening Ceremonies but if Twitter tweeters have their way, Paddington might be invited to the closing ceremonies. They believe Aunt Lucy would be pleased!

Nora Ephron

July 7, 2012

Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

 “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

You  know that question, who would you invite to your dinner party if you could invite absolutely anybody – real or fictional, dead or alive? Norah Ephron would be on my invite list. Sadly, at a youthful 71 years, she passed away on June 26th. Among her many movies, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail have become our generation’s comfortable favourites – like old friends we visit on occasion and then savour why we love them so: the witty humour, the poignancy, the frank authenticity. The writing is stellar and I know every one of you reading this can recite a line, or even several, or, let’s be honest, the entire script, from memory.  (“I’ll have what she’s having!” ) Nora’s mother advised her that “everything is copy” and “take notes” which perhaps contributed in a small way to Nora’s striking ability to capture pitch-perfect dialogue and scenarios so authentic, many thought she’d read their minds.

Nora was not just a screenwriter and movie director, she was a novelist and essayist as well, with titles like: I Feel Bad About My Neck, Heartburn, I Remember Nothing, Wallflower at the Orgy, Crazy Salad and Scribble,Scribble. She was also known to be a devoted reader. Here are a few of her thoughts on reading:

“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”

“… the state of rapture I experience when I read a wonderful book is one of the main reasons I read; but it doesn’t happen every time or even every other time, and when it does happen, I am truly beside myself.”

Arianna Huffington was a friend, and grateful to Ephron for her commitment to the Huffington Post. Read Arianna’s tribute and a collection of Nora Ephron’s HuffPo articles and blog posts here.

It has become abundantly clear that Nora Ephron was admired, respected and loved by many. So many wonderful articles have been written in her honour in recent weeks. In the words of Meg Ryan:

“Nora was an era. We pictured ourselves inside her dreams and they became ours. All wisdom, wit and sparkle lights, what a treat she was, what a blessing. I marvel again and again, what a life… To have created a simple happiness in people, to have added to the sum of delight in the world.” 

If you haven’t laughed your way through them yet, perhaps you’ll make room on your bedside table or in your beach bag for one of these recent collections:

   

Summer Reading

June 3, 2012

A few of you kind souls have shared with me that you visit Bedside Table Books on your phones when you’re standing in front of the bookshelf in a store or library … that you drop in to the site to find a few recommended titles. If this sounds like you, then bookmark this entry. I dedicate the following list to the shelf-stalkers!

It’s that time of year again – the Summer Reading Lists are emerging everywhere in the media, on-line and off. I’ve been collecting titles that have piqued my interest in some way for months now and thought I’d just post the whole darn catalogue here for you to ponder along with me. Now a few of these are sooo fresh off the press that they haven’t quite made it to the shelves yet so be patient – a list this long is going to take us a while to get through, maybe until next summer! Some seem plain old fun (beach worthy) and some seem thought-provoking (for rainy days) – the whole gamut. So dust off ye olde beach bag and start packing!

Please feel welcome to add your own recommendations and discoveries in the Comments! (As always, click on the cover to learn more about the book)

               

                                       

Remember Beachy Book recommendations from last year? Refresh your memory here.

Anna Quindlen has a new book just in time for Mother’s Day. I’ve just finished one of her recently published novels (Every Last One) and always as I read, I am struck by her ability to capture the “voice” of  motherhood. Lots of Candles and Plenty of Cake is a memoir and like so many of her treasured essays from The New York Times and Newsweek is a reflection of a reality shared by so many of us.  Her website describes the content of this newest release: “From childhood memories to manic motherhood to middle age, Quindlen uses the events of her own life to illuminate our own. Along with the downsides of age, she says, can come wisdom, a perspective on life that makes it both satisfying and even joyful. So here’s to lots of candles, plenty of cake.”

In honour of Mother’s Day, I thought you might enjoy reading a son’s interview with his mom:

From The Barnes and Noble Review 
May 4, 2012

Anna Quindlen: An Interview with Mom

A Conversation with Quindlen Krovatin

https://i1.wp.com/images.barnesandnoble.com/pImages/bn-review/2012/03/0327/annaQuindlen_SF.jpgAnna Quindlen — whose new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, was published by Random House last week — is a woman of many accomplishments. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Beloved novelist. Sought-after public speaker. The only author to ever have books on The New York Times‘ fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists.

She’s also my mother, which she’d tell you is her greatest accomplishment (along with being the mother of my younger siblings, Chris and Maria). I thought, since her new book is filled with reflections on motherhood and family, who better to ask the right questions than someone who’s been around for much of the journey her memoir describes?

So I asked if I could interview her about the book and the stories behind it, and she said yes (of course). But as we sat down to talk, she was the one with the first question: “Isn’t this so weird for you? I mean, did you ever imagine that someday we’d be sitting here at the dining room table, talking about my life?” In truth, the experience was a little surreal — and nerve-wracking. We’ve had plenty of conversations about her work before, but this was different; I felt the pressure any interviewer feels, to ask the right questions to get the interviewee talking. But it turned out to be so much fun that we both quickly forgot about the unusual occasion and the tape recorder between us.

— Quindlen Krovatin

The Barnes & Noble Review: I thought we’d start with the title because I know you had a lot of difficulty arriving at a title for this book. I was hoping you could talk about the different titles you went through prior to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

Anna Quindlen: I’m not sure that any one title had traction for more than an hour when I first started writing this memoir. The problem is that the book is about so many different things. About motherhood, about friendship, about how we grow older, about how we care for ourselves and our families while we grow older. There wasn’t one title that covered the waterfront. And what I realized at a certain point was that I wanted a title that communicated, for lack of a better word, the joyfulness of the book. The exuberance. I was walking across town to have dinner with my friend, the mystery writer Linda Fairstein, and Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake just popped into my head. Full bore. I immediately e-mailed it to my agent. She loved it. She forwarded it to my editor. She loved it. We all felt that it really captured something about the book. It captured the age aspect, but also the joyfulness. And that was the duality that we really wanted to get front and center.

BNR: But I know at one point you’d been thinking of calling it Later. Something that communicated the period of time in your life that you’d arrived at.

AQ: Right. And at one point there was some sense that we would call it Graybecause of what was going on with my hair. But none of those titles seemed to cover all of the book. I mean, the book isn’t just about the later years of my life. It’s about how the earlier years have informed those later years. I remember at a certain point my agent seized on something in the book and said, “Why don’t we call it Is 9:30 Too Early to Go to Bed?” [Laughs]

BNR: [Laughs]

AQ: The answer, of course, being “No!” [Laughs] But that was just before I came up with Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, and we were set.

BNR: Hadn’t there been talk about using another line from the book, I’m Too Old to Die Young Now?

AQ: Actually, when I first wrote the proposal for the book, I called it Too Old to Die Young Now, which is what I said to your sister when she was worried about something happening to me. And I really do think that in some ways it’s the quote that set me working on this. A tangible, spoken sense that I’ve crossed a line on the continuum of life. But, while I still think that’s a pretty good title, there was a sense that having the word “die” in the title didn’t necessarily work.

BNR: But even earlier, when you were first imagining the book, I remember you talking about it as Mistakes Were Made: A Memoir of Motherhood. When did…or how did you decide to move beyond motherhood to a more multi-faceted view of your life?

AQ: It was a combination of speaking that sentence to Maria — I’m too old to die young now — and then once I’d done the research that showed that in the year I was born, 1952, average life expectancy was 68. Every time I say that, even to people who pride themselves on being well informed, there’s an audible gasp. Are you sure about that? Did you double-check that? The answer is, I am absolutely sure. I triple-checked. But the idea that that was how long you got to live then, and that you get to live twelve years on average longer now, made me think about the differences in the lives of people my age from those of the generations that came before. And that seemed to me to be broader and deeper than motherhood, although clearly that’s a pivotal part of this book. It seemed to me to cry out for an explanation and an exploration of what we’re doing with this time and how our lives are defined by the fact that we’re going to live longer than any generation previously in history.

BNR: You may even live forever.

AQ: Not forever. Please, no.

BNR: Back to the title Mistakes Were Made. If you reflect on your time as a mother, what mistakes were you thinking of when you conceived of that title?

AQ: I can’t even begin to count all of the stupid, ham-handed things that I did. I mean, there was the time when your first Easter came around, and I put soaps and washcloths folded in the shape of bunnies in a basket because I didn’t want you to have chocolate.

BNR: Were you worried about my teeth?

AQ: It was a purist kind of thing. There you go. Purism often got in my way. I banned you all from watching The Simpsons for a number of years, which was clearly an error in judgment. There was the time your sister came running up to me and said she’d gotten a 98 on her test, and my response was, “Which one did you get wrong?” There was the time I ordered the food at the McDonald’s drive-thru window and then drove through without it. And there were serious times when you all got older when I responded in stereotypical ways to situations. I think that’s the biggest danger in being a mother: The impulse to massage your kids into some kind of homogenized, universally accepted form, which, if you’re smart, you know intuitively will result in nothing much down the road. But in the moment it somehow seems easier than individuating, than giving them their head, than getting out of their way.

BNR: I forget which author we were talking about, but it was an author who said that all of the books she writes are really about one theme.

AQ: Amy Bloom.

BNR: Right. Of course. I actually forget what the theme was.

AQ: I think she said love.

BNR: And you said that yours was motherhood. I think that’s absolutely true. I was going back through that box you assembled for each of us of the first editions of all of your books, and I was struck by how it’s always motherhood troubled by violence, or illness, or even just circumstance like in Blessings.

AQ: I actually think my theme is a combination of motherhood and loss, and clearly anybody who knows anything about my personal history knows where that comes from. My mother died when I was 19. In novel after novel, that emerges as a theme, most dramatically in Every Last One. It’s actually not a theme of the novel I’m working on now.

BNR: Is the protagonist a mother?

AQ: She is. But it’s not as important a part of her character as it is for most of the women I’ve written about in the past.

BNR: Because I was thinking about how even in Rise and Shine, which is one of your more lighthearted novels, Meghan Fitzmaurice’s relationship with her son, Leo, is fraught.

AQ: It’s not so true in my first novel, Object Lessons, which is more of a young person’s novel. But then once you get to One True Thing, it clearly takes hold, this dual theme of motherhood and loss. I think it was something I had to explore until I felt like I’d explored it to its fullest. And if you look at my novels, Every Last One, the most recent one, is about as far as I could go in exploring that, which is why the new one doesn’t need to be about motherhood as much.

BNR: That makes a lot of sense. How do you think having your Mom die when you were as young as you were affected how you approached being a mother?

AQ: I think it made me bound and determined to be there as much as possible. It had a lot to do with why I quit my job at the New York Times when I did, when you and Christopher were small. Which turned out to be an opportunity in disguise because that’s when I started to write my column, Life in the 30s. And it’s why I quit that column when Maria was born and took a year off with the three of you before I started the Op-Ed page column [Public and Private]. I just felt like life was short and I needed to be there. And I was haunted by the fact that my sister, your Aunt Theresa, was nine when our mother died, and she literally remembers nothing about her. And so I would look at you three, who were so central to my life, and think, I’m not even written on their DNA yet. I’ve got to be there as much as possible. I think it made me a very engaged and attentive mother.

BNR: Did your Mom’s style of being a mother, her approach to motherhood, inform how you raised us? Did you try to emulate her?

AQ: I did, but that was an interesting challenge. In terms of our characters and what was going on in our lives, my Mother and I were vastly different. Which was something that I struggled with because I loved her so much, and the idea of being different from her made me feel a little less in her eyes when I was younger. She was not a particularly educated woman. She wasn’t intellectual. She was just really good at making all five of us feel like we’d hung the moon. And that was the thing that I tried to emulate. That sense of each of your kids at various times thinking that they’re the favorite.

BNR: [Laughs]

AQ: Not that there was no favorite. But that they were the favorite. I think I tried to be as patient as I could. On sort of a cursory level, there were things I clearly tried to emulate. Having what, for my time, is considered a large family. Cooking constantly. The laughter. As I’ve written before, making my mother laugh was the be-all and end-all of my existence. You guys have cracked me up so much over the years that I feel like that’s a pay-it-forward kind of thing.

BNR: When we were growing up, she was an almost beatific figure, smiling out of black and white photos. Obviously, I never knew her, but she felt like a powerful force in our lives.

AQ: But that’s actually an unfortunate thing that we do to the dead. We turn them into plaster saint versions of themselves. We almost take away their individuality in our quest to make them perfect. So instead you get Saint Prudence of Spaghetti and Meatballs. [Laughs]

BNR: [Laughs] That’s so funny because the other day you had those old pictures out, and I don’t think I’d ever seen a picture of Grandma Prudence old before. With glasses.  Because the pictures around the house are of her at her wedding. Or her holding you when you’re an infant. So seeing her as an older woman was very strange.

AQ: Well, that’s one of the interesting things about our attitudes towards aging because my mother was 41 when she died. And at the time I was both hugely bereaved but also conscious of the fact that she had lived a rich, full life. And only when I got older did I realize that she had died incredibly young. Now that I’m almost 60, I just feel like it’s tragic. I say in the book that ever since I was 19 I felt, at some level, like I was living for two. That I had to embrace every day of life because I knew that my mother would have killed to have it. And so I think my attitude about aging has been different from some of my friends because I knew the alternative.

BNR: And now that you’re beyond the age that she died, who do you turn to as a model for motherhood.

AQ: Honestly, the people who teach you how to be a good mother are your children. And one of the biggest challenges of being a good mother is to listen to them. The trick is, you can’t listen to their words. You have to read between the lines of how they’re behaving, what they’re saying, what they’re doing.

BNR: One thing I remembered in my reading of the book was that when we were growing up you would bake these incredible cakes for our birthdays. And I wanted to talk a little about the most challenging of those cakes.

AQ: [Laughs]

BNR: Was it from year one that it was important to you to make such a big deal out of our birthdays, or did that come about later.

AQ: Actually, the cakes were much more baroque when you were babies.

BNR: Like scalloped edges or…

AQ: Not the decoration. More the baking. Cakes with hazelnut mocha frosting. Very very complex cakes. Totally unnecessary.

BNR: And lost on the individuals eating them.

AQ: Although there always was that moment, because you know I was never a junk food mother, there was always that moment when one of you would dig into your cake, put a fistful in your mouth, and give me a look like, you’ve been holding out on me.

BNR: [Laughs]

AQ: It was kind of magical. But I think the birthday parties were emblematic of something else. My birthday is July 8th, which meant that I didn’t have much of a birthday celebration. If you can’t take a box of cupcakes to school, it’s almost like your birthday doesn’t exist. And the irony is, my birthday cakes were almost always presented at a restaurant down the Shore where we used to spend the summers, and they always had a sparkler in them because it was right after July 4th, which is why the sparkler on the cover of the book is really apropos. So at some point I decided that you guys would have wonderful birthdays. And as I say in the book, I took it to the limit, far past the point where the people involved were enjoying it. There were those parties with the hayrides and the clowns. There was the party I threw for Maria where I took her and her friends to the beauty salon. And the cakes only became cakes again, and not art projects, when you guys finally said, “That’s enough.”

BNR: Which was harder to decorate, the Jurassic Park cake or the Ghostbusters cake?

AQ: [Laughs] Definitely the Ghostbusters cake. Because I had to get Slimer in there in addition to the logo with that ghost in the red circle.

BNR: But who first asked not to have an elaborate cake?

AQ: You did. I remember one year I asked what you wanted on your cake. And I would always ask with trepidation because Maria would say something like, I want Belle dancing with the Beast in a ballroom with Lumiere holding a candelabra, and my heart would sink. But I asked you what you wanted on your cake, and you said you didn’t want anything, and that felt like the beginning of maturity.

BNR: How tough is that as a mother, those kind of moments? Is it bittersweet or a feeling of relief or…

AQ: It’s hard. Less hard when you have more than one child. Knowing that Christopher was still going to ask for vampires on his cake was some solace. Also, if you don’t get mired in the moment, there’s this incredible kick you get when you realize that your kid is becoming an adult. That they have really interesting opinions about books you’ve both read. That they have interesting insights into human behavior, even your own behavior, that hadn’t occurred to you before. Unless you get too invested in power and control, that notion that your son or daughter is becoming an adult is thrilling.

BNR: Now Mother’s Day is coming up soon…

AQ: What day is Mother’s Day?

BNR: [Pause]

AQ: You have no idea!

BNR: No, no. I do. I think I do. May 12th?

AQ: May 13th. I actually have to fly to Traverse City, Michigan that day to do a gig for this book tour. And I’m trying to get them to change the travel itinerary so we can at least have brunch that morning.

BNR: Because it’s one of the definitive Public and Private columns, right? “The Days of Gilded Rigatoni”. When you were away for Mother’s Day.

AQ: Exactly.

BNR: Now, just a little background, you were on book tour?

AQ: I was on book tour, and it didn’t occur to me until the schedule was locked in that I would be spending Mother’s Day in a hotel room in Seattle.

BNR: And it was upsetting for you.

AQ: Very upsetting. No mother should be eating a room service breakfast on Mother’s Day.

BNR: Well, at least you got to eat all of the breakfast.

AQ: I got to eat all of the breakfast, and I got a column out of it. But I would have preferred to spend it with you guys. Even if that meant you ate all of the bacon before I even picked up my fork.

Quindlen Krovatin is an editor at The Barnes & Noble Review. He previously worked as a reporter in the Beijing Bureau of Newsweek Magazine. He loves his Mom and promises to get her something nice for Mother’s Day.

%d bloggers like this: