Book Review: A Pig in Provence

When I’ve had a ho-hum day, a non-stop day, or a “Please just let it be over day!” there’s nothing that helps me escape and unwind faster than a good book.  Curled up on the couch in the living room in front of the fire, while soaking in a hot bubble bath or just a few minutes in bed before turning out the lights, books let me step out of my life, my worries and my to-do list and fall into the life of someone else (real or imagined). 

A favorite (and a steal at only $5.20 on Amazon) is  A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France, a memoir by Georgeanne Brennan.  

Georgeanne Brennan won the James Beard Award and the IACP/Julia Child Cookbook Award for her writing and is the author of numerous cooking and gardening books such as “The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence,” “The Family Table” and “Savoring France.”

“A Pig in Provence” recounts her initial move to Provence to keep goats and try to make a living from making fresh goat cheese and moves though subsequent summers spent in Provence.  Each chapter is a chapter from her life tied to the food that defines that experience: goat cheese, mushrooms found through wild mushroom foraging, pork and her family’s first pig purchase, bouillabaisse, garlic, lamb, and tarts. 

The narrative is consuming, making you feel like you’re right there in Provence whether it be on a hot summer night celebrating Bastille Day or a cold morning performing the ritual butcher of a pig.   At the end of each chapter is a recipe highlighting the flavor that has become the star of that chapter.  “Goat Cheese Salad with Fried Bread” and “Juniper-rubbed Chicken Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms” sound especially enticing.  

If you love food, France, a good read, or any of the above, buy, beg, or borrow a copy of “A Pig in Provence,” and escape to the south of France.

For more of my book reviews, click here.

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Author Caitlin Kelly Talks Disclosure: How Much is Enough?

Caitlin Kelly is a freelance writer who has written for The New York Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, Business Week, Town & Country, Family Circle and Penthouse to name a few. She is also the author of two non-fiction books: Blown Away: American Women and Gunsand her latest Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.

Today and next Friday, July 1, Kelly shares some writing insight with us. Having been in the business since 1990 and worked as a freelance writer in addition to salaried writing jobs since 1996, she has plenty of hard-earned wisdom to share. As a bonus, if enough people ask questions (you can comment or email me directly at oc2seattle dot gmail dot com), Kelly has generously offered to do a Q and A to answer those questions, so don’t be shy, give us your questions!

Without further ado, please welcome Caitlin Kelly.

Thoughts on Disclosure
By Caitlin Kelly

Writing about yourself is a dangerous business.

You know how you think and what you feel. You’ve got strong opinions and powerful memories. Why not use them as material for essays, articles or books? 

What if you’re wrong? Does it matter? To whom?

And, once you start your emotional striptease, when do you stop? When is a coy flirtation insufficient – or a raw flood of confession the cringe-making equivalent of a lap-dance?

Welcome to the minefield of disclosure. The only way to know you’ve overstepped is when you’ve lost your legs. Which is where a tough agent, editor and first readers are essential.

I’ve written a great deal for publication about my own life: my marriage, my divorce, my desire not to have kids, putting my dog to sleep, a noisy hospital stay.

For Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail, my second non-fiction book, I had to dig much deeper than ever before. I found it difficult, painful and frightening — what would the people I was also describing have to say about it? I did not tell them they were about to be in a book, that our private conversations were now scenes and dialogue, shaped by my memory and the exigencies of the book’s narrative arc.

There’s no rulebook on how much to disclose. Every writer, and editor, has their own notion of too much or not enough.

In my first draft of Malled, two close friends and first readers – one of them my sister-in-law – both cautioned me to purge the manuscript of a specific family member and our ongoing conflict. “It’s too much,” said Salley. “We don’t need to know that much. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“You don’t want the fallout,” warned Sheena. “Do you really think it’s worth the family drama to leave it in?” 

Now that Malled is out and widely reviewed – with 34 amazon reviews as I write this, plus some terrific professional assessments from USA Today, The Globe and Mail, Forbes. com and others – I’m also facing the cost of my own candor, of disclosing facts about myself and my worldview that people are now using to attack me, not as a writer but as a person.

For daring to feel them, and daring to include them.

I’ve been called a princess, a racist and an elitist, partly because I chose to disclose that – before working $11/hr in retail – I’d traveled the world, worked for three major daily papers, speak two languages. These are deemed problematic because….?

I could have said nothing. 

Should I?

I think not, and I’ll tell you why. Context.        

I recently read a memoir by a young woman, whose quixotic life choices seemed silly and misguided to me. (She found then charming and compelling, and so did her agent and publisher.) When I dug a little deeper, it was clear she came from significant privilege and had graduated from one of the nation’s most costly and exclusive colleges. Did her background shape her narrative? Of course it did.

Maybe it’s because I’ve worked as a journalist since college, but I want to know the facts! I want the larger contextual framework of who is talking to me, demanding my full and undivided attention for the length of their book. Not for fiction, obviously, but for non-fiction – for me – this is an essential element. Writers who try to disguise their filters cheat us, their readers, of the truth.

Whether we like it or not, we all see, think and write through multiple filters: race, age, education, ethnicity, class, religion, politics.

With no signposts at all to my narrator, a silence where I need context, I lose interest fast.

Who are you?

Why should I listen to you? Or believe you?

So, while some Malled readers continue to beat me up for candidly and honestly admitting in print who I am, where I come from and how I think, I’ll take the hit. I’d rather be that than James Frey or any one of the many “memoirists” whose work — it turns out later – is more deceptively artful fiction than accurate disclosure.

If you’re not willing to share your truth, don’t write.

You don’t have to share everything, nor can your readers listen to it all. It’s up to you, your agent and your editors to determine how much is too much, or too little.

And, no matter what you all decide, someone is bound to hate it.

And love it.

Welcome to the writer’s world!

Part 2: On July 1, Caitlin Kelly gives us her take on the writer’s life.

Writing Tips from Malled Author Caitlin Kelly, A Two-Part Series

Life works in mysterious ways. Really, I can prove it.

One day I was listening to an NPR interview with Caitlin Kelly about her new book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail. The next I was reading about it in Marie Claire. And then I found myself in the midst of an email conversation with the author herself asking if she would give the rest of us some words of writing wisdom. And you know what? She said yes.

Writing Chops

Caitlin Kelly is a freelance writer who has written for The New York Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, Business Week, Town & Country, Family Circle and Penthouse (yes, Penthouse) to name a few. She is also the author of two non-fiction books, Blown Away: American Women and Guns and her latest, Malled. 

Malled is an expose of the plight of the retail worker told from a memoir perspective.  It details Kelly’s two-years working in retail at The North Face after she lost her salaried job at The New York Daily News and wanted some steady income to supplement her freelance career and allow some breathing room in the never-ending story-pitching cycle.  For USA Today’s review of Malled click here.

Guest Blog Writing Series

For the next two Fridays (June 24 and July 1), Kelly will share some writing insight with us. Having been in the business since 1990 and worked as a freelance writer in addition to salaried writing jobs since 1996, she has plenty of hard-earned wisdom to share.  As a bonus, if enough people ask questions (you can comment or email me directly at oc2seattle dot gmail dot com), Kelly has generously offered to do a Q and A to answer those questions.

June 24: Disclosure

Because Malled is a memoir, Kelly had some interesting discussions regarding disclosure with her publishers. How much disclosure is enough? How much does an investigative journalist have to bare her soul in her memoir? 

The issue of disclosure is one us bloggers face all the time.  Do we talk about our families? Our friends? Our day jobs? List our last names? How much information is too much information? Where is the line between voice and privacy? 

On Friday, Kelly’s first guest post will wrangle with the unruly issue of disclosure and share the decision making process she used when writing Malled.

July 1: The Writer’s Life

Many of us dream of ditching our day jobs and writing full time.  On July 1, Kelly will give us a humorous and poignant look at the reality of the life of the full-time writer.

Can’t wait til Friday to start asking questions? Comment now.

Books Turn Me On

Before Jim, the men I dated fell into two categories, the smart, well-informed ones and the “shhh baby don’t talk” variety.

The latter didn’t last long. Bottom Line: Smart is sexy and people who read books turn me on.  I’m not alone in this belief.

If you’re looking for an interesting read to up your sexiness quotient, here are a few I recommend.

Nonfiction

The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe: Peter Godwin returns to Zimbabwe hoping to witness the change in power after the election defeating Mugabe. As Mugabe refuses to leave office and sets out destroying the opposition, Godwin weaves his first-hand experience with the stories of those persons tortured and jailed by Mugabe’s goons and the story of a country destroyed by a corrupt rule whose only goal was personal power.   

A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s:

The Man Who Ate Everything: A series of essays, it reveals Steingarten as an enthusiastic amateur. His enthusiasm is infectious but it’s his dry wit that will have you laughing out loud. For my longer review click here. But here’s a small smackerel of Steingarten’s musings on “Greek Cuisine” to whet your appetite.

“The Greeks are really good at both pre-Socratic philosophy and white statues. They have not been good cooks since the fifth century B.C., when Siracusa on Sicily was the gastronomic capital of the world. Typical of modern-day Greek cuisine are feta cheese and retsina wine. Any country that pickles its cheese in brine and adulterates its national wine with pine pitch should order dinner at the local Chinese place and save its energies for other things. The British go to Greece just for the food, which says volumes to me. You would probably think twice before buying an Algerian or Russian television set. I thought for ten years before buying my last Greek meal.“

Angelology: A Novel: This story raises fascinating questions about angels, demons and the differences in between, pulls you in and leaves you wanting more. For my more detailed review, click here.

The Help: A stunning debut novel about the divide between white women and the African-American women who take care of them. A page-turning story of dependence, bigotry and social change.  The movie based on the book comes out this summer.

The Lacuna: A Novel: Barbara Kingsolver is a master storyteller. I don’t want to give anything away, so all I’ll say is this book puts a face to several dark parts of America’s history while keeping you spellbound.

What I’m Reading Now
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook: Anthony Bourdain’s latest. If you’ve already been hooked by Kitchen Confidential or Bourdain’s exploits on the Travel Channel in No Reservations this is a must read.

Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses: by Seattle author Claire Dederer, this memoir cleverly braids yoga, Dederer’s childhood punctuated by a pseudo-divorce (her parents separated but stayed married), life as a new mom and what that meant in liberal Seattle from the mid-90s to today (organics and clogs anyone?). Favorite line so far: “We are all trying to buy local food in a convenience store and failing.”

Note: for your convenience all links lead to Amazon in case you want to read one of these books for yourself.  If you buy through the link I may receive a few pennies in return, but the cost to you is the same as if you went to Amazon without the link.

Please Don’t Throw Your Books Away – Dad

A few weeks ago the Friends of the Seattle Public Library had one of the two massive book sales they hold each year. Picture an airplane hangar filled with table upon table of books, yours for $1 a book, or slightly more for an author autographed or book in exceptional condition, and you have a picture of book lover euphoria.

Driving back from the sale with eight books in hand and only $10 out-of-pocket, my Dad phoned. Like me, both of my parents are book fiends, so I told my Dad about the rows upon rows of books I perused and of my great bargains. He was surprised. “Do libraries still accept book donations?” “Yes,” I replied. “Huh. I usually just throw my books away once I’ve read them.”

As my brain screamed “Dear God” and I narrowly avoided running into the curb, what inexplicably came out of my mouth was “Did you at least recycle?”

The concept of throwing books away is simply impossible. Books are sacred. You may lend or give books to friends, donate them to the library or even sell them on half.com, but as the daughter of a woman who hoards the written word in all its forms, throwing a writing away is heresy.

I quickly educated my Dad on the fact that yes, to my knowledge all libraries accept book donations and thanked God he mostly buys electronic books these days thanks to the iPad and Kindle. Then I thought, do other people do this too?

For those of you looking to streamline your bookshelves, here are some ways to save your books from the recycle bin and put them out into the world for the benefit of others.

Donate

The Seattle Public Library will accept donations of three boxes or less at any of its branches. Have more to donate? Take your books to the Friends Book Sale sorting room, located at 6310 NE 74th St., Seattle, WA, 98115, within Warren G. Magnuson Park. Donations are accepted at Magnuson Park on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Not in Seattle? Check your local library for its donation policies or contact your local bookstore for the names of charities seeking book donations. Many children’s shelters are in constant need of  children’s books.

Trade

My girlfriends and I regularly swap books. Reading books your friends have chosen automatically gives you someone to discuss the book with and is an interesting insight into your friends.

Have more books than your friends can read?  Bookins is an online trading source for books and DVDs.  You list the books and DVDs you are willing to part with and when someone picks one of your offerings you ship it at no cost to you (you print out a prepaid mail slip).  In exchange you get points which you can use to choose a book or movie someone else has listed.  In addition to your points you pay $4.49 for shipping.  There are over 50,000 readers on Bookins so the selection is pretty large.

I have a friend who leaves books she’s read on long flights in the airport gate area with a post-it that says they’re free for the taking. A nice gift to the traveler who finished their reading material before their next connection.

Sell

Sell your books on half.com or ebay.com and get some extra cash to buy more books. Brand new hardback best sellers usually fetch the highest price.

What do you do with your already read books?

Surprising Facts About Charity in America

Over the holidays I found myself reading Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism by Arthur C. Brooks.  Some article I read lead me to this book and it is an eye-opening must read

Arthur C. Brooks is a Seattle native, currently living in Syracuse, New York and is the President of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.  He was raised liberal and is a self-proclaimed independent.  This is noteworthy because his findings on who gives to charity and who doesn’t in America is not very flattering to liberals.  Brooks himself was so shocked by the data his research yielded that he re-ran his analysis and gathered new data.  as he says, “nothing worked.  In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”

Here are just a few of Brooks’s findings:

  • “The working poor in America give more of their money – not less – to charity than middle class people.”
  • Religious Conservatives “are as charitable, or more so, than any other part of the population, including to secular causes.”
  • “Secular liberals are poor givers.”  “They give away less than a third as much money as religious conservatives, and about half as much as the population in general, despite having higher average incomes than either group.  They are 12 points less likely to volunteer than religious conservatives, and they volunteer only about half as often.  They are less generous than others in many informal ways as well.  For example, they are significantly less likely than the population average to return excess change mistakenly given to them by a cashier.”

Are you shocked? 

I was and wasn’t.  I’ve personally had the experience of sitting at a charity function at a table with 8 other attorneys and been the only person (I’m counting Jim and me as one here) in the group to “raise the paddle” to give money to that charity even though I made less that the other 8 people at the table, the charity was not one in which I am actively involved, and the remaining 8 persons are self-professed democrats.  Huh?  So I wasn’t particularly shocked about the secular liberal finding (although I do know exceptions to this rule). 

The fascinating part of Brooks’s findings is the why.  Why does the working poor give more?  Why do liberals give less money to charity?  Why does this all matter?

I also found that after reading this book, the way I thought subtly changed.  On a flight back from Vegas someone from the flight before had left a unopened, gift-wrapped box of cookies on her seat.  Did the person who sat at that seat turn them over to the flight attendant, even though we were 15 minutes from take-off and they could have been sent into the terminal?  NO.  She loudly marveled about her good luck and kept them.  When we arrived in Seattle, SHE TOOK THEM HOME!  I sat there – appalled – and thought, “she must be a secular liberal.”

Please take a look at Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism and let me know what you think.  I would love to hear your take-aways from this book.

Books for Books

As you all know, I’m a serious bookworm. My Mom is an English teacher, so maybe that has something to do with it – it certainly made me start reading Austin at an early age.

Anyway, the illiteracy rate in America makes me cringe but what horrifies me even more is when I hear that schools aren’t even receiving adequate funding to buy books (or aren’t spending their funding dollars on books).

My Mom’s school, Cajon High School is in just such a predicament. They need 500 books and have $0 to buy them. Not willing to take this deficit lying down, they’ve teamed up with Barnes & Noble and if you buy any book online between now and October 13, 2010 (Wednesday) and enter the code 10270874 at checkout, Barnes & Noble will donate 10% back to the school and the English program in particular to buy the needed books.  What could be better than buying schools books by buying books for yourself?

If you need some ideas of books to buy, I have some recommendations in my prior book reviews (search for posts with the tag books).  Right now I’m reading “The Blue Zone” a study of pockets of the world where people live to be 100+ and still are mobile and mentally acute.  In the fiction world, I just finished “Invisible Lives” by Anjali Banerjee and am looking forward to reading her other book “Imaginary Men.”

What books are you reading and loving right now?