Blog Book Tour

As soon as I got my copy of Mama, Ph.D., I knocked my forehead and said, “Why didn’t I write something for this?” And then immediately, I knew. When I first read the title for the call for submissions way back when, I sent it to all my mama friends who HAD Ph.Ds. I didn’t really consider my lowly MFA to be worthy of consideration.

But as I thumbed through the poignant, intelligent essays in this collection, I soon understood that a lot of the women in this anthology didn’t have Ph.D.s either. They were abandoned or veered away from when children raised their siren calls.

I gave birth to my second child a week after waddling across a hot stage to receive my master’s degree in writing. Many of my classmates were on to doctoral programs, but I felt I was at the end of my particular line.
So it was with a mixture of envy, regret and relief that I read this collection; reading of the intense sacrifices of mixing a life of academy + family.

It seemed that most of the women in this anthology were pursuing Ph.D.s while pregnant or with very young babies or children. I would have been very interested in reading about women who pursued graduate or doctoral degrees when their children were older, in high school or college or beyond; maybe, coincidentally because now that my elder child is heading to college, it is the first time the notion of a Ph.D. is wiggling its seductive little finger at me. I don’t think I’ll probably go down that path, but for so many years it was “No, no, no WAY” and now again it’s “Hmmm… could I do that? Do I want to?”

The writing in this book is alive, often very humorous, often fraught. The quality of these narratives is uniformly excellent. It’s creative nonfiction at its best: true stories that often read like fiction, with compelling narratives, and characters for whom much is at stake. I was pulled in immediately by the funny-but-extremely-thoughtful first essay, Jamie Warner’s “The Conversation.”

Jamie: Do you think you want to have kids?
George: I don’t know. Do you think you want to have kids?
Jamie: I don’t know either… and why don’t you know? What else needs to happen? Is this a question of timing, or is more of an existential question?
George: I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I also loved Sonya Huber’s exquisite “In Media Res,” an ode to her unborn “Goat-baby.” I want to see you; I am hungry for the plot, for the tiny details of your story contained in the pads of your fingers, and your plans for rebellion and creation.

Loved Jennifer Eyre White’s “Engineering Motherhood,” about a “troubled youth” turned electrical engineer/mother/grad student. Susan O’Doherty’s “The Wire Mother” masterfully examines motherhood and psychology, and Elisabeth Rose Gruner’s “I Am Not A Head On A Stick.” My daughter, still in utero, used to kick books off my belly when I’d rest them there to read. My husband and I joked that she knew they were competition. Maybe it wasn’t a joke.

I have to admit that in reading this, I was biased. I was biased towards the mothers who hung in there, who used their Ph.D.s, who walked around their universities with people calling them “Doctor.” How could someone go through so much and then… not use it? Are there people who battle their way through medical school and then decide not to become doctors? Maybe it’s because of my own road-not-traveled regrets and longings. I have to say that I felt a twinge when I read editor Caroline Grant’s “The Bags I Carried,” which described her leaving academia and really not looking back. She ultimately found Literary Mama (for which I am personally grateful!), which gave her another powerful venue for the world of words and ideas, of sharing them with other thinking, writing mothers. But I couldn’t help hoping that when her children are older that she might turn back to her Ph.D.

Only after reading the entire book did I feel like maybe it was a bit … TOO uniform. I would have loved to have heard more from older women, lesbians, more women of color. Hmm, is that why they call it the Ivory Tower?

This is one reason why I particularly loved Angelica Duran’s essay, “One Mamá’s Dispensable Myths and Indispensable Machines.” She brings in the many layers of race, culture, gender, and grapples with them beautifully.

While my mother would have been patient with me if I had used her as a babysitter from my Anglo-American contextual culture rather than appreciated her as an abuelita from my Latino root culture, I managed to be a mamá so that she in turn could be an abuelita.

Truly, every piece in this collection is strong, provocative and gives much food for thought. I’ve been turning these womens’ stories over and over in my head for weeks, having silent debates with them and myself, and I suspect the conversation is going to go on for a long time.

It’s been a verrrrrry long time since the Dad in our house had any babies to bond with, and this book, with subtitle “Building A Closer Connection to Your Baby” brought back some fond memories. It’s very cute visually (see photos!) and light on heavy-duty advice. It’s basically a reminder that dads can and should be involved in basically every aspect of their new kid’s life. The instructions are kind of on the silly side (Diapering: Sing “she’s a very stinky girl” to the tune of “she’s a very kinky girl”) but nonetheless humorous and appealing. You’re not going to get any answers to the REALLY heavy-duty challenges of parenting here, but as I said, it’s a lighthearted reminder that there is no aspect of one’s baby’s life that is hands off.

I could not agree more. I was VERY into the notion of 50-50 parenting when I had my babies. Even though their dad was working full time out of the house, I really felt like it had to be split evenly when he was home. I will say that he valiantly did almost 50% of the feeding (with pumped breastmilk) and almost 50% of the nighttime getting up and Dealing With Whatever. He was a real trooper. I personally do not think that Motherhood should have ANYthing over Fatherhood, especially in these early months/years, and this book was a great validation of that idea.

This book was written by a mom-and-dad duo, James di Properzio and Jennifer Margulis, and they did a great job with their teamwork. It’s obvious that a lot of loving care went into this pretty little book.

All I can do when I look at these photos is sigh and wait down that looong tunnel ’til grandparenthood.

Meanwhile, if there are any new dads out there, or people who love them, leave a comment here if you want to be in a random drawing to win my copy of this book!

I almost didn’t review Mama Rock’s Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children. It arrived while I was away and I thought, I’ll only have two days to read it AND write the review? No way… but when I staggered home from the airport on Saturday, I found the package and ripped it open. I thought I’d read a page or two before passing out. WELL. I ended up reading almost half of it and the next morning I got up and finished it off faster than a hot sugared malasada (that’s a Hawaiian donut, in case you didn’t know).

I LOVED THIS BOOK. I loooove Mama Rock, who is the mother of comedian Chris Rock, as well as nine other kids and a ton of foster children. How much do I love her? Well, if I could, I’d invite her to come live with me and stand over my shoulder every time I say anything to my kids.

Mama Rock is a down-to-earth, no nonsense and yet warm and funny person. She IS a rock: she’s rock solid, she’s strong, and she knows how to head a family. I love her rules. Her first rule, which is nothing new really but something that practically every parent *I* know (myself included) has a very hard time with. Which is, you are not here to be your child’s friend; you are here to be their parent.

Were you torn between being a parent and a friend to the child? In my world, there is no decision to make. It was made when you had your child. As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s mental, emotional, and spir-itual growth. Your friends don’t ask you to be accountable for them in the same way, do they?

After all, I don’t tell my friends what to do or punish them if they don’t keep a promise
to me (OK, I usually act kind of cool toward them for awhile, but you know what I mean). I don’t make rules for them and certainly never enforce any. My friends also don’t expect me to provide their security or be their protector.

You ask me: Mama Rock, can’t I be both a parent and a friend to my children? Listen, when parents say they want to be friends with a child it is usually about pleasing the child; after all, no one likes friction. Every parent must have the courage to be in charge and to say no. You can have fun with your kids just like you can with a friend—we had plenty of fun—but you can’t be afraid to enforce the rules because you might lose your child’s affection. As parents, we have to protect our children. That is a job for a parent—not a friend.

This was something that I have been unclear on the concept about. I mean, it has been really, really hard for me to wrap my head around. And I have, I believe, paid the price.

Mama Rock makes a very clear distinction between being able to have FUN with a kid, and enjoy each other immensely, and being their friend. It sounds like lots of good times were had in her household, but she was still the one in charge.

She is all about having basic rules around respect, and responsibility, and just being a standup person. I think I have been a pretty good mom overall but when it comes to rules and respect and responsibility, I felt very humbled as I read this. My kids are not wayyy off the scale when it comes to disrespect, but I know they say stuff to me that would cause Mama Rock to take out her “can of whup-ass” (figuratively, not literally) and stop it right then and there. I often don’t stop things because I am pretty much a wimp much of the time. I’m not a rock, I’m a marshmallow. And that has caused problems for both me and the ones I love. Often when my kids were little, my husband and I would be frantically asking each other, “WHAT’s the consequence for this?” and we had such a hard time figuring things out. We either undershot (um, time out for 30 seconds) or overshot (“I’m never taking you anywhere again!”) and most of the time we had no clue what we were doing. If only we had had Mama Rock then.

I had a thought about chores and responsibility as I was reading this. Everyone I know (or read about) who has a large family pretty much has the chore thing down. I think this must be for two reasons: one, because when you have a TON of kids you’re just too overwhelmed to do everything yourself, and two, because if everyone’s doing it, then it’s the norm, and they make it a family culture thing, even if they don’t like it. People that I know (including self) who have one or two kids, generally do NOT make them do a bunch of chores because it’s “too much of a struggle” or “it’s just easier to do it myself” or some such.

Mama Rock has nice, good, strong opinions about just about everything and she is not shy about sharing them, which I found abundantly refreshing. She talks about how to talk to teenagers about sex (“Don’t lie down with anything you don’t want to spend your life with”) and drugs and curfews and self esteem and spirituality but in a very nondogmatic good way. She talks about the all-important family dinner and family time, but not at all in a heavyhanded way. She makes it sound easy.

She’s NOT about giving your kid organic vegetables and sleeping with them or giving them all kinds of Enrichment and whatnot. She keeps Coke! in her refrigerator, and shops at Kmart and orders Domino’s Pizza. She’s like, a REAL PERSON! That 90% of the people in this country could relate to.

I could go on and on. I am going to go back and read this book again. It humbled me and inspired me and made me wish, for a little bit, that my kids were 1 and 5 years old again so I could implement these things for a lot longer. I really want Mama Rock to come to Pact Camp and meet with all the parents there. If you feel like a bit of a spineless parent, this book could be just the shot of strength you are looking for.

This book, The Cure for Modern Life by Lisa Tucker, has a lot of really interesting elements: a deep discussion of medical ethics and the role of big  pharmaceutical companies; a love triangle, some compelling children.  Here’s a nutshell of what goes on:

Matthew and Amelia were once in love and planning to raise a family together, but a decade later, they have become professional enemies. To Amelia, who has dedicated her life to medical ethics, Matthew’s job as a high-powered pharmaceutical executive has turned him into a heartless person who doesn’t care about anything but money.  Now they’re kept in balance only by Matthew’s best and oldest friend, Ben, a rising science superstar — and Amelia’s new boyfriend.

That balance begins to crumble one night when, coming home to his upscale Philadelphia loft, Matthew finds himself on a desolate bridge face-to-face with a boy screaming for help. Homeless for most of his life, ten-year-old Danny is as streetwise as he is world-weary, and his desperation to save his three-year-old sister means he will do whatever it takes to get Matthew’s help. What follows is an escalating game of one-upmanship between Matthew, Amelia, and Danny, as all three players struggle to defend what is most important to them — and are ultimately forced to reconsider what they truly want.

The book is told from shifting narrative voices over shifting periods of time: the backstory, which involves the threesome’s early relationships with each other, and then the current story, which moves back and forth between the adults and Danny, the ten year old homeless boy who with his sister finds his way into Matthew’s  home. I found, like The Hidden Side of A Leaf, that the child was really the most (and some might feel only) compelling character in the book. I felt myself anxious to return to the chapters with the youngest narrator because in the end, this was the character I truly cared about.

If you’re intrigued, you can read the first chapter here. It begins with the sentence, “Was Matthew Connelly a bad man?” This question is at the core of the book, but for me, it wasn’t the main issue. He wasn’t a man I really cared about. He was a rich, scheming corporate guy. The book’s journey is all about him finding his soul, but that journey just didn’t ring true to me. It all had the element of fantasy, and I didn’t know if this was deliberate or not. It wasn’t fantastical enough to qualify as magical realism, and it wasn’t realistic enough to qualify as feasable.

When the homeless children find their way into the rich guy’s apartment, they rummage through his cupboards and eat all the crackers and bread in sight; then it seems they might be in big trouble because they have to keep hiding out and they can’t find any more food.  Then they spy a “big silver box” which is miraculously filled with food! It’s… a refrigerator!!!  This was just one of my many “Oh COME ON NOW” moments. Even a ten year old homeless boy knows what a refrigerator is (he did, at one point in his life, live in an apartment which presumably had normal kitchen appliances).

This wasn’t my favorite novel. But I know that many readers out there will love it. It’s a quick and accessible read. In many ways it’s a page turner, and the tension between the major players is palpable and effective. It is not literary fiction by any stretch. I wish I hadn’t had to finish it in a hurry the day before I go to Hawaii,  because it could prove to be one of those perfect beach reads.

imagedb.jpgI almost didn’t agree to reviewing The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer because I was wary of the subject matter: stay at home mothers. I tend to get all prickly and weird around this topic because it is SO loaded and I realize that even though I have often BEEN at home during my children’s lives, I do not want to be considered or think of myself as a SAHM. I’ve always worked part time or at home. I used to say, “I’m a stay at home mom, but my kids are not stay at home kids.” (they went to daycare/preschool from a very young age and I truly believe we are all much the better for it)

But I decided to go for it anyway and I am so glad that I did. First of all, the writing in this book just made me incredibly happy. I loved the sentences. For the first time in a very very long time, I found myself actually underlining passages on every page. Because I was so tickled to death by the way Meg Wolitzer puts words together.  As I read, I made satisfied noises out loud. I laughed out loud many, many times while I read this book. Some examples:

A husband had admitted that he swallowed their hyperactive son’s Ritalin every evening on the commuter train going home so he could actually pay attention at night when his wife told him about her day.

One of the mothers.. was a theoretical physicist with a particular interest in string theory, and she looked not tormented and overcome, but happy. Amy had seen her recently balancing a tray of sliding, homemade cupcakes… the cupcakes bore smears of oddly gray frosting that seemed like the outcome of a radical FDA experiment in food coloring, but so what?

 When the elevator arrived, the doors opened to reveal two women dressed for work, both in suits. Amy felt as though she must seem to them a rumpled bed, or a sweet old farm animal.

HA! I know that feeling. I feel like that even when I am dressed “for work.”

At any rate, the book follows a group of intelligent, interesting women whose children are all about ten years old. They “opted out” of their work (or artistic) lives when their children were born, and now that their children are leaning towards independence, they are startled and trying to figure out what to do with themselves.

I found it fascinating, moving, hilarious, poignant and very rich. I think this would make a tremendous book club book. There are so many layers of things to discuss – money issues, sexuality, friendship between women, loyalty, parenting, jealousy, marriage. Not one of these issues is glossed over, but examined in great and affectionate detail. Each woman is extremely human and we are made to feel sympathy for each of them.

It was somewhat sad to me that the one adoptive mother in the book has a “parental attachment disorder,” ie she is constantly stressed over her daughter’s “differentness” and is unable to feel good about her. That made me sad. Interestingly, and thankfully, the other mothers in the group really love this woman’s daughter and seem to be able to appreciate her for who she is.

Also, the Asian woman in the group, as another blogger pointed out, is a stereotypical math geek. WHY does it have to be the Asian woman? (her husband, also Asian, is also a math geek banker) I have to admit that Wolitzer wrote about her obsession with numbers (she is constantly converting things into metric measurements in her head, which is quite endearing and weirdly fascinating) quite beautifully, but I hated that it was the Asian woman. Also that she had a teeny slender little body and immigrant parents who work in a dumpling shop. Ugh. PLEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAASSE.

But other than that, I found this book to be extreeeemely satisfying. I want everyone I know to read it so we can talk about it. In fact, one of the things I loved most about this book was the deep treatment of womens’ conversations; the things they will and will not discuss with each other. I was riveted by this subject matter because I notice these things all the time; the boundaries we have with each other. I notice what people choose to tell me or not tell me, and I notice the same things about myself, and how much I measure our friendships in that regard.  If you were having an affair, who would you tell? If you were having trouble with money?

There are no easy answers, and no right answers. This book will make you laugh but it will also make you think. It’s a great combination.

And hey, here’s a great interview with the author.


cover2.jpgSome people think that writers are a competitive, isolated bunch. That we’re constantly elbowing each other aside for those contracts and agents and publishing opportunities. But that has not been my experience at all. I love writers. Writers make me cry and laugh and think on a daily basis, and constantly astonish me with their take on what it means to be human.

I have recently been blown away by a group of writers who have joined together in support of one of our own, Patry Francis. I first “met” Patry in the online community called Readerville, which brings writers and readers and book lovers together for wonderful sharing. I was always impressed by her kind and generous spirit. I was really happy to hear that she was publishing her first novel, The Liar’s Diary. The hardcover came out to great reviews (see below). But then, shortly before the paperback release, Patry was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, which she has described in breathtaking and exquisite posts on her blog, Simply Wait. She just did not have the ability to do the marketing, publicity and outreach that is so necessary for authors to manage.

Over 300 authors have stepped forward to do the work that she cannot right now. I hope she has a swift recovery and will be back at work on her next book very soon.

I took the book with me on my retreat last week, and gobbled it up the first day. It’s a twisty page turner, a story of the complex friendship between women, as well as a mother’s devotion to her teenaged son.

When new music teacher Ali Mather enters Jeanne Cross’s quiet suburban life, she brings a jolt of energy that Jeanne never expected. Ali has a magnetic personality and looks to match, drawing attention from all quarters. Nonetheless, Jeanne and Ali develop a friendship based on their mutual vulnerabilities THE LIAR’S DIARY is the story of Ali and Jeanne’s friendship, and the secrets they both keep.

Jeanne’s secrets are kept to herself; like her son’s poor report card and husband’s lack of interest in their marriage. Ali’s secrets are kept in her diary, which holds the key to something dark: her fear that someone has been entering her house when she is not at home. While their secrets bring Jeanne and Ali together, it is this secret that will drive them apart. Jeanne finds herself torn between her family and her dear friend in order to protect the people she loves.

A chilling tour of troubled minds, THE LIAR’S DIARY questions just how far you’ll go for your family and what dark truths you’d be willing to admit—even to yourself.

Praise for THE LIAR’S DIARY:

“Twists and turns but never lets go.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard, bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean

“A quirky, well-written and well-constructed mystery with an edge.”—Publishers Weekly

“Outright chilling.”—New York Daily News

“Genuinely creepy…The unlikely friendship between a small-town school secretary and a flamboyant teacher proves deadly in this psychological murder mystery.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A twisting ride full of dangerous curves and jaw-dropping surprises. This is one of my favorite reads of the year!”—Tess Gerristen, bestselling author of The Mephisto Club

“Francis draws and tense and moody picture of the perfect home and family being peeled back secret by secret…Four Stars.”—Romantic Times

For more information or to schedule an interview with Patry Francis, please contact Laurie Connors, Plume Publicity 212-366-2222

cover.jpg I received an email recently saying that novelist Patry Francis, whose debut novel THE LIAR’S DIARY is due to come out in trade paper on January 29, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She’s had several surgeries and her prognosis is good, but since she’s home recuperating, she won’t be able to do anything with regard to promotion. I met Patry through several years ago, and she is truly a wonderful person and writer.

A few of her author friends are arranging a THE LIAR’S DIARY Blog Day for her on January 29, and the idea has REALLY taken off. In just one week, 120 authors have already agreed to blog about Patry’s book on the 29th, including a couple with amazingly huge readerships, like Neil Gaiman and Jennifer Weiner, as well as a few who blog in conjunction with online magazines like Writers Digest and SMITH Magazine.

Most of the bloggers, though, are ordinary folks whose blogs haven’t yet attained that reach, but still want to help. (like me!) Susan Henderson is keeping the list(leave a comment there if you want to participate) on her website, LitPark. It’s growing by the minute, and no wonder; Patry is a lovely person, who is dealing with her situation unsentimentally, and with courage and grace.

You’ve got to read her blog, for some truly astounding, beautiful and moving writing.

My copy of The Liar’s Diary just arrived, and I am going to steal a few moments this afternoon to get started reading. So bloggers, if you can, please join in. And readers who are NOT bloggers, if you could come back here on January 29th and leave a comment about the book, or write your own review on the novel’s Amazon page, that would be great. It would be great to have a huge show of support.

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