When I was a kid, my family had an account at the local bookstore, a privilege I don’t remember enjoying anywhere else in town. I felt so cool stopping in, picking up the latest V.C. Andrews novel, then then telling whoever was working behind the counter, Just charge it to “Rosenstrach.” I never felt guilty piling two or three on the counter at once, something that would’ve been unimaginable with, say, Ton Sur Ton sweatshirts at the trendy clothing store down the street. I like to think that’s why, to this day, I am like Daddy Warbucks when it comes to buying books, constantly ordering them for friends and family (sometimes even strangers) for just about any occasion, with a recklessness that doesn’t reveal itself in any other part of my budgetary life. I think it’s because handing someone a book with a personal note feels like I’m making a connection that might otherwise be nonexistent or difficult or elusive. I thought of you the whole time I read this…I know you’re going through a lot, maybe this book will help…This cookbook is a good resource next time you are having your in-laws for dinner…I read this book to my baby when she was your baby’s age…I like this book, I know you will too. Here are the books I’ve handed out in the past three months (and one that Phoebe has handed out) that I think you might like to know about. Longtime blog readers will definitely recognize a few.
Book: The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown
Why I Love It: It’s the lesser known, but equally poetic cousin to Goodnight Moon — a picture book explaining the essence of, the importance of, seemingly everyday objects apples, spoons, wind, grass.
Why I Gave It: Every now and then I will fill in for editors who are on maternity leave and it’s become something of a ritual for me to leave this behind for the mom when she returns to her desk. I’m always tempted to leave it with the note “I’m so jealous!” conveniently over-romanticizing life with a newborn.
Book: Logo Type, Michael Evamy
Why I Love It: Because it tells the story behind the creation of famous logos, from Google to YouTube to Barneys New York to MoMA to FedEx to Crate & Barrel.
Why I Gave It: Because my workshare colleague Christy is a design genius and I knew she’d pore over it like I did. (As a thank-you, she forwarded me the SNL Papyrus skit. #TypographyNerdsUnite.)
Book: A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother, by Rachel Cusk
Why I Love It: Cusk, a British novelist, wrote a memoir of her first years as a new mother, and was the first person I knew to admit that motherhood is not all lullabies and teddy bears — it’s complicated and involves a substantial amount of self-subsuming sacrifice. Her honesty was shocking, refreshing, and liberating.
Why I Gave It: I have a 13- and 15-year-old now, but I will never forget how hard it was to come to terms with the loss of my old independent self when I first had Phoebe. When I see new moms struggling with this — as I did last week — I know it’s time to pick up a copy.
Related: For new moms grappling with the work-life balance, I also love giving I Don’t Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson, rip-roaringly smart and just plain fun.
Book: Modern Jewish Cooking, by Leah Koenig
Why I Love It: My affection for this book has been recently and substantially chronicled. (Exhibit A: Last Week’s Fattoush, Exhibit B: Last Year’s Roast Chicken with Fennel and Orange.)
Why I Gave It: When my sister calls me to ask for advice on menu planning for Passover, Yom Kippur, Chanukah, Shabbat, what do you think I do first? I reach for Koenig’s book in my library. I thought maybe it was finally time for her to have her own.
Book: Milk & Honey, by Rupi Kaur, given by my 15-year-old to a friend
Why Phoebe Loves It: (This is from Phoebe) “It’s a collection* of poems with a lot of feminine empowerment and a lot of resonating lines, such as ‘The person who you love should complement you, not complete you.’ They stay with me.” [*My edit: “a MEGA-SELLING collection”]
Why Phoebe Gave It: “I gave it to my friend who seemed like she was heading down a spiral of self-deprecation, and it was over a boy, which wasn’t like her at all.”
Note from Phoebe’s Mom: Please thumb through this before handing off to a teen-ager. There is sex talk — not gratuitous or raunchy — but it’s there.
Book: Dinner: The Playbook, by Yours Truly
Why I Love It: Because, in some ways, it was the easiest and most fun book for me to write of all three in the Dinner: A Love Story trilogy. Minimal storytelling but maximum strategizing for rolling up sleeves and making family dinner happen in the real world.
Why I Gave It: Because I was at a cross-country meet, speaking with another dinner-struggling mom, who said “I’m not like you, I’m not a professional chef, and I can only cook things if they are easy.” To which I of course responded, “I am in fact the opposite of a professional chef. I am a home cook and my books are written for people like you, who want to simplify as much as possible and still eat well.” When I started describing a few of the recipes in Playbook (roast salmon with spicy mayo and chives, spaghetti with roasted cauliflower and breadcrumbs, cornmeal crusted fish with minty peas) it seemed like they were resonating, so I sent her a copy via my favorite messenger method: through the kids’ backpacks.
Book: Pizza Camp, Joe Beddia
Why I Love It: Refresh your memory with this love letter I wrote back in the spring. It’s no secret that we love pizza in our house, and this book, by the Philadelphia king upped our game in a serious way. (I will never use cooked sauce on a pie again.)
Why I Gave It: A guy in my exercise class at the gym makes pizza dough for a living! In between burpees and squats, we talk about his favorite pizza recipes, my favorite pizza recipes, our favorite Italian American haunts in Westchester, and other joyous topics to take our minds of the pain. I knew he’d love Beddia.
Book: In the Lake of the Woods, by Tim O’Brien
Why I Love It: I read it so long ago, when I was in the grips of a powerful Tim O’Brien obsession, but the basic storyline centers on, of course, a Vietnam War vet, running for office and struggling with the violence of his past.
Why I Gave It: Who else was riveted by PBS’s documentary last week, The Vietnam War? (For those of you who haven’t watched: It’s a commitment, but it is astonishing.) Tim O’Brien was one of the vets interviewed, and in the very last moments of the 10-part series, he read passages from The Things They Carried, which is pretty solidly cemented in my All Time Favorite Top Ten Books. Since I had already given that one to Phoebe, who properly and dutifully revered it, too, I tracked down this one for her as a follow-up. (And then I promptly re-read The Things for the millionth time.)
Book: Deceptively Delicious, by Jessica Seinfeld.
Why I Love It: When this book came out, I actually didn’t love it. Seinfeld made the case for disguising vegetables and other nutritious elements in traditionally kid-friendly foods like brownies and mac and cheese. I was outraged along with a lot of other new moms: Kids should learn to love and recognize broccoli! If we accommodate their dislikes and validate their fears, how will they ever learn to make healthy choices for themselves?! Yeah yeah yeah, whatevs. That was 2008, and I’ve been around the block since then. Kids are tricky when it comes to eating — understatement of the year — and here’s the operative concept: They are not all the same. If parents are wracked with anxiety about their child’s diet and hiding kale in the kid’s meatballs is going to bring some measure of peace…who am I to tell them to do anything different?
Why I Gave it: My friend Christina, who has two pre-school-age kids, told me recently that she discovered a neat trick for getting her kids to eat better: she sneaks greens into their favorite foods without them knowing it. “Oh, like the Jessica Seinfeld book!” I said. “Who?” She replied. Of course I was forced to respond how I hate to respond: “Well, back in the day, when I had young kids…” then I one-clicked Deceptively Delicious for her.
Book: Tell Me More: And 11 Other Important Things I’m Learning to Say, by Kelly Corrigan
Why I Love It: Fans of Corrigan’s essays, or any of her bestselling books (like The Middle Place), already know that she has a gift for observation, finding humor and meaning everywhere she looks, ultimately forcing you do the same. But this book…it blew me away. Tell Me More is a collection of essays touches on every issue I stay up at night thinking about: raising teen-agers, dealing with aging parents, confronting regrets and loss and death.
Why I Gave It: One of my more favorite rituals is a weekly-ish power walk with my friend, Naria. She is the world’s fastest walker, so I get a great workout, but mostly I look forward to our conversations. When we walk, we talk. About everything. About raising daughters, dealing with aging parents, confronting regrets and loss and death. See? I had no other choice than to drop off Tell Me More on her doorstep yesterday.
****Why I’ll Give it Again, aka A GIVEAWAY: Corrigan’s book is not published until January but it just so happens that I know an editor at Random House who can score some advanced reader editions for us. (Which might even be better than having an account at the local bookstore.) Comment below for your chance to win two copies, one for your own reading pleasure and one to give to a friend who you think might need it most. Contest ends Friday 10/6 at noon ET. UPDATE: The winner has been notified. Thanks to everyone for playing!