I used to fantasize that if I ever met Nora Ephron, I’d invite her to supper, at which she would taste my meatballs and declare me her new best friend. I am pleased to report after laughing and crying my way through Delia Ephron’s Sister Mother Husband Dog: (Etc.), I have a new Ephron to invite to my table. Delia shares her struggles and triumphs in an intimate yet light-hearted, conversational style that makes for good bedtime or waiting room reading. I’m a cat lady by default, but I even admit to enjoying the essay about her dog. Though not a mother herself, Ephron writes on topics any Literary Mama could love, weaving together essays about the lives and deaths of her mother and sister—both well-known writers—as well as tales of marriage, grief, alcoholism, building a career, and seeking identity in a large, dysfunctional family.
From my vantage point in New England, February’s mountain of snow has offered a great month for reading. If you’re in a similarly cozy state, I hope you’ll enjoy these recommendations from my colleagues at Literary Mama as much as I am.
“Birthing the Mother Writer” columnist Cassie Premo Steele offers a book for those interested in writing and reading about trauma: “Twenty years ago in graduate school, I read scholarly articles by Bessel van der Kolk that shaped the way I see traumatic memory, and I was thrilled when his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma was released. I recently read through the book going ‘Mmmm hmmm’ like a woman in a church choir during a really good sermon. This is a life’s work: erudite, experienced, and readable. Whether you yourself have experienced the trauma of sexual assault, violence, or war—or love someone who has—this book is a must-read. And for Literary Mamas, there are excellent sections on the roles of parents in a child’s development as well as intriguing suggestions for healing childhood pain in order not to inflict these patterns on the next generation.”
Creative Nonfiction Editor Kate Haas adds a war-themed selection: “I am reading When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning, the absorbing account of how publishers, the military, and librarians worked together to produce the Armed Services Editions: light, miniature books that could be carried easily in a hip pocket. Soldiers were huge fans of the books, which were read in foxholes, trenches, hospital beds, and wherever the men had a few moments of spare time. Over 1,200 titles were printed, in every genre, and the soldiers awaited the new shipments with huge anticipation. Many, indifferent to books at the start of the war, credit the ASEs with turning them into readers. Most touching to me are the quoted letters from soldiers, thanking the authors for their work and telling them how the books helped them through difficult times. (The most popular title, it seemed, was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, whose author answered over 1,500 letters from soldiers.) Guptill Manning contrasts this major effort to get reading material to the troops with the massive book burnings in pre-WWII Germany, stressing that for the troops, and indeed for all Americans, the war was one of ideas as well as weapons.”
Joining the WWII era choices, Profiles Editor Christina Consolino coincidentally shares, “Based on the recommendation of a fellow writer, I just started The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. Set in Paris during the occupation, the book tells the story of Lucien Bernard, an architect who accepts a commission that could cost him his life. The project? To design a secure hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man such that German officers are unable to find him. While I’ve only just started the book, Belfoure’s superb writing and ability to bring 1942 Paris to life have drawn me in, and I very much look forward to seeing the entire tale unfold.”
Literary Reflections Co-Editor Andrea Lani rounds out the bunch with a book featuring a health topic near to my epidemiologist heart: “I just picked up On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss. In the first few chapters that I’ve read so far, Biss delves into the social, cultural, historical, mythological, and medical underpinnings of immunization and shows that fear of vaccines long predates the current ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement. Biss’s tone is measured, her writing intelligent, and she combines writing about her personal journey as a mother and scientific reporting in my favorite way. I may be the only person in Maine hoping for another blizzard so I have an excuse to curl up by the fire and finish reading this fascinating book.”