Sunday, December 30, 2012


As the end of 2012 approaches, I 've  re-assessed the books I read throughout the year. 
Some of the books I read were biographies  of  Cleopatra  and  Audrey Hepburn, an
assortment of business books, a  self-help book and a fairy tale about a girl who saves
her eleven brothers.   None of those books is mentioned on this list, however. 
Furthermore, only two of the books on this list were previously reviewed on this blog. 

Lastly, the  list includes Walter Isaacson’s  biography of Steve Jobs.   Though  this blog is
about women authors/subjects, I chose to make an exception of  Steve Jobs as he was 
such a cultural icon—changing all of our lives, including my own.

1.      Ali in Wonderland  by Ali Wentworth—This book  is a candid,  witty,  heartfelt,
at times amusing take on TV/media personality Ali Wentworth’s life (especially when  
she finds herself in absurd situations).  Ali in Wonderland  begins with the author’s
break-up with her fiancé (who had proposed in an Irish castle).  She left him
Imagine her distress when, six weeks later, she discovered a  message on his answering
machine that implied that he’d gotten married and was departing on a trip to the

2.      Married to Bhutan  by Linda Leaming--the author's well-written memoir of a
year-long stay in Bhutan, which is—according to  Leaming--“a tiny Buddhist country”
that borders India and China.  There she taught English, learned and struggled with the
Bhutanese language,  got acquainted with their customs and met and wed her husband.

3.      My Berlin Kitchen  by Luisa Weiss—My complete review may be viewed at

4.      Sempre Susan by Sigrid Nuñez--I really enjoy Sigrid Nuñez' writing.  She has a
thoughtful, cultivated--one might say, intellectual—approach to writing.  She rarely
chooses the obvious word.  I like that.  The night I was reading this book, I had
to look up ungemutlich--although I spent a summer trying to learn beginner-level
German, years ago.  It's a German word for messy or nasty.   So I learned
something new (though I doubt I'll EVER use this word).

Moreover, no one should be put off by the title.  "Sempre" just means always (in
Italian).  That said, the book is a memoir of Nuñez' non-romantic relationship with
author/writer Susan Sontag.  Nuñez was Sontag's personal assistant, even as she
dated/lived with Sontag's son, David.

A well-crafted and bittersweet tale, Sempre Susan is a sort of "All About Eve" for the
literati or literary set.

5.      Steve Jobs  by Walter Isaacson--I'd been a fan of Steve Jobs from the time my
mom bought our first family PC (an Apple).   So when this book was published, I felt
compelled to read it.  I got to re-live Steve Jobs' brilliant meteoric life.  Also, the dark
moments.  Though I did not know him personally, I liked Steve Jobs.   But--as with
every biography I’ve ever read--the subject (Steve Jobs) is revealed as flawed and
imperfect. Nevertheless, I loved this book.

6.      The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin--I read and really liked this book earlier
this year.  My complete review is posted at

--Yolanda  A.  Reid


Copyright  ©   2012-2013 by Y.A.  Reid

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


"I was born in Berlin in 1977, back when it was still known as West Berlin"--so writes
author Luisa Weiss in her memoir, My Berlin Kitchen.   That Berlin bore
"the pockmarks from mortar fire in the façades of many buildings and the air
smelled of coal smoke."

Three years after young Luisa was born, she and her father returned to Boston.  For years, she
traveled intermittently--spending “summers  in Italy with my mother’s family,” and winters
in Boston.  At age ten, she moved back to Berlin to live with her mother, attended high
school, then returned to Boston for college, then went onto Paris for graduate school.

It is an eclectic, international, peripatetic  life.  "So I looked for home in [my] kitchen."

As a child, Luisa spoke Italian with her mother, English with her father and the nanny--
while speaking German to the outside world.  As an adult, she speaks four languages
and seems remarkably well-adapted, flexible, and self-aware.

 "As I grew up," she writes, "moving around from Berlin to Boston to Paris to New York,
I discovered that cooking was the reliable way to feel less alone."

"...By summoning the flavors of Berlin and the foods of my loved ones, my kitchen became
my sanctuary, the stove my anchor."

Major themes of Weiss' life and character are flux--movement from city to city,
constantly adapting--and a "perpetual  homesickness."  The author acclimates herself
in each new city through food.  "And just like in Paris," she writes, "whenever I needed
some quiet time alone, I'd head to the grocery store."

From the recipes at the end of each chapter, one sees that Weiss often favors rustic
food with peasant origins.  Her favorite dish as a child was a potato vegetable soup—
"Braised Artichokes and Potatoes"--from Italy that her grandmother used to make.  Then 
there's “Depression Stew,” her father's concoction.  

Two kinds of pizza--Sicilian and Neapolitan--are featured, as well as recipes for "Tomato 
Bread Soup," "German Pea Soup," "Potato Salad" (which they seem to eat quite often in 
Germany).  Also, "Flammkuchen” or flatbread, "Apple Tart," "Quark Cheesecake," 
and "White Asparagus Salad."

My Berlin Kitchen introduces us to German cuisine.  Snacks, foods, lore, customs.
How Berliners celebrate Christmas--with lots of Christmas cookies, fruit bread, goose, and
plum cake.  Their surprising friendliness and reverence for neighbors.  How Berliners 
gorge at breakfast time.

German cuisine?  Previously, my knowledge of German cuisine was that I'd eaten
sauerkraut and hot dogs as a kid, I'd heard of wiener schnitzel  and have a faint childhood
memory of biting into liverwurst and not liking it.  So this is foreign territory for me. 
But as I read My Berlin Kitchen, I found myself thinking of trying out some of the yummy 
recipes (despite the fact that cooking is not my forté).

Moreover, I had the sense that the foods and recipes and love story comprised a modern-day
German fairy tale--in which Berlin is a romantic city, filled with Quark and Flammkuchen.

 To  Weiss, Berlin is "the linden-scented city."

She writes, "When the days start to lengthen and the trees bloom and the air fills
with the scent of linden blossoms, warming earth, and budding leaves, it
comes as such a relief, such a much-deserved reward for having survived another
bone-cold winter, that one could almost believe that Berlin was an equatorial paradise."

A beautiful portrait of the author's life emerges alongside the formerly beleaguered Berlin—
"with its overcast winter skies and inescapable history often gets the short end of the stick
when it comes to capturing the imagination of food lovers and romantics."  

To the skeptics, Weiss answers:  Berlin is romantic and a food lover's delight.  

After all, she found  two loves: Sam (who believed  true love was "a fantasy") and Max 
(whom she met in high school in Berlin, fell in love with in Paris, and wed in Italy).   
Ultimately, Weiss found  happiness, fulfillment, friends and true love in Berlin--
by following her self-declared  motto, "Be brave."

At one point,  chameleon-like Weiss discusses breakfasts as they differ in each country.
"Italians eat dry little cookies [krumiri] for breakfast," she writes.  In Boston, she eats
Raisin Bran "bathed in cold milk" or "hot cream of wheat for breakfast."  In Berlin—
where a  smorgasbord of ham, Quark, liverwurst, cheese is the norm--she eats German
"sourdough bread" shaped like "a dozen Princess Leia buns fused together in a pan."

My Berlin Kitchen  is beautifully written, poetic as well as introspective.  As readers,
we become privy to Weiss' feelings and thoughts as she decides, for example, to leave one
wannabe-fiancé (Sam) because she was unhappy.  And, of course, there is the food--
at once sumptuous and exotic and rustic.

In  summation, "When you grow up all mishmashed like I did, with an American passport 
and Italian citizenship and a birth certificate issued in West Berlin it might take a little longer 
than usual to figure out your place in the world.  You're this strange little hybrid of a person, 
easily adaptable, fluent in many languages, an outsider everywhere."

My Berlin Kitchen would go on my list of  Best Books of 2012.

---Yolanda A.  Reid

Check out Luisa Weiss' blog at and her photostream of
the many cities in My Berlin Kitchen at

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Author Louise Erdrich was a teenager  when she slept  in a football field, by herself, looking  up at the stars in the Great Plains skies.  This event was tantamount to a rite of passage into adulthood, from a “difficult” childhood.  In an interview, she said, “My clearest memory of growing up in North Dakota was the space and flatness. . . .  I remember how things smelled and felt and tasted when I went back to Turtle Mountains.”
In her books, those immense and limitless Plains skies emerge almost as minor characters.  In The Blue Jay’s Dance, she is homesick for them, even as she lived in New Hampshire with her children and then-husband, Michael Dorris.  After Dorris’ death, she moved back to Minnesota, her birthplace, to resume writing books about those vast spaces.

Her non-fiction work--Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country--tells of Erdrich’s trip with her baby and life partner, Tobasonakwut, from Minnesota  to see rock paintings in Ontario, Canada.  Like her previous works, Books and Islands interweaves the themes of Native American culture, mythology, cosmology, art, and history.  In addition, she writes in sacred terms of Ojibwemowin, the complex language of the Ojibwe people—with thousands of variations for a single verb. 

The book depicts the full life  that metamorphosed from a very painful experience and time.  In five chapters—entitled “Books and Islands,” “Islands,” “Rock Paintings,” “Books,” “Home,”—Erdrich  gives a glimpse of her life now: in her late forties, she had a baby with her life partner.  In Chapter one, she talks unabashedly of her pregnancy:  “I wept, I snarled, I laughed like a hyena. . .  . On the wall behind my midwife there was a framed poster of that obnoxious poem about the woman who looks forward to getting old so that she can wear purple.  I happened to be wearing purple that day, and I was old, and I was pregnant.”

Yet, Erdrich is delighted with the baby herself, as the little family sail in canoe over lakes, rocks, isles.  “My happiness”—she writes—“in being an older mother surprises me. . . .”

Then, she introduces readers to her new love, “Tobasonakwut, the sun dancer”—who rock-climbs and “can sleep anywhere.”   She says,  “He is a one-man spiritual ER.”  A teacher and spiritual healer, Tobasonakwut has created a foundation to further Native American causes.  As a child, he was forbidden to speak the Ojibwe language.  If he did so, he was beaten or punished.  (By contrast, Erdrich learned Ojibwemowin as an adult—“I wanted to get the jokes, [and] to understand the prayers . . . and the sacred stories. . . .”)

Erdrich’s child was named after a mythical spirit-woman—Nenaa’iikizhikok—who controls the stars and skies.  A force of nature herself, Nenaa’iikizhikok (or Kizhikok, “Sky Woman”) is one of “four spirit-women” in Native American cosmology.  These spirit-women “take care of all of the waters of the world,” as Nenaa’iikizhikok “cleans up the sky after a thunderstorm, makes sure the clouds are moving.  The stars . . . in their places.” 

Though we learn of Erdrich’s emotional  renaissance, today a bookstore-owner, traveler, new mom, with a new life partner, the ghost of her previous life haunts us.  Erdrich herself glosses over this quickly.  In chapter two, she states that her two brothers helped her immensely after her husband’s death.  They lived with her, to “guard my children. . . and made sure I didn’t stay in bed all day. . . .”

As Erdrich and Dorris were well-known for their literary collaboration, working on novels together in different capacities, many of us wondered what her new books would be like?  Would the writing change?  Would we notice?
Fortunately, Books and Islands continues Erdrich’s valiant effort to tell the complex story of the Ojibwe people.  She continues to be a voice for her people.  The book is a mature prose volume, more grounded or earth-bound than, say, The Blue Jay’s Dance–a book I love, with its lyrical, rounded, transluscent tones, a prose poem—a joy to read, filled with delightful anecdotes of the writer’s life in New Hampshire, alongside otters, birds, loons, and critters from the woods. 

Gradually, a portrait of contemporary Native American life emerges, filled with innumerable spirits—“The Wild Rice Spirit,” “The Horned Man,” “ Baby Spirits,”  “The Wolverine Spirit.”  “The Confused Man” Spirit, with whom the author shares her house. The “four spirit-women.”  Also, the real Nenaa’iikizhikok—a grandmother—who resides now “in the spirit world.” 

Moreover, we learn the importance of “tobacco offerings” in daily life.  The story of “trader’s rum”  chronicles the undoing of a man through alcohol.
Erdrich also writes of  how reading books has sustained her.  Books such as  Austerlitz, Middlemarch,  Spirit Horses, Tristram Shandy, Concise Dictionary of Minnesotan Ojibwe.  She shares with us a universal question she has asked herself and others since she was aged nine: “What book would you take to a desert island?”

In Chapter four, Erdrich describes a blissful time gobbling blueberries--“miinan” in Ojibwemowin--with Kiizhikok, her little daughter.  She writes, “This is the one traditional Ojibwe pursuit I’m good at. . . .  We eat with a lot of laughing.”  Also, she relates how one of her daughters—descended from a hunter-people—is a vegetarian.  “The joke goes: What is an Ojibwe vegetarian called?  A poor hunter.”

“Home” is the book’s final chapter.  “Home,” she writes, “is familiar and it is disorienting.”  It is a recurring theme for Erdrich.  Years ago, in an interview, she said, “The women in my books are lighting out for home. . . .”  And so, in Books and Islands, as Erdrich approaches Minnesota and her life, “I start dialing, and talk to my daughters from the road, check in with my household and with my bookstore people, with my sisters and parents.  All of a sudden I am back in the web of connection. . . .  [I ] muddle around trying to enter the stream of my life.”

Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country  is a slender personal travelogue that illuminates the history of the Ojibwe nation—while it acknowledges Native American spirit-women and real women like Nancy Jones, a female Ojibwe hunter.  Also, “Striped Earth Woman,”  and “Acts Like a Boy”—the author’s female ancestors.  And the ancient Nenaa’iikizhikok.  Add to them Louise Erdrich, the author of this  pensive book infused with the pulses of fierce women.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

Note:  Earlier in  November, 2012, Louise Erdrich won the National Book Award—which she blogs about at her website,   Also, check out an interview of Erdrich   at

Copyright  © 2012 by Y. A.  Reid

Saturday, November 17, 2012


For years, I’d heard of Louise Hay and her groundbreaking book, You Can Heal Your Life.   When I
first saw her in a TV interview, she proclaimed how easy, effortless, magical her philosophy is.
According to Hay, your thoughts can be your genie.   Cristina Aguilera’s song comes to mind: “I can make your wish come true/I’m a genie in a bottle. . . .” 

The premise is that we create our lives through our thoughts.

In the book, Hay writes of changing one’s thoughts.  Her philosophy is a kind of New Age positive  thinking.
Divided into four parts, the book details why it’s important to change one’s thoughts, as well as how to do so.  Part I introduces us to Hay’s philosophy—which involves a re-programming of our conscious and subconscious minds.  In Part II, she delineates how we can begin to change our thoughts (and thus our life circumstances).  This section cites and describes mental exercises—such as “Dissolving Resentment,” “Forgiveness,” “I am Willing to Change,” “I Love Myself . . . .”

One  important tool, she writes, is the mirror:  “I ask people to look in their eyes and say something positive about themselves every time they pass a mirror.  The most powerful way to do affirmations is to look in a mirror and say them outloud. . . .  Now, look in a mirror and say to yourself, ‘I am willing to change.’”

The gift edition of the book is stunningly beautiful: each page is replete with vibrant watercolors of flowers and seahorses and shells and stars and birds in magenta, royal blue, fuschia, lime green, and sunflower yellow. 

Amid this backdrop, Hay shares her revolutionary ideas: for instance, in Chapter 10, the way to change someone else is to change yourself.  If you keep attracting jerks into your life, look within and analyze why.  “Relationships are mirrors of ourselves.  What we attract always mirrors either qualities we have or beliefs we have about relationships.  This is true whether it is a boss, a co-worker, an employee, a friend, a lover, a spouse, or child. . . .   You could not attract them or have them in your life if the way they are didn’t somehow complement your own life.”

Hay says recovery begins with self-love.  The mirror exercise is a step toward self-love.  If you utter the words, “I love myself” several times a day--while holding a mirror—your mind will begin to believe this thought and behave accordingly.

Once you believe you’re worthy and lovable, you will begin to make better choices.  You will attract someone who regards you as worthy and lovable.  Heartache avoided.

After reading the relationships chapter, I realized how life-changing this philosophy is.  More often than not we want the other person to change.  Then--when we focus on the other person’s faults—situations escalate.   “Why does he always do that?”  “I can’t believe she said that!” “He’s always late!” “Why does he try to hurt me?”  And it may end in domestic violence.  Instead, says Hay, develop a little compassion and try to envision the other person’s “inner child” and speak to that child.  Resentment melts and the relationship is transformed.  Affirmations, prayer, and meditation help to further the process along. 

In Hay’s own life, for example, she decided to move to California.  Her landlord—a problem for other tenants—was a godsend to Hay.  He released her from the lease and bought her furniture.  All the while, she had affirmed that her relationship with the landlord was cordial and good.

Chapter 14 explicates how the body manifests our negative thoughts, expressing the psychological, physical, and mental stresses in our life as disease.  “The stomach,” she writes, “digests all the new ideas and experiences we have.  What or who can’t you stomach?  What gets you in your gut?”  I f you can answer those questions, that heartburn may begin to disappear.

The most astonishing chapter, for me, is the last chapter, in which Louise Hay writes of her life and childhood. 

She overcame many issues: a former teen runaway, Hay experienced domestic violence as a teenager and as an adult.  At a certain time in her life, she attracted abusive men.  But once she changed her thoughts, her life changed.  We must learn to reject what’s not good for us.  Now she fears nothing  (“All is well”), and recently—in her mid-seventies--she took lessons in “ballroom dancing.” 

You Can Heal Your Life  is remarkably inspirational, a phenomenal book that will evoke an intuitive wish for only good in your life.

--Yolanda A.  Reid


Copyright  ©  2012 by Y.A.  Reid

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I'M THE ONE THAT I WANT by Margaret Cho

In her brilliant memoir, comedienne  Margaret Cho analyzes her life with the skill of an offbeat poet-philosopher.

I’m The One That I Want is a tiny gem, hard, tough, searing and unrelenting in its honesty.  (It’s that unrelenting honesty that made me feel weary by the end of the book.  But I felt I’d accomplished something.)
Ms.  Cho re-lives a litany of bad relationships with boyfriends she dislikes/hates and can’t wait to dump.  Three men stand out.  Jon and Glenn—the two men she fell in love with—are incapable of reciprocating her love (not to mention the fact they both have girlfriends).  With the third man—Marcel, her fiancé--she almost lives out her “wedding fantasy” even though she is not in love with him.  

The book is, at times, stunning, beautiful, unexpected.  The scenes of Cho being harassed as a child by other Korean children at camp are painful to read.  In her teen years, she was expelled from high school to the deep shame of her conservative/traditional Korean parents.  Later, in Louisiana, college students booed Cho while she was on stage.  Marcel was a chance at conventional happiness.

She writes that “it never occurred to me to break up with him. . . .  I’d also miss all the attention couples who are presumably in love get. . . .  People look at you with admiration.  I’d see the faraway look that some women would get, the envy, delicious and cold.   I was not so willing to give up that privilege, no matter how much it cost me.  Everybody thought I was so lucky.”

One day--once Cho had mentally released her “wedding fantasy”--she scribbled out a list that ended with, “Find the strength to leave Marcel.”  Weeks later, she was still engaged, still unable to release the real Marcel.  “I cried and cried and tried to stop crying as I went into the supermarket.”  As Cho waited in line, an elderly lady glimpsed how distraught Cho was and said, “ ‘We have a while.  Do you want to tell me what’s the matter?’”  Eventually, Cho responded, “ ‘I have to break up with my boyfriend, but I just feel so guilty.’ ”

To which the lady said, “ ’Oh, honey, I felt so guilty, I married him.’ ”

Once she finally released Marcel, “Accepting myself was like getting to know a new friend.”  Cho  produced a CD and wrote and opened her Broadway show, “I’m the One That I Want”—even as she maintained her sobriety and lost weight (alongside her best friend, her dog Ralph).

Toward the end of the book, Cho writes, “Learning how to love myself from within, to make my opinion count the most, knowing that no one and nothing is going to save me except myself—these are the lessons I have been forced to learn.  That is what my life now is all about.”

--Yolanda A.  Reid


Copyright © 2012  by Y.A. Reid


“Whenever I start dating someone new, I just can’t hold back” begins  author Giulia Melucci’s memoir— I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.  The Brooklyn-born author  goes on to recount her lovelorn days and how she overfed her ex-boyfriends with an array of scrumptious pasta dishes (linguini, pastina, rigatoni, spaghetti, etc.).  This “chick lit” book charts Melucci’s fruitless foray into the dating world:  From Kit, her first love, through Lachlan, the love who inspired her to write this memoir, and all the artfully cooked meals-and-recipes in between.

Each chapter—with titles such as “The Victory Breakfast,” ”The Ethan Binder School of Cooking,” “Marcus Caldwell Ate and Ran,”—de-constructs the relationship with each boyfriend.  Most are writers (if not starving, then frugal) Melucci loved, cooked for, then was dumped by.  In the process, she explores the nexus between gastronomy, appetite, and love.

Toward the end of the book, Melucci explains how she manages a single woman’s existence in a couple’s world.   “My own dinner parties,” she  writes,  “are  full of couples. . . .  And as my guests compliment my cooking, which feels great, I also have to hear them wonder aloud why it is I'm not married, which feels awful.  The person who brings it up is usually a man, a man married to a woman who doesn't cook.”

Melucci is well-educated, erudite, cosmopolitan, witty, employed at the time as an editor/vice-president at Harper’s Magazine.  A rock-music aficionado.  A wine connoisseur.  She knows a soufflé from a sorbet.  She jogs, does Pilates, and summers in the Hamptons.

Sometime after Ethan and before Marcus, I wished Melucci would go back to Ethan—a Rolling Stone Magazine/MTV writer and her true love.  For they had mutual friends, interests, and temperaments, each beloved by the other’s family.  Instead, she allowed herself to be dumped by Mitch, who ended his break-up e-mail with, “. . . I just don’t feel like having a girlfriend right now.”

Then, later, Lachlan–an obscure Scottish novelist when she met him—who uttered these “plenty perceptive” words: ”The only thing wrong with you is that you think something is wrong with you. . . .“  After she managed the herculean feat of getting him an agent, and, ultimately, an enviable book deal, Lachlan “un-friended” her.  He did not marry her.  (To be fair, she seemed to dislike him by the time of their break-up.)

Toward the end of the book, Melucci purchased her dream apartment--whose previous tenant found her husband on  Hopefully, the apartment is blessed by a fairy-techno godmother who grants each single female tenant her ultimate wish.  For we desperately wish the author to find true and lasting love, and to live happily ever after!  (Probably, Melucci needs a therapist, a matchmaker, or both.)

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti is a witty, insightful, fun read as you sprawl on your couch (or, in warm weather, in your backyard)—in which author Giulia Melucci shares the angst of being a sassy, independent/co-dependent, single woman in a cosmopolitan city.  

–Yolanda A.  Reid


Copyright © 2012  by Y.A. Reid

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

AROUND THE BLOC by Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana is an exuberant, energetic, informative, and entertaining account of Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s travels:  she spent a year studying in Russia, another year working as a journalist at a Chinese newspaper, and vacationed for a few days in Cuba.

The author’s first book, Around the Bloc is divided into three sections, by country.  We get to peek into the daily lives of Russian students.  We learn that when they party, young Russians consume an astonishing amount of vodka.

We also get to hear this unprocessed world view from Russians themselves.  Nadezhda—the author’s friend, at the time—said, “All Russian women do is try to look good for men.”  An acquaintance said, “Here, it is very difficult to live.”  Karina, a Russian woman, said, “You American feminists are always fighting for the right to work, but we’re sick of it!”

My favorite moment in Russia is Griest’s confrontation with Misha, a twenty-something man she met at a party.  Misha liked U2, the music band—“They are the only American group I can stand”—but he hated America, based on films and TV he’d seen.  He said, “It’s crap, just like everything else from that country.”

Griest valiantly defended the United States:  “I’m the first to criticize my country’s cultural exports, but, somehow, hearing it from him ticked me off. ‘You don’t know s--- about my country!’ ”  She ends this exchange by writing, “Determined to have the last word, I screamed:  ‘And U2 are Irish, not American, you idiot!’ as he headed out the door.”

But if each traveler is a mini-ambassador for his or her country, then Griest was a good one: she was sensitive when necessary (as in China, when the chief editor criticized her at length, she humbly accepted without comment) and feisty, if unduly challenged (as with Misha).   She drank a cocktail of “snake blood” at a farewell banquet in China.  She declined, however,  a Cuban woman’s offer to buy the jeans Griest was wearing.

In China, cultures were at odds.  At times, very subtly.  For example, when the chief editor, Lao Chen, requested that Griest work at the  newspaper on a weekend she had planned to spend on vacation.  Several times, Griest said she’d made other plans.  Several times Lao Chen said, “So think about it, and let me know”—or words to that effect.  She did not realize this was a request she should not refuse.

My guess is that of the three countries, Cuba was the most thought-provoking for the author.  She said as much after Armando, perceptive and self-assured, said:  “So why don’t you speak Spanish if your mother is Mexican?”  This question raised an issue the author has probably wrestled with all of her life.  She explained that her mother had been taunted over her accent while growing up.  Griest’s mother chose to spare her children this embarrassment by speaking to them in English, with little or no Spanish.

The chapters in which the author discussed her family history were, for me, the most compelling, the most moving.

Moreover, with typical American openness, she exposed a couple of her personal issues:  for example, an ex-boyfriend she still carried a torch for.

Anyone interested in life in Russia or China or Cuba—or travel in general—will enjoy reading Around the Bloc.   The author revealed herself with a frankness that might embarrass the cows her ex-boyfriend used to milk in Colombia—which adds to the book’s value.  When she described a cabdriver in Cuba who was happy to remain in his homeland, she did not judge him.

Around the Bloc  is an engaging, fascinating, must-read with just enough historical information so as not to be boring.

--Yolanda A.  Reid


Copyright © 2008-2012  by Y.A. Reid

Saturday, September 29, 2012


My book-reading list emerged into existence soon after I read an interview, in which actress Minnie Driver mentioned her  reading list, which  she had been slogging through since she left high school.

I consulted popular reading lists: from the New York Times Bestseller’s List to 100 Greatest Books to 500 Great Books by Women to Oprah’s Book Club.

But I wished for a more personal list that reflected--and spoke to--me.  So I got a blank sheet of white paper and these are some of the books and authors I jot down:

V.  Woolf
Jean Rhys
the Brontës

Laura Esquivel The Law of Love; Like Water for Chocolate 
Judith Ortiz Cofer  Silent Dancing
Julia Alvarez  How the Garcia Sisters Lost Their Accents
Sandra Cisneros  The House on Mango Street

Louise Erdrich Love Medicine;The Blue Jay’s Dance
Doris Lessing
Sigrid Nuñez
Russian writers
Asian writers
Charlotte and Emily Brontë

My list (now with over 150 entries) included books I’d always wanted to read–like Doris Lessing’s classic novel, The Golden Notebook.  Also included on the list were books I’d read in adolescence–like Wuthering Heights–and wished to re-read.  Or books I was curious about (I read E.  Gaskell’s biography of the Brontë sisters in my college library). If I read  an exceptional review of a book that interested me, it went on the list.  Also, any book I had not read in high school or college (such as Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife).

And, finally, books by Latina authors–based on my need to feel more grounded in my Latina heritage.   I wanted to see what other Latina women were saying or feeling.  How did my life experience compare?

So I spent the summer of ‘99 reading only Latina authors–from Sigrid Nuñez to Laura Esquivel.
First, I’d buy the book, then I’d write the name of the author and book in the opening page of my journal.  As I read the book I’d write about it in my journal.  Or sometimes I’d jot down my feelings about the book in one fell swoop–after I’d finished the book.

At some point, I began posting brief reviews to book websites.  My screen name was Book-reading Woman.  My first review using this screen name was of Louise Erdrich’s The Blue Jay’s Dance.  It was--and still is--a book I love.   I stated in the review that TBJD was “stunningly beautiful,” like a prose poem, and that reading it was like holding your hand in a sun-dappled brook, unable to “catch” water.  I loved that imagery.

Moreover, I loved writing in secret.  For it was a wonderful release. I’d write my commentary before-hand, then post it to the site.  I preferred a crafted review as opposed to an off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness comment.  As my confidence grew, I got the courage to use my own name.  I took off the veil, so to speak: For me, reading women authors--Latina authors, especially--is like looking in a mirror.
So here is a partial list of must-read Latina authors (in alphabetical order):

1.  Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing and Havana by Stephanie Elizondo Griest. Wonderful anecdotes of the author’s travels.

 2. Feather on the Breath of God by Sigrid Nuñez—A transluscent book that defies
categorization, FBG is (to me) more memoir than novel.  It describes the author growing up with a German mother and her distant, stilted relationship with her Chinese-Panamanian father. 

3.  Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.  A delectable, poignant novel during the Mexican Revolutionary era and held together by recipes.  Most poignant scene: the main character, Tita,  creates the wedding cake for her sister, who is marrying the man Tita loves.

4. Mama’s Girl  by Veronica Chambers—The story of a Panamanian-American girl growing up in  New York.

5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys—A classic and beautiful novel that is a companion of sorts to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  WSS is the story of Antoinette Cosway, and how she met and married Mr.  Rochester, then went insane.

This reading list is by no means comprehensive.  Yet, through it, I’ve connected with other women when conversing about books.  And–more importantly—I’ve connected with myself.  Also, I’ve explored my interest in other cultures.  I set imaginary boundaries for myself.  For instance, in Around the Bloc, the author describes how she drank “snake blood” while living in China. I, too, would like to see the Yangtze River some day (however red it is).  But I know I will, uh, politely pass on the snake-blood aperitif.

--Yolanda A.  Reid


Copyright © 2012 by Y. A.  Reid

Thursday, September 27, 2012


ANIMAL VEGETABLE MIRACLE is the beautifully written book by Barbara Kingsolver. In the book, the author chronicles “one good year of food life” during which she and her family grew a garden on a little farm in the mountains of Appalachia. Kingsolver, her husband and daughters also raised their own food—hens, roosters, eggs, turkeys, etc.--and, as “locavores,” ate from local farmers’ markets in Appalachia.

They ate seasonally. Asparagus in springtime. Squash at harvestime. In summertime, writes Kingsolver, “Rare is the August evening when I’m not slicing, canning, roasting, and drying tomatoes. Tomatoes take over our life. . . . The summer [Lily] was five, she wrote and illu/>
Every vegetable has its own season and rhythm. “Canning [tomatoes],” writes Camille
Kingsolver, “always puts me in a kind of trance.” The art of zen-canning.

Moreover, all this time spent gardening and cooking and canning together strengthens familial bonds. Family fun is sleeping on the back porch, under the stars. Watching a mesmerizing sunset. Canning yet another tomato. Or baking a dozen “chocolate chip zucchini cookies”—which are scrumptious and approved by nine-year-olds. (Camille shares this unusual cookie recipe at the end of Chapter twelve.)

Inevitably, Kingsolver broaches the subject: Vegetarian vs. meat-eater? Kingsolver makes no bones about it. A sort of paradox, she is an ex-vegetarian who likes meat. But she has preferences: grass-fed and free-range over corn-fed and caged. The difference in flavor, she states, is both subtle and dramatic. Apparently, caged hens and cows secrete stress toxins that alter the flavor of their flesh, eggs, or milk.

Contrary to what one might expect, Kingsolver does not support or agree with those who embrace vegetarianism on “high moral grounds.” For if we stopped to consider the cruelty of the current food system, we must acknowledge that it’s ALL cruel. Plants have feelings, too. ”If we draw the okay-to-kill line between ‘animal’ and ‘plant’ and thus exclude meat, fowl, and fish from our diet on moral grounds, we still must live with the fact that every sack of flour and every soybean-based block of tofu came from a field where countless winged and furry lives were extinguished in the plowing, cultivating, and harvest. An estimated 67 million birds die each year from pesticide exposure on U.S. farms. Butterflies, too, are universally killed. . . . Foxes, rabbits, and bobolinks are starved out of their homes or dismembered by the sickle mower. . . . To believe we can live without taking life is delusional. Humans may only cultivate nonviolence in our diets by degree.”

Furthermore, in Chapter fourteen, she cites an unnamed vegan-actress who wished to raise happy hens, roosters and farm animals, to live out their lives. (I played the guessing game of whom this actress might be. Natalie Portman--Queen Amidala in “Star Wars” and a staunch vegan--is my best guess.) The notion, the author argues, is impractical as we’d be faced with a glut of eggs and millions of hens and beasts. Global overpopulation triple the numbers now.

What sets this book apart is that, as an experiment in family living, the author’s husband and daughter, Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver, respectively, contributed writing segments to the book. A bunch of recipes at the end of each chapter and referrals to web sites all make for interesting and informative reading. (The recipes are also at the book’s web site http://

Add to that, the fact that the author is a former scientist/science writer herself (earning a BA in biology from DePauw University and an MA in “evolutionary biology” from the University of Arizona), so the book has sound scientific explanations for the US food system as it exists today. Alas, food that is biologically engineered to endure long distances does not taste like non-engineered-local food. She explains that there are other consequences for being a corn-soy-based food system. Obesity, for one.

Other topics covered include: milk production in US, why corn-fed cows are unhappy, the authenticity of slaughtering your own food, cooped-up turkeys cannot reproduce unassisted.

Chapter fifteen chronicles Kingsolver and her husband’s sojourn to Italy: in the tradition of writers--such as Frances Mayes (UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN and BELLA TUSCANY) and Elizabeth Gilbert (EAT PRAY LOVE)--who’ve travelled and written about Italian culture and food. Ahhh Italia!

At home, Kingsolver is a wonder: she makes her own pickles and sausages, yogurt and ice cream, slaughters hens and turkeys, cans tomatoes from her own garden, even as her husband, Steven, makes fresh bread. Everything is made “from scratch.” When they make “Friday Night Pizza” (a staple recipe cited in Chapter nine), even the mozzarella was made in her own kitchen!

Everyone who eats meat ought to read ANIMAL VEGETABLE MIRACLE. Even non-meateaters will be interested. It is a rich, evocative, informative book, chock-full of bits of information you may not like or agree with but will encourage discussion in a book club or spur you to either plant a garden or form your own food co-op or reject beef forever.

It’s, er, food for thought.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

Copyright © 2012  by Y. A. Reid

Friday, September 21, 2012


When I was nearly fourteen years old, I tried a couple of times to read WUTHERING HEIGHTS but always fell asleep. Maybe it had to do with how I read the novel: in my grandmother’s room, my hand propped up to my ear for support, as I lay (too comfortably) on her bed which was bedecked in an old pink chenille bedspread. I’d begin to slog through old Joseph the manservant’s Yorkshire dialect, faithfully rendered by Emily Bronte, and that drone as he said,Owd Nick” would send me into dreamland. Maybe it had to do with the darkness I innately and intuitively sensed in the novel, of the moors at night, as inky, awesome, impenetrable a darkness as Heathcliff’s mind at the end.

One day, I had to read this peculiar work, for we were to write a critique/paper for my ninth grade English class. I resolved to read past Joseph and his brass pans, into the world of Emily’s dreams. For two days—one weekend—I was in the novel’s thrall. I quietly read much, as I kept to myself in my room. Since then, I have read WUTHERING HEIGHTS—a perfect Gothic novel, I think—once a year, each year that’s elapsed.

This experience with WUTHERING HEIGHTS illustrates that reading is an activity, an exercise—neither passive, nor effortless.

If you’re willing to be won over by a novel’s irrepressible beauty or by its luminous other-worldly darkness, then the task is well worth it.

Briefly, WUTHERING HEIGHTS—a 19th century novel--is the poignant, haunting, dark and eerie story of Catherine and Heathcliff’s love for each other, from childhood. It is also a generational tale about the Earnshaw family and their descendants.

In my ninth grade class, all the girls were mesmerized by WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I remember one tall, big-nosed, not very pretty girl—let’s call her Mala—would often lament how Charlotte Bronte, Emily’s sister, had burned Emily’s poems and, sigh, how sad it all was.

For some reason, young women—even today—claim Catherine as their own. They bemoan their Catherine’s fate. To me, it means that the novel’s story, and Emily’s life, lit a flame in Mala’s mind so that, months after we’d read WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Mala would insist Charlotte had done irretrievable wrong. Indeed, the novel had set all our minds aflame. WUTHERING HEIGHTS had formed an impress on our minds, like the impress of a leaf-fossil on the loamy earth. One can trace the shape and history of a leaf years after the leaf’s death. The impress remains. So too with a good novel, especially when read in childhood. The reading forms an impress of feeling, awe, and inspiration.

Every novel read and loved forms a leaf-fossil.

I will share with you two leaf-fossils from WUTHERING HEIGHTS: The first is evoked by Joseph, the persnickety old man as he boiled huge portions of porridge on the kitchen hearth at the Heights. Two instances I remember: One when Isabella, Heathcliff’s bride, offers grudgingly to make the porridge, spurred on by Joseph’s haphazard method of plunging his hand into the oatmeal as he made the porridge:

“Joseph was bending over the fire, peering into a large pan that swung above it; and a wooden bowl of oatmeal stood on the settle close by. The contents of the pan began to boil, and he turned to plunge his hand into the bowl; I conjectured that this preparation was probably for our supper, and, being hungry, I resolved it should be eatable—so, crying out sharply—‘I’ll make the porridge!’ I removed the vessel out of his reach. . . .”

The second instance occurs when Catherine Heathcliff causes Hareton to giggle by tossing primroses into his porridge. But the leaf-fossil echoed childhood memories, as I ate the porridge my grandfather made. Steamy and disliked by me, the porridge was boiled for at least two hours until so thick it was scarcely stirrable. I loved watching my grandfather pour the porridge, in seesaw motion, from one pan to another in order to cool it. Then, we would spice the porridge with nutmeg and cinnamon, as I poured in all the milk I could without being reprimanded.

The second leaf-fossil formed from Heathcliff’s young sassy Catherine, who wrote a make-shift diary in book-margins, as she sat in the lattice-window. There she revealed Hindley’s wicked behavior toward her and Heathcliff:

Hindley hurried up from his paradise on the hearth, and seizing one of us by the collar, and the other by the arm, hurled both into the kitchen . . . and so, comforted, we each sought a separate nook to await his advent. I reached this book, and a pot of ink from the shelf, and pushed the house-door ajar to give me light, and I have got the time on with writing for twenty minutes; but my companion is impatient and proposes that we should appropriate the dairy-woman’s cloak, and have a scamper on the moors, under its shelter.”

As a child, Emily Bronte created an elaborate imaginary world of complex characters and their families that infused her adult writings. As a pastor’s daughter, she led a solitary life, along with her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, and brother, Patrick. Each sibling wrote stories to entertain himself/herself and each other.
Later, as adults, each sibling wrote poems and a novel which they scrimped and saved to publish.
Emily’s novel was published in 1847 under the pseudonym “Ellis Bell” to negative reviews, some might say because of the book’s other-worldly quality.

Today, however, WUTHERING HEIGHTS is regarded a classic.

When I read this novel, I am transported into that dream landscape—a place that has fascinated me since that weekend I read the book in my room, while silvery rainwater drenched the mango tree outside my window.

The impress of WUTHERING HEIGHTS remains.

--Yolanda A. Reid