On My Nightstand—Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen

May 29, 2008

I’ve been reading a book by Sara Roahen called Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen. It’s full of stories of food from New Orleans—things like gumbo, sno-balls, muffalettas, and so much more.

I love the way Roahen weaves the history of New Orleans into the culinary tales, and also how she updates readers on what happened to some of the city’s favorite restaurants and their owners in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Even as a native Louisianian (from Baton Rouge) I’ve learned a lot reading Gumbo Tales. And it really makes my mouth water for some good old New Orleans food. Since I’m not going to get it any time soon, I guess I’ll have to break out the cookbook and get to work. This is a great book for anyone interested in New Orleans and its culinary delights.

Books and Baseball Games

May 22, 2008

Yesterday I went with my daughter Catherine’s class on a field trip to the Portland Beavers baseball game. It was a cool, (58 degrees!) cloudy day in Portland, which the teachers were thankful for since they didn’t have to worry about too much 8th grade skin being bared. But we sat in our seats an hour before the game started, and I found myself sitting alone with 8th graders who definitely didn’t include me in the conversation.

I kicked myself for not bringing my book to help me pass the time. Then I would have been entertained even if I did look like a social pariah reading in a sea of people. I enviously noticed that a chaperone with another school group had remembered to bring her knitting.

The book I’m reading is geared exactly to those 8th graders all around me. It’s part of the What I Know Now series, and it’s called If I’d Known Then—Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters to Their Younger Selves.

I’m about half-way through and I really like it a lot. The women writing to their younger selves offer advice they wish they would have been able to get to help them through tough times when they were growing up. It’s very interesting to read about the challenges that these women—many of them well known—faced and came through successfully. It helps younger girls to see that even when someone is popular and seems to lead a charmed life, she is often riddled with self doubt and insecurity.

I’ll do a full review on it once I’m finished. And the baseball game? The Beavers won 16 to 9 against the Tucson Sidewinders. So even though we had to leave early, at least I got to enjoy the game playing out on the field.

Summer Reading Suggestions

May 20, 2008

The end of the school year always brings a wild flurry of activity. The last choir concert, the last track meet, the volunteer appreciation breakfast, and so many other last minute things thrown into the schedule it’s overwhelming.

But looming in the background is the promise of lazy summer days lying in a hammock and reading. Not that I ever seem to achieve that, but it’s an ideal to strive for. My daughters on the other hand, seem to get that hammock time in at least once a week.

I’m compiling my list of recommended summer reading, and I’d like to hear from any of you who have suggestions. I’ll publish a list with everyone’s recommendations in early June.

Already I know Frank Cottrell Boyce’s new book Cosmic will be on my list, and I can’t wait for it to come out. And my two book club selections will take me into the beginning of summer. I’ll be reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox with Catherine, who’s just finishing 8th grade, and This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff with Madeleine, who’s finishing her junior year in high school.

What’s on your list? Leave a comment here or drop me a note at info@motherdaughterbookclub.com.

Who Says Reading’s On the Decline? No in Mother-Daughter Book Clubs

May 13, 2008

Last week my mother-daughter book club celebrated its fourth year together with a Cinco de Mayo party followed by a discussion of our book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. Our hostess brought out her Partridge Family album and played it for the moms, many of whom had teenage crushes on David Cassidy (yes, me too!). We got crazy singing along and talking about our 13-year-old selves back in the day, which was quite embarrassing for our daughters.

But then we settled down to talk about the book. We talked about the fun of reading mysteries and discussed the main characters—Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell—and we talked about things we liked and didn’t like about the plot.

As I looked around at the girls and moms sitting in the circle talking, I was reminded of a study released last year by the National Endowment of the Arts, which says reading is on the decline. I thought, “thank goodness my family isn’t a part of that.” Yes, my girls love to read and maybe they would be avid readers anyway. Their dad and I always have a stack of books we’re working our way through and as parents, we have always encouraged them to read books.

Even so, I believe being in a mother-daughter book club has helped us keep reading cool, even when Madeleine and Catherine might have been tempted to let it fall by the wayside as their other time commitments ramped up. And the friendships they’ve developed there have become some of the most important ones in their lives. I can say the same is true for me.

I’m happy to be a trend-reverser, and I look forward to the day a study finds I’m right in the middle of the upswing in readers everywhere.

Book Review: Girlwood by Claire Dean

May 8, 2008

With one foot in the modern world and one foot in a world of fantasy, Girlwood takes us into the life of Polly Greene, who can see the colors that surround people, revealing their true selves. Polly’s older sister, Bree, disappears into the woods one night, and Polly is the only one who believes she has not run far, that she’s hiding nearby to heal her out-of-control life.

When Polly finds a magical clearing hidden among the trees, she’s certain that her sister is close. She determines to leave her food and clothing and healing plants in a magical spot she and her friends dub Girlwood to help Bree survive until she’s ready to return.

Girlwood explores many themes as Polly enlists the help of friends and family in her mission:

  • What’s the value of nature compared to development?
  • Why do girls sometimes subvert their own personalities when they start to date?
  • How does divorce affect family dynamics?
  • How can parents teach and protect their children while also allowing them to have independent thoughts?

The themes are woven into a story that is as enchanting as the magical clearing, Girlwood, itself. And by the end, you may even find yourself searching for your own Girlwood.

Recommended for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in aged 12 and up.

Mother’s Day Thoughts

May 6, 2008

For once, I’m on top of a Mother’s Day present. It seems that every year it sneaks up on me and I’m late sending a gift off to my mom. She lives in Louisiana, I’m in Oregon so it takes just a bit of planning. Usually I get her books, or a certificate for a massage or a restaurant certificate. But this year I’m contributing to the cost of her plane ticket to come out and see my family this summer. I felt lucky to find an airline ticket that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

With the gift part down, I just have to be sure I get a card to her on time. I recently found a Web site that will make that easier, because I can pick out a card to email to her. It’s called 123greetings.com. Here’s the link for the site’s Mother’s Day cards: http://www.123greetings.com/events/mothers_day/.

Here are some reading gift ideas for yourself, your mother or your daughter:

  • I Capture the Castle—Dodie Smith. A great book for multi-generations that allows you to talk about life expectations for women in another era while fantasizing about living in a castle in England.
  • The Mother-Daughter Book Club—Heather Vogel Frederick. An interesting look at a fictional mother-daughter book club and an inspiration for travel to New England. Reading it also made me want to take field trips to the homes of historic authors, as some of the story line is devoted to the birthplace of Louisa May Alcott.
  • Girlwood—Claire Dean. A new book released this month. It feels as though it has one foot in the present, one foot in medieval times. It’s dreamy yet real. It reminded me of a secret place my sister and I carved from the shrubs along the fence line of the house I grew up in, and it will have you thinking about creating your own girlwood.
  • Songs for a Teenage Nomad—Kim Culbertson. Who can resist the thought of writing a soundtrack for your life? This came up recently in our mother-daughter book club when we talked about the music we all liked. We found a lot in common as well as a lot that was different, as you might expect. But we had fun talking about it as we explored some very interesting themes from this book.
  • Certain Girls—Jennifer Weiner. I haven’t read this one myself yet, but it’s getting good reviews and it seems like it would work well for older girls and their moms. The Web site, www.certaingirls.com, offers two reading guides, one for mothers and one for teens. Both include interviews with the author “that touch upon the mother-daughter themes throughout this novel, from the disconnect between the worlds of adult women and teenage daughters, to those feelings of teenage insecurity about one’s family and body image, to the conflicts that come when a mother learns she has to let her daughter go and grow – all common emotions among anyone who has ever been or had a mother!”

Whatever you choose for your mom or ask your family for, I hope you’re able to have a meaningful, relaxed Mother’s Day and enjoy the best part of the holiday—spending time with your family to focus on how important motherhood is.

Spotlight on a Mother-Daughter Book Club

May 1, 2008

Featured mother-daughter book club
Eight moms and daughters from Brookfield, Wisconsin

The members of this mother-daughter book club in Brookfield generously took time during their last meeting to answer some questions about their group. Read on to find out how the group started on some of their favorite books.

How did your group get started, and what grade were your daughters in when you first formed?

Our group started at the beginning of the girls’ seventh grade. Several mothers had done similar clubs with older daughters and suggested we form a club for this group of girls. The girls have a relatively small class so we invited all of the girls in their class to join and decided we would form one or two groups depending on level of interest. Our original group was 7 mother daughter pairs so we elected to do a single book club. We will meet through the summer after 8th grade – we decided high school activities would preclude meeting in high school.

How many mother/daughter pairs are in your book club?

We are now up to 8 pairs – one mother/daughter joined us after a few months. They had originally declined due to other commitments but heard our discussions at other school events and decided they were missing out.

How often do you meet?

This varies depending on other school activities and holidays but is generally every 6 weeks.

Do you tend to read certain genre books?

Everyone brings suggestions of books they would like to read and we have had quite a variety. We generally get consensus on which book we will read next.

Tell us about the three books you’ve read that have been favorites with the group and what you liked about them.

  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd—a wonderful story of women and their diverse friendships. Teaches perseverance and acceptance of others. We have already talked about doing a book club reunion when the movie comes out next year.
  • Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick—Funny and sad story with a great boy lead character.
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom—thought-provoking book that led to a great discussion and made us all think about the impact we have on others.

Do you have activities outside of book club?

We plan to go to a movie of one of the books we have read and then out for dinner where we can compare the movie and the book.

Can you offer any tips or advice to other mother/daughter book clubs?

Make it a fun, quality time for mothers and daughters – not one more chore for the girls, another assignment to finish, an attempt to improve reading skills, etc. To make it fun, each meeting was hosted by one mother-daughter pair and the discussion led by another pair. We always started with a game—often based on a TV game show – that “quizzed” us on some details of the book. We had inexpensive prizes which were theme based – for example Burt’s Bees Lip Balm for Secret Life of Bees. The hosts often served theme-based food—for example, Chinese food for the meeting to discuss Chinese Cinderella. The game and food made the meetings fun and helped lead to great discussions. We had prepared questions to prompt discussion—each one started by of the girls. Eight mother/daughter pairs was a good size—I don’t think you can go much bigger and have a discussion that includes everyone. Teach the girls to listen—at first everyone tried to talk at once but we eventually got to the point where one girl started the discussion and everyone contributed.