The Breathtaking Letter From a Dying Mother to Her Daughters

Imagine being a mother to two young girls, married to an awesome man, and thriving in your career as a lawyer, when you learn you have terminal metastatic colon cancer. You’re 37 years old.

Julie Yip-Williams didn’t have to imagine. What’s more, Julie already knew that life isn’t fair.  She was born blind in Vietnam, narrowly escaped euthanasia at the hands of her grandmother, and fled the political upheaval of her home in a rickety boat with hundreds of refugees. Eventually coming to America, Julie had surgery which gave her partial sight, earned her law degree from Harvard, married and became a mom.  Then, she got the diagnosis that even would devastate women twice her age.

Like a number of other young men and women faced with early death, Julie wrote a memoir that “is so many things — a triumphant tale of a blind immigrant, a remarkable philosophical treatise and a call to arms to pay attention to the limited time we have on this earth. But at its core, it’s an exquisitely moving portrait of the daily stuff of life: family secrets and family ties, marriage and its limitlessness and limitations, wild and unbounded parental love and, ultimately, the graceful recognition of what we can’t — and can — control,” relates the review on The New York Times website.  

I am going to read Julie’s book, The Unwinding of the Miracle, but it I wanted to share this letter from the book that I read on a blog. While some of us in Julie’s position may have said “Why Me?” she tells her daughters “I do know that there is incredible value in pain and suffering, if you allow yourself to experience it, to cry, to feel sorrow and grief, to hurt. Walk through the fire and you will emerge on the other end, whole and stronger. I promise.”

Dear Mia and Isabelle,

I have solved all the logistical problems resulting from my death that I can think of — I am hiring a very reasonably priced cook for you and Daddy; I have left a list of instructions about who your dentist is and when your school tuition needs to be paid and when to renew the violin rental contract and the identity of the piano tuner. In the coming days, I will make videos about all the ins and outs of the apartment, so that everyone knows where the air filters are and what kind of dog food Chipper eats. But I realized that these things are the low-hanging fruit, the easy-to-solve but relatively unimportant problems of the oh so mundane.

I realized that I would have failed you greatly as your mother if I did not try to ease your pain from my loss, if I didn’t at least attempt to address what will likely be the greatest question of your young lives. You will forever be the kids whose mother died of cancer, have people looking at you with some combination of sympathy and pity (which you will no doubt resent, even if everyone means well). That fact of your mother dying will weave into the fabric of your lives like a glaring stain on an otherwise pristine tableau. You will ask as you look around at all the other people who still have their parents, Why did my mother have to get sick and die? It isn’t fair, you will cry. And you will want so painfully for me to be there to hug you when your friend is mean to you, to look on as your ears are being pierced, to sit in the front row clapping loudly at your music recitals, to be that annoying parent insisting on another photo with the college graduate, to help you get dressed on your wedding day, to take your newborn babe from your arms so you can sleep. And every time you yearn for me, it will hurt all over again and you will wonder why.

I don’t know if my words could ever ease your pain. But I would be remiss if I did not try.

My seventh-grade history teacher, Mrs. Olson, a batty eccentric but a phenomenal teacher, used to rebut our teenage protestations of “That’s not fair!” (for example, when she sprang a pop quiz on us or when we played what was called the “Unfair” trivia game) with “Life is not fair. Get used to it!” Somehow, we grow up thinking that there should be fairness, that people should be treated fairly, that there should be equality of treatment as well as opportunity. That expectation must be derived from growing up in a rich country where the rule of law is so firmly entrenched. Even at the tender age of five, both of you were screaming about fairness as if it were some fundamental right (as in it wasn’t fair that Belle got to go to see a movie when Mia did not). So perhaps those expectations of fairness and equity are also hardwired into the human psyche and our moral compass. I’m not sure.

What I do know for sure is that Mrs. Olson was right. Life is not fair. You would be foolish to expect fairness, at least when it comes to matters of life and death, matters outside the scope of the law, matters that cannot be engineered or manipulated by human effort, matters that are distinctly the domain of God or luck or fate or some other unknowable, incomprehensible force.

Julie Yip-Williams on a good day, with husband Josh and their two children. Photo- Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Although I did not grow up motherless, I suffered in a different way and understood at an age younger than yours that life is not fair. I looked at all the other kids who could drive and play tennis and who didn’t have to use a magnifying glass to read, and it pained me in a way that maybe you can understand now. People looked at me with pity, too, which I loathed. I was denied opportunities, too; I was always the scorekeeper and never played in the games during PE. My mother didn’t think it worthwhile to have me study Chinese after English school, as my siblings did, because she assumed I wouldn’t be able to see the characters. (Of course, later on, I would study Chinese throughout college and study abroad and my Chinese would surpass my siblings’.) For a child, there is nothing worse than being different, in that negative, pitiful way. I was sad a lot. I cried in my lonely anger. Like you, I had my own loss, the loss of vision, which involved the loss of so much more. I grieved. I asked why. I hated the unfairness of it all.

My sweet babies, I do not have the answer to the question of why, at least not now and not in this life. But I do know that there is incredible value in pain and suffering, if you allow yourself to experience it, to cry, to feel sorrow and grief, to hurt. Walk through the fire and you will emerge on the other end, whole and stronger. I promise. You will ultimately find truth and beauty and wisdom and peace. You will understand that nothing lasts forever, not pain, or joy. You will understand that joy cannot exist without sadness. Relief cannot exist without pain. Compassion cannot exist without cruelty. Courage cannot exist without fear. Hope cannot exist without despair. Wisdom cannot exist without suffering. Gratitude cannot exist without deprivation. Paradoxes abound in this life. Living is an exercise in navigating within them.

I was deprived of sight. And yet, that single unfortunate physical condition changed me for the better. Instead of leaving me wallowing in self-pity, it made me more ambitious. It made me more resourceful. It made me smarter. It taught me to ask for help, to not be ashamed of my physical shortcoming. It forced me to be honest with myself and my limitations, and eventually to be honest with others. It taught me strength and resilience.

You will be deprived of a mother. As your mother, I wish I could protect you from the pain. But also as your mother, I want you to feel the pain, to live it, embrace it, and then learn from it. Be stronger people because of it, for you will know that you carry my strength within you. Be more compassionate people because of it; empathize with those who suffer in their own ways. Rejoice in life and all its beauty because of it; live with special zest and zeal for me. Be grateful in a way that only someone who lost her mother so early can, in your understanding of the precariousness and preciousness of life. This is my challenge to you, my sweet girls, to take an ugly tragedy and transform it into a source of beauty, love, strength, courage, and wisdom.

Many may disagree, but I have always believed, always, even when I was a precocious little girl crying alone in my bed, that our purpose in this life is to experience everything we possibly can, to understand as much of the human condition as we can squeeze into one lifetime, however long or short that may be. We are here to feel the complex range of emotions that come with being human. And from those experiences, our souls expand and grow and learn and change, and we understand a little more about what it really means to be human. I call it the evolution of the soul. Know that your mother lived an incredible life that was filled with more than her “fair” share of pain and suffering, first with her blindness and then with cancer. And I allowed that pain and suffering to define me, to change me, but for the better.

In the years since my diagnosis, I have known love and compassion that I never knew possible; I have witnessed and experienced for myself the deepest levels of human caring, which humbled me to my core and compelled me to be a better person. I have known a mortal fear that was crushing, and yet I overcame that fear and found courage. The lessons that blindness and then cancer have taught me are too many for me to recount here, but I hope, when you read what follows, you will understand how it is possible to be changed in a positive way by tragedy and you will learn the true value of suffering. The worth of a person’s life lies not in the number of years lived; rather it rests on how well that person has absorbed the lessons of that life, how well that person has come to understand and distill the multiple, messy aspects of the human experience. While I would have chosen to stay with you for much longer had the choice been mine, if you can learn from my death, if you accepted my challenge to be better people because of my death, then that would bring my spirit inordinate joy and peace.

You will feel alone and lonely, and yet, understand that you are not alone. It is true that we walk this life alone, because we feel what we feel singularly and each of us makes our own choices. But it is possible to reach out and find those like you, and in so doing you will feel not so lonely. This is another one of life’s paradoxes that you will learn to navigate. First and foremost, you have each other to lean on. You are sisters, and that gives you a bond of blood and common experiences that is like no other. Find solace in one another. Always forgive and love one another. Then there’s Daddy. Then there are Titi and Uncle Mau and Aunt Nancy and Aunt Caroline and Aunt Sue and so many dear friends, all of whom knew and loved me so well — who think of you and pray for you and worry about you. All of these people’s loving energy surrounds you so that you will not feel so alone.

And last, wherever I may go, a part of me will always be with you. My blood flows within you. You have inherited the best parts of me. Even though I won’t physically be here, I will be watching over you.

Sometimes, when you practice your instruments, I close my eyes so I can hear better. And when I do, I am often overcome with this absolute knowing that whenever you play the violin or the piano, when you play it with passion and commitment, the music with its special power will beckon me and I will be there. I will be sitting right there, pushing you to do it again and again and again, to count, to adjust your elbow, to sit properly. And then I will hug you and tell you how you did a great job and how very proud I am of you. I promise. Even long after you have chosen to stop playing, I will still come to you in those extraordinary and ordinary moments in life when you live with a complete passion and commitment. It might be while you’re standing atop a mountain, marveling at exceptional beauty and filled with pride in your ability to reach the summit, or when you hold your baby in your arms for the first time or when you are crying because someone or something has broken your tender heart or maybe when you’re miserably pulling an all-nighter for school or work. Know that your mother once felt as you feel and that I am there hugging you and urging you on. I promise.

I have often dreamed that when I die, I will finally know what it would be like to see the world without visual impairment, to see far into the distance, to see the minute details of a bird, to drive a car. Oh, how I long to have perfect vision, even after all these years without. I long for death to make me whole, to give me what was denied me in this life. I believe this dream will come true. Similarly, when your time comes, I will be there waiting for you, so that you, too, will be given what was lost to you. I promise. But in the meantime, live, my darling babies. Live a life worth living. Live thoroughly and completely, thoughtfully, gratefully, courageously, and wisely. Live!

I love you both forever and ever, to infinity, through space and time. Never ever forget that.


Mary’s Resurrection At Sixty

When she was 12, Mary Glickman wrote her first novel, but it took 48 years more until one of her books was published. Now, at 70, Mary’s seen three more novels go to print, has one in submission, and one in the works. She continues to write every single day. “As an artist, as a creator, I have a compulsion to write.  My writer and musician friends agree. You don’t choose this thing, it chooses you,” Mary says. “After my third book was rejected, I vowed that I wasn’t going to write anymore, but I was writing something new a month later. I can’t stop now to save my soul,” explains this charming, unassuming woman who says “it was a resurrection to be published for the first time at the age of 60.”

Mary and a group of her fans are getting together at 6:30 tonight (EST), November 1, 2018, to discuss her first published novel, Home In The Morning, during a Facebook Live on the FabOverFifty Facebook page. Mary’s book is the featured selection this month for Spread The Words, a FabOverFifty book club created with Early Bird Books. The story of a Southern family during the socially and politically tumultuous 1960s, and the secrets that bind its members together, Home In The Morning introduces us to Jackson Sassaport, a man who often finds himself in the middle. Whether torn between Stella, his beloved and opinionated Yankee wife, and Katherine Marie, the African American girl who first stole his teenage heart; or between standing up for his beliefs and acquiescing to the wishes of his prominent Jewish family to not stand out in the segregated South, Jackson learns to balance the secrets and deceptions of those around him. But one fateful night in 1960 forces the man in the middle to reconsider his obligations to propriety and family, and begins a chain of events that forever changes his life and the lives of those around him. Mary’s riveting novel traces the ways that race and prejudice, family and love intertwine to shape our lives.

I had the fortune to interview Mary about her life before becoming a published author, her conversion to Judaism and her move to Charleston, SC from the South Shore of Boston.

Please tell us a little about your childhood.

“I grew up in Weymouth, MA, the middle child of seven. My mother was an Irish American , an old timey mother and housewife, a wonderful woman, smart enough to do anything she wanted professionally had she lived in a different era. My father was Polish American and an airline pilot. They were married almost 70 years and lived at home before they went together to a nursing home shortly before they passed on.  We were a tight- knit family and had a lot of fun.”

And your education and first job?

“I had a very checkered college education, going to four different schools during the 60s. I couldn’t decide where or what I wanted to be. Eventually, I settled down and ended up in the Boston University evening program. I would have preferred staying home to write, but when I met my husband at 23, he insisted that I finish my education.  Then I went on to study for a Master’s Degree in creative writing from BU.

        Mary and her husband Stephen

“I was a medical secretary in Boston for about three years, and then I was a freelance writer and worked in public relations. I even ghost wrote an academic book for a psychiatrist.  I wrote scripts for slideshows, museum brochures, grant applications, a little bit of everything. I didn’t intend to do those things for the rest of my life, but I felt I needed to carry my weight at home while I worked on my novels.”

Tell us about your husband. Do you have children?

“I met my husband 47 years ago, when I was 23 and he was 28. We married six years later. He’s an attorney and earned a Master’s in international law at Harvard. He always had some business or other going on and has been loaning money to small real estate developers since his retirement from practicing law. We never had children. I had a number of miscarriages but didn’t want to make a fetish out of having children. I decided I could turn my energies elsewhere, and I did.”  

For how long were you a freelance writer before starting to write novels?

The last freelance job I had was in the mid-eighties, but throughout I was writing poetry and working on creating fiction. My darling husband encouraged me to write. Without him, I would have freelanced a lot longer! One of my novel manuscripts was chosen as a finalist by the Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Foundation in the late seventies, but no one wanted to publish it  I had a well-known agent at the time, who shepherded five more novels through the rejection process. I couldn’t get published for love or money. There was no such thing as respectable self publishing back then, so I just kept plugging away.”

When did your big break arrive?

“I switched agents after 30 years of being unpublished, because everyone told me I needed someone new. They were right. Within two weeks, my new agent, the fabulous Peter Riva, had multiple offers for Home in The Morning. It was  actually the seventh novel I wrote, but the first one published, by Open Road Media.  The others were all really good novels, except one which I’ll admit was a real stinker, but I think I was writing the wrong ideas at the wrong time. Since then, I’ve decided that the writing business involves a great deal of luck. You write something at the right time and it gets published.

“In retrospect, I think I was lucky to be published when I was mature.  A lot of younger writers get swelled heads. They write themselves out and they don’t develop.  I would have been a good candidate for getting a swelled head.”

What drew you to write historical fiction?

“I realized historical fiction was my metier after I wrote Home in the Morning. Freelance writing prepared me for my historical research because when you freelance, you often immerse yourself in a field you know nothing about and  learn enough to talk about it intelligently. In writing historical fiction, I’ve learned that the public memory is very short. History isn’t taught like it used to be. I’m shocked, for example, when I talk to book clubs of southern women who don’t know civil rights history, even though many of them and their parents lived through it.

“Also, I’m attracted to what I call Frank Capra-esque characters, men and women who are devoted to ideals, who want to live simply and well. When they come up against a crisis that challenges those ideals, great drama is born. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail but they always maintain  a kind of nobility. Now, moderns have trouble with nobility. They’re cynical and self-absorbed. If you write about the kind of people I admire in an historical setting, it comes off much better than if you write about them in a contemporary one.

“Home in the Morning shares characters with my second and third books, One More River and Marching to Zion.  I think of them as a triptik, examining  different eras in 20th century America, when being southern and Jewish were full of different conflicts.

“I learned about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the dramatic focus of One More River, when my husband read John M. Barry’s Rising Tide, a brilliant nonfiction analysis of the event which is considered the worst natural disaster in American history. Nearly 900,000 people were left homeless by the flood and huge populations of African American sharecroppers traveled north to work in factories, which changed the economy and the landscape of the South.

“The near nationwide race riots of 1917 are a backdrop for my third novel, Marching to Zion. An Undisturbed Peace examines the often forgotten events leading up to the Indian Expulsion Act and the Trail of Tears. I think that writing about such events makes the act of writing historical novels a public service. We’ve all forgotten so much!”

You grew up Catholic and converted to Judaism.  Please tell us why. How did your parents react?

“My mother was a devout Catholic, and she implanted a need for a religious structure in my life. I couldn’t accept Catholicism and in my youth looked at many different religions. Always I came back to Judaism. I had an affinity for it. Judaism was the poetry of my soul. I converted a year before I married. It had nothing to do with my husband. He came from a Russian Orthodox Jewish family but had become secular long before he met me. My mother was upset when I told her I needed to have a Jewish wedding ceremony, but she came to accept the situation. She adored my husband.

“I lived very observantly  for the first few years of my marriage, but after my best friend in Boston was murdered at 33 years old, I was traumatized, broken hearted. I felt betrayed by my God, and little by little I became less observant. But I was deeply connected to my Jewish community in Boston and  I’m still plugged into the Jewish community in Charleston, where we now live.”

What made you move to the South and what do you like most about it?

“In the late 1980s we took a sabbatical to live in a fishing village in the south of Spain, and planned to stay at least a year.  After six or seven months,  the dollar tanked, so we decided to go to Charleston, SC, because we had fallen in love with it while on vacation years before, and wanted to try out living there.

“We lived in Charleston about a year, where I worked at a equestrian center, mucking stalls, and fulfilled a life-long desire to take riding lessons. Eventually, I bought my lesson horse, King of Harts, a stubborn loveable Appaloosa with a sense of humor. It’s magical to be so intimate with a 1,000 pound creature and such fun to go charging through the woods.

            Mary and her beloved Hart

“We went back to Boston when we ran out of money, but we bought a little condo on Seabrook Island to have a toehold down here. I’d return about five times a year to see my horse and my friends. Later one, I moved my horse up north. My husband, horse, two cats and I came to Charleston permanently about 10 years ago. Hart passed away about five years ago at the age of 35. I miss him. The cats passed away too, one by one, but we have a new generation of cats, two brothers who are adorable but, I swear, savage little beasts.

“Life in Charleston is good. We have a gorgeous climate, beautiful flora and fauna. We enjoy the music scene here, especially bluegrass, Americana, and blues concerts. Overall, life is slower and more thoughtful, the people are delightful. You know, for a Southerner, the greatest social sin is to be rude. I like living with that kind of grace.”

What is a typical day like for you?

“I get up early to take care of my email or read the news online.  Then I sit down and write for about three hours. There’s only just so much concentrated work you can do before the words stop making sense and you have to stop. I shoot for 1,000 words a day.  In the afternoons,  I do domestic chores and things with my husband, have lunch with the girls if I can, then I might write for another hour sometime between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

                Mary’s writing desk

“I recently acquired a half interest in a lovely horse with excellent blood lines. A friend and I have taken him on as a project. We plan to train him, maybe show him in the spring.  The woman who bred him is a friend of ours who is selling her farm and stock. We loved him and didn’t want him to have an uncertain fate. Our friend is a most generous woman. She gave him to us. So now we have a new horse to play with.”

How do you want your books to affect readers?

“I think of myself as a storyteller concerned with the human condition. The history in my books is a setting, the social problems I investigate in them are also partly setting. It’s the characters that matter. I want my readers to be entertained and engaged, to care about my characters, and to be moved. I’m not a preachy writer although I’d love my readers to learn something new. I always love learning when I read. I learn a lot when I write, too.”

Do you have a final thought?

“Sure. I have a message for struggling writers, young and old. I plugged away for 30 years, which takes a lot of the ego out of you. That’s not a bad thing.  Rejection isn’t the end of the world. As long as you’re working on something new and are intellectually engaged, you’ve got hope. That’s important!”

Introducing A New Kind Of Book Club

  • Get inspired to read more.
  • Discover great books.
  • Connect with other readers.
  • Meet the authors for Q&As through Facebook Live!

As a busy FabOverFifty woman, finding time to read is not always easy—and finding a good book can be even harder. Yet reading is one of life’s true joys! We’re launching this Spread the Words book club in partnership with Early Bird Books to inspire you to read more. We’ll save you the time it takes to research and find your next great book. And we’ll connect you with other women reading the same book—so you can get more out of your reading experience and share your thoughts, observations, and questions. We’ll also introduce you to the author, who will host a Facebook Live chat at the end of each month, where you can hear his or her personal insights and inspiration—and even ask your own questions.

How It Works

     1.  We’ll choose a great book each month.
     2.  You’ll read the book.
     3.  We’ll launch a Facebook page so you can connect with other book club members.

     4.  The author will host a Facebook Live event, where you can ask questions and directly connect with him or her!

The second book we’ll be reading is Home in the Morning, by Mary Glickman.  Mary will host a Facebook Live event on Thursday, November 1st at 6:30 pm EST.

About Home in the Morning

A Southern family confronts the socially and politically tumultuous 1960s, and the secrets that bind its members together, in a novel by National Jewish Book Award finalist Mary Glickman. Jackson Sassaport is a man who often finds himself in the middle. Whether torn between Stella, his beloved and opinionated Yankee wife, and Katherine Marie, the African American girl who first stole his teenage heart; or between standing up for his beliefs and acquiescing to the wishes of his prominent Jewish family to not stand out in the segregated South, Jackson learns to balance the secrets and deceptions of those around him. But one fateful night in 1960 will make the man in the middle reconsider his obligations to propriety and family, and will start a chain of events that will forever change his life and the lives of those around him.

Home in the Morning follows Jackson’s journey from his childhood as a coddled son of the Old South to his struggle as a young man eager to find his place in the civil rights movement while protecting his family. Moving between Jackson’s youth and his adult life as a successful lawyer, Mary Glickman’s riveting novel traces the ways that race and prejudice, family and love intertwine to shape our lives. This ebook features rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.

Meet Mary Gilckman

Born on the south shore of Boston, Mary Glickman studied at the Université de Lyon and Boston University. While she was raised in a strict Irish-Polish Catholic family, from an early age Glickman felt an affinity toward Judaism and converted to the faith when she married. After living in Boston for 20 years, she and her husband traveled to South Carolina and discovered a love for all things southern. Glickman now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, with her husband, cat, and until recently, her beloved horse, King of Harts, of blessed memory. Home in the Morning, her first novel, has been optioned for film by Jim Kohlberg, director of The Music Never Stopped (Sundance 2011), and her second, One More River, was a 2011 National Jewish Book Award Finalist in Fiction. Her other novels include An Undisturbed Peace and Marching to Zion.

Concepts to ponder while you’re reading Home in the Morning

  1. Mary Glickman states that “typical Yankee provincialism” inspired her to write Home in the Morning. What do you think she meant by this?
  2. The central character, Jackson Sassaport, is a Southern Jew raised by an authoritarian physician father and an eccentric, stubborn mother in a small town outside Jackson, Mississippi. He’s described as good and humane, yet tone deaf, to the sufferings of the African Americans around him. Why do you think Mary made him the heart of Home in the Morning?
  3. It’s clear from early on that Jackson has strong feelings for Katherine Marie, a poor local African American girl. What does his relationship with her represent?
  4. Jackson’s life is in many ways a struggle to please three very different women: his traditional Southern Jewish mother, his outspoken Jewish wife from the North, and Katherine Marie, his more reserved childhood friend and lifelong love. What does this triumvirate represent?
  5. One of the great themes of Mary’s personal life is transformation and conversion: She converted from Catholicism to Judaism, and moved from the North to the South. How do you think this theme affected and informed Home in the Morning?
  6. Home in the Morning centers on a Southern Jewish family on the cusp of the civil rights movement. What do you think Mary is saying about the difference between Southern and Northern Jews?
  7. Spirituality is a strong part of Mary’s identity and personal journey. How do you see this reflected in her prose?
  8. The civil rights movement operates as the main backdrop of Home in the Morning. Why do you think Mary chose this time period and what about it resonates in today’s world?

**By joining Spread The Words book club, you agree to receive emails from FabOverFifty and Early Bird Books**

Read Home in the Morning on ANY device. Your laptop. Smart phone. iPad. That’s right. On ANY device!  Early Bird Books is so excited about launching Spread The Words with FabOverFifty, it’s inviting you to download Mary’s game-changing novel for less than a cup of coffee!

Introducing A New Kind Of Book Club



  • Get inspired to read more.
  • Discover great books.
  • Connect with other readers.
  • Meet the authors for Q&As through Facebook Live!

As a busy FabOverFifty woman, finding time to read is not always easy—and finding a good book can be even harder. Yet reading is one of life’s true joys! We’re launching this Spread the Words book club in partnership with Early Bird Books to inspire you to read more. We’ll save you the time it takes to research and find your next great book. And we’ll connect you with other women reading the same book—so you can get more out of your reading experience and share your thoughts, observations, and questions. We’ll also introduce you to the author, who will host a Facebook Live chat at the end of each month, where you can hear his or her personal insights and inspiration—and even ask your own questions.

How It Works

     1.  We’ll choose a great book each month.
     2.  You’ll read the book.
     3.  We’ll launch a Facebook page so you can connect with other book club members.
     4.  The author will host a Facebook Live event, where you can ask questions and directly connect with him or her!


The first book we’ll be reading is Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong.  Erica will host a Facebook Live event on Wednesday, September 26th at 6:30 pm EST.

About Fear of Flying

The blockbuster novel of female freedom and empowerment that launched a sexual revolution

Isadora Wing has come to a crossroads in her five-year marriage: Should she and her husband stay together or divorce? Accompanying her husband to an analysts’ conference in Vienna, she ditches him and strikes out on her own, crisscrossing Europe in search of a man who can inspire uninhibited passion. But, as she comes to learn, liberation and happiness are not necessarily the same thing.

A literary sensation when it was published in 1973, Fear of Flying established Erica Jong as one of her generation’s foremost voices on sex and feminism. Forty five years later, the novel hasn’t lost its insight, verve, or jaw-dropping wit. This ebook features a new introduction by Fay Weldon, as well as an illustrated biography of Erica Jong, including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.

Meet Erica Jong

Photo By Christian Als / Berlingske

Fear of Flying, Erica Jong’s 1973 novel, upended conventional thinking about women, marriage and sexuality, selling over 37 million copies. It articulated what women thought, but never voiced, through decades of silent complicity with the status quo. In Isadora Wing, her fictional doppelgänger, Erica created every woman – not as she existed in public life in the 70s, but inside a woman’s own mind. The author became a pillar of the sexual revolution and a hero to millions, not because of the sex itself, but because she quietly flouted the unspoken norms of the day to talk about sex unblinkingly.

In the 45 years since writing FEAR OF FLYING, Erica has published over 25 books in 45 languages, including nine works of fiction as well as celebrated non-fiction volumes such as What Do Women Want? and an anthology on sex called Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex that she edited. Comfortable and eloquent in various genres, she has almost effortlessly switched between fiction, nonfiction and poetry, becoming one of the most evocative poets of her generation with seven published volumes.

Erica’s awards for poetry and fiction include The Fernanda Pivano Award in Italy, The Sigmund Freud Award in Italy, the Deauville Award in France, and The United Nations Award for excellence in literature.

Erica’s 2015 novel, FEAR OF DYING, brought together a career of writing, reflecting, asking questions, trying to solve the puzzle of her own life, and in turn helped shed light on the lives of so many others. Questioning herself with deep honesty, Erica continues to open the sealed doors of our lives. She has just completed a book of poetry, The World Begins With Yes  due to be published in 2019, and she is working on a new novel, Pussies Grab Back! or Tales From The Erotic Book Club. She also is adapting one of her favorite novels, Fanny Hackabout Jones, for an unlimited television series with director Julie Taymor. The world is catching up with Erica’s thinking about women.

Concepts to ponder while you’re reading Fear Of Flying

  • Isadora struggles to be her own woman in a man’s world. How do you think things have changed for women since the 1960s and how are they the same?
  • Isadora says relationships are always unequal, that those who love us most we love the least, and vice versa. Do you agree?
  • How was Isadora shaped by her mother and sisters? Do you think her mother’s advice to reject the ordinary caused her pain or happiness?
  • The book ends on an ambiguous note. What do you think happens when Bennett walks in on Isadora? Is the ending affirmative or a comeuppance? Is the bathtub scene a rebirth as some have said?
  • What is it about Isadora that provokes empathy?
  • Isadora often blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality. Is this seen as a virtue, a vice, or both?
  • Isadora seems to feel most free when she’s experiencing sexual pleasure and when she’s writing. What’s the connection between these two aspects of her world?


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Read Fear of Flying on ANY device. Your laptop. Smart phone. iPad. That’s right. On ANY device!  Early Bird Books is so excited about launching Spread The Words with FabOverFifty, it’s inviting you to download Erica’s game-changing novel for less than a cup of coffee!

Win a Book That Explains How to Live Longer and Healthier!

Brought to you and sponsored by ProLon

We appreciate experts who translate complicated and important topics so we easily understand them, like the effects of the food we eat on the way our bodies function.  And, now that scientists are uncovering the powerful influence of our cells over how we age, the diseases we get, and what we weigh, we need the best teachers we can find to guide us on living longer and free from disease.

Valter Longo, PhD, Director of the Longevity Institute at USC in Los Angeles, and of the Program on Longevity and Cancer at IFOM (Molecular Oncology FIRC Institute) in Milan, Italy,  is just such a teacher.  His new book, The Longevity Diet, Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight,  is a crisply and concisely written roadmap to “living healthy longer, and staying vibrant and youthful beyond the traditional life expectancy” by controlling what we eat.  

Dr. Longo writes in the book’s introduction that his laboratories “performed decades of cellular, animal, and human studies focused on maximizing function (learning, memory, physical fitness, etc.) and on the prevention and treatment of diseases, with a special focus on cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease as well as autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders.” (more…)

Don’t Like The News? Take Refuge In The Past.

Author and FOFriend, Linda Wolfe, recommends three books for Summer 2017.

FOF award-winning author, Linda Wolfe, recently published her powerful book, My Daughter, Myself: An Unexpected Journey. She has published eleven books and has contributed to numerous publications including New York Magazine, The New York Times, and served the board of the National Book Critics Circle for many years. Her latest reviews capture everything from 1960s Kabul to present-day hostages in Somalia.

This season’s a hot time for historical fiction. Agitation over our own dismaying times is probably the major factor. Who doesn’t want to escape from our turbulent present into the past?  

But something else is going on, too. Publishers are offering a number of historical novels that could just as easily be termed not “Historical Fiction” but “Literary Fiction.” I like to think we owe thanks for this to Hillary Mantel, who dragged historical fiction from its genre cage alongside Romance into the realm of the literary novel.  The books reviewed below, while none approaches the stature of Wolf Hall or Bring up the Bodies, are all literary novels, that is, literary historical novels. And I must say I was really glad to immerse myself for a time away from the turmoils in Washington DC and London and Riyadh, and go off to Dickensian London, Ancient Greece, and even post-World War II Germany.   

by Jessica Shattuck
William Morrow.

Absorbing and immensely interesting, The Women in the Castle is set in Germany in the turbulent days immediately following the end of World War II.  Shattuck’s heroine,  Marianne von Lingenfels, an exceedingly rational and competent aristocrat, has promised a dear friend who is leading a plot to assassinate Hitler that if he and the other conspirators fail and are executed, she will look after their wives and children.  The assassination plot does fail (as did the real life Officers Plot to kill Hitler, on which it is based).  Marianne, whose husband was part of the plot, is widowed, and she sets out to keep her promise to the leader of the group and take care of the other widows.  She manages to rescue two women, the beautiful Benita from a Soviet officer who is keeping her in a brothel, and the stoic Ania, who is languishing in a Displaced Persons camp. Marianne brings them and their children to live with her in her family’s castle and helps them recover from their traumas.  But Benita, who had been married to the heroic leader of the plot, the man to whom Marianne had given her promise, falls in love with a former Nazi working on the estate, and Ania turns out to have been lying about her past. She wasn’t married to one of the men trying to get rid of Hitler; in fact she was a Nazi herself.  As Marianne slowly discovers these unnerving things about the women whose care she has undertaken, the plot grows taut and eventful, and the issues facing Marianne become ever more tangled and disturbing.

Shattuck published two excellent novels before The Women in the Castle.  But the reason this one works as spectacularly as it does is because Shattuck’s own maternal grandmother was a former Nazi, an early participant in Hitler’s Youth Movement.  She has written in an essay about her grandmother, “’We didn’t know’ was a kind of mantra for her on the long walks we took when I visited her at the farm she lived on, not far from where she grew up.  ‘But didn’t you hear what Hitler was saying?’ I would ask, grappling with the moral paradox of a loving grandmother who had been a Nazi.”  Her years of grappling have paid off.  In The Women, she brings to this moral paradox a rare and insightful perspective, within the pages of an exciting and eventful novel.


by Sarah Shoemaker
Grand Central.

Rebooting and revisiting an admired classic novel has been a popular pursuit of fiction writers for well over a hundred and fifty years.  Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has been a particular favorite.  The book was first published in 1847 and according to my friend Anne Humpherys, Victorian scholar and Bronte mavin, authors started publishing their own takes on Jane’s story as early as 1850.  Since then, we’ve had prequels, sequels, versions with sex added, versions with religiosity removed, and reboots that set out to provide the backstory of other characters in the tale besides Jane.    

Only a few of the hundreds of Jane Eyre-retellings have risen to the status of classics in their own right.  Jean Rhy’s Wide Sargasso Sea, does – and if you’ve never read it, run, do not walk, to your Kindle.  Rhys, Caribbean born and bred, imagines the story of Cariibbean-born and bred Bertha Mason, the madwoman Rochester keeps locked up in the tower of his manor house, and how she came to be mad.    

Now there’s another quite compelling redo, one that gives us the past of another of the main characters in the original: Mr. Rochester, who is blinded in the fire set by Bertha, and pining for Jane, who has disappeared. In a work that is engagingly Dickensian, Shoemaker invents Mr. R’s neglected childhood, his eccentric education, his years of having to work at a clothing mill, and only then, ah hah and at last, his voyage to Jamaica, where he is tricked into marrying Bertha.  

Up to this point, Shoemaker’s story is exceedingly original, not cleaving to anything much in Jane Eyre, as there isn’t anything much about Rochester’s youth in Jane Eyre.  But once the man marries Bertha and returns to England with her, we’re back in Jane Eyre territory, and what happens, though told from Rochester’s perspective, will be familiar.  

Maybe too familiar.  I liked best the first two-thirds of Mr. Rochester, when Shoemaker’s wonderful imagination was on display. I was less enthusiastic about the last third, where the story comes right out of the beloved classic.  But while this last third may be lacking in originality plotwise, the plotline it is following is such a terrific, tragic and timeless one that it seems rather pointless to quibble.            


by Colm Tòibin

The ancient Greek myth about Agamemnon, who cruelly sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigenia, to further his ambitions, thereby setting up a series of revenge assassinations within his family, is a chiller. It’s been thousands of years since the playwright Aeschylus wrote his version of the myth, and told it so well that in 658 B.C., his Oresteia won first prize at the Dionysus Festival, ancient Greece’s equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival.  Aeschylus’s retelling was followed a bit later, in 413 B.C., by an equally great, quite different, version of the myth by the equally great playwright Euripedes.  And since those hoary old days, the story has been told and retold innumerable times by innumerable, albeit lesser, writers.

Now, Colm Tòibin has taken his shot at it.  With compelling prose, he writes about how Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, is traumatized by witnessing the cruel demise of their daughter, and decided to wreak vengeance by killing her husband.  But once he has Clytemnestra do away with Agammemnon and turns to what followed upon this killing  — the murder of Clytemnestra by her and Agammemnon’s son, Orestes, who is egged on by his sister,Electra, Tòibin begins to stumble.  According to the myth, Orestes vanished in childhood after the killing of Iphigenia, only reappearing in Athenian society once he was a grown man, capable of violence and revenge.  Where was he till then?  It’s a mystery.

Tòibin attempts to solve the mystery.  He has little Orestes being kidnapped and placed in a school that resembles a Victorian horror.  The students are forced to write down one another’s sins on slates, so that the sinners can be brutally beaten by their faceless captors, and they must never speak to one another.  They must observe silence at all times.  

Given all the silence, the school scenes are very sterile.  So is what follows.  Even when Orestes escapes from the establishment with two friends, there’s a lot more silence between them than conversation.  And the royal palace to which Orestes eventually makes his way is also a place of silence.  Orestes doesn’t confront his mother, has barely anything to say to anyone, even his lover, and the palace echoes with the footsteps of suspicious-looking courtiers who scurry wordlessly down long silent corridors.  I couldn’t help feeling that Tòibin just couldn’t imagine his way into this story, and simply gave up, drowning his readers in silences.  

My advice: go back to the classics. Those Greek plays can’t be beaten. Or even matched. Certainly not in this dull and annoying retelling.

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A Fact-Filled–And Fun–Guide For Every Woman, From 18 To 118!

It will surprise me if a new book, called The Complete A TO Z for your V, A Women’s Guide to everything you ever wanted to know about YOUR VAGINA: HEALTH, PLEASURE, HORMONES, AND MORE, doesn’t become a best seller.

It’s smart. It’s friendly. And, it’s funny. It’s a must read (and easy to read)  for every woman, whether she’s started menstruating, or stopped getting her periods years ago! That means you and your sisters, your daughters and your nieces, and every single one of all their pals.

The author is Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a respected OB/GYN who has a vast knowledge of women’s sexual health and happiness, and was determined to share it because most of us are big dummies about our vaginas.  If you don’t think you’re a dummy, do you know the meaning of transition zone, when you can stop using contraception, and how you can treat a Bartholin cyst? Have you even heard of a Bartholin cyst?  I hadn’t, and I didn’t know the answers to 12 other questions on the 31-question quiz in Dr. Dweck’s new book, which she calls a “doctor’s guide for the laywoman.” I know the doctor personally, have interviewed her numerous times, and enjoy learning from her about this subject, which has too long been treated as a taboo!


Memoirs Of Death, Depression And Determination

Two acclaimed members of New York’s literati have published memoirs at the same time.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE MEN IN MY LIFE: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan
by Patricia Bosworth


Bosworth, who has written best-selling biographies about movie magnificos like Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Jane Fonda, as well as an incisive biography of photographer Diane Arbus, and a searing account about the life and death of her father, famed civil rights lawyer Bartley Crum, has finally, in The Men in My Life, given us an autobiography that is harrowing, scintillating, and, ultimately, profoundly inspiring.

The harrowing part comes first.  Two of the three men who figure prominently in this book, Bosworth’s  beloved younger brother, as well as her distinguished father, will commit suicide. The third, Jason Bean, is a sociopathic painter, whose only real aesthetic talent was for con-artistry, who swept  Bosworth off her feet while she was a freshman in college.   (more…)

Best Books Of 2016

Author and FOFriend, Linda Wolfe, recommends five books for the new year.

FOF award-winning author, Linda Wolfe, recently published her powerful book, My Daughter, Myself: An Unexpected Journey. She has published eleven books and has contributed to numerous publications including New York Magazine, The New York Times, and served the board of the National Book Critics Circle for many years. Her latest reviews capture everything from 1960s Kabul to present-day hostages in Somalia.

by Ian McEwan

Nan Talese/Doubleday.

If you haven’t already read this, put buying it at the top of your To Do list. And give it to yourself, not someone else, though that’s not a bad idea, either. With Nutshell, the masterful McEwan, of Atonement and Saturday fame, has produced another masterpiece. This, despite its absurd premise – or maybe because of it. The absurdity? The story is told by a foetus.   

He’s a clever little fella. Knows all about wine, especially his mother’s favorites, French burgundy and a good Sancerre, which come to him, he explains, “decanted through her healthy placenta.” Knows too all about  Norway, with its generous social provisions, and Italy with its excellent regional cuisine. How is this possible? It’s because, he tells us, “I listen. My mother likes the radio and prefers talk to music…I hear, above the launderette din of stomach and bowels, the news, wellspring of all bad dreams. I listen closely to analysis and dissent.”

He also listens to his mother’s conversations. And, poor little eavesdropper, he overhears her plotting with her lover, his uncle, to murder his father. She is Trudy. He is Claude. Get it?  Nutshell is, in a nutshell, Shakespeare’s Hamlet as experienced and related by an unborn baby. This one sure doesn’t like Claude. “Not everyone knows what it is to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose,” he says. “By this late stage [of pregnancy], they should be refraining on my behalf.  Courtesy, if not clinical judgment, demands it. I close my eyes. I grit my gums. I brace myself against the uterine walls. This turbulence would shake the wings off a Boeing.”

The book is hilarious. Its also wondrous, with every sentence chiseled to perfection – perhaps in homage to Shakespeare. Most delicious of all, Nutshell is a page turner. Its suspense builds and climbs as we wonder if this older-than-his-years, or even older-than-his-months little creature who’s telling us the story will be able to prevent the murder.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE NEWS OF THE WORLD
by Paulette Jiles

William Morrow.

This book had me reading on the edge of my seat and metaphorically biting my nails. A historical novel, it’s set in the wilds of Texas in the years immediately following the Civil War. The story is told by elderly Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who makes his living by driving his covered wagon to isolated small towns where he reads the news of the world to settlers with no access to newspapers. One day, he’s asked by a federal agent to take on the task of transporting to her remaining family members a ten-year-old child who, at the age of six, had been taken captive by the Kiowa Indians after they scalped her German-American parents.

The girl is a handful. She doesn’t want to be rescued. She considers herself a Kiowa, and has become very attached to her captors. (Apparently, we learn in an endnote, this was common among children taken by Indians; very few of them wished to be rescued and returned to relatives.)  She has no memory of what her original name was, so Kidd gives her a name: Johanna.  

At first the Captain finds the girl, with her blond braids flaunting bits of stick, her immobile face, and her icy blue-eyed stare, “malign.” She finds him hateful, and proves to be a kicking, screaming, disobedient passenger, always trying to run away. But after they are attacked by truly malign men, and against great odds they together manage to fight them off, the unlikely pair bonds. In time, Johanna, who has learned to call herself “Cho-Hana,” comes to love the “Kep-dun,” who one day she dubs “Kontah,” Grandfather in the Kiowa language. The Captain himself has learned to admire his spunky little charge, and like a real grandfather, dotes on her and longs to see her have a happy future. But trouble awaits when the pair finally makes it to San Antonio, where Johanna’s remaining relatives live.

Jiles is a poet, and she knows how to use her music to play upon the heartstrings. I defy you not to shed a tear, as I did, at what happens to Johanna when she is reunited with her family – and to pray that once again the Captain will find the strength to rescue her.


by Ann Patchett


Patchett is unpredictable as a novelist, and I don’t mean as regards her art, which is reliably wondrous. I’m referring to the kind of tale she tells in each book, its whos and wheres and wherefores. Commonwealth starts out in California as the story of a married couple who fall in love with other people, divorce their partners, and try to meld their unwieldy bunch of children, three of his, two of hers, into a viable extended family. They’re successful at this. The children become very close. But they are uneasy with their new stepparents and angry at the parents who broke up their original families.

What we get is a tapestry, a complex and exquisite weave of different threads, in which each thread is the tale of one of those children or parents relating what happens to them over a long period of time. Fifty years, to be exact, enough time for the children to grow up and old, and the parents to grow aged. There are lots of characters, lots of threads, a sister who becomes a lawyer, another who becomes a Zen monk, a misfit of a brother who bears a burden of guilt all his life about a tragedy that befell another brother, and, most memorably, the gentle Franny, who falls in love with a writer much older than she is and makes the mistake of telling him the story of her family, only to see him use it, to her embarrassment, and for his own self-aggrandizement. Patchett, treating all her characters with abounding compassion, makes every one of them so vivid and recognizable that you’ll be as fascinated by how they develop and change over the years as you are in how time treats your friends.   

Interestingly, at first Commonwealth seems like a book about extended families, of which we have read many in recent years. But it turns out to be about something newer, and and more important. Patchett’s characters marry, and have children, and get divorced, and some of them remarry and acquire new children, and their children marry and have children, and some of them get divorced and remarried and also acquire new children, so that the “family” keeps growing and expanding. One of the book’s final, stunning scenes shows us that not only do today’s extended families grow ever larger, but that the very idea of family is changing.  When Franny’s mother, late in life, marries a man named Jack Dine, and Franny goes to their Christmas party, she realizes that she can’t keep everyone there straight. “She knew the Dine boys, that’s what they were called late into their fifties, but their wives and second wives confused her, their children, in some cases two sets, some grown and married, others still small…There were members of the Dine family who considered her in some vague sense to be a sister, a cousin, a daughter, an aunt. She couldn’t follow all the lines out in every direction: all the people to whom she was by marriage mysteriously related.”  

I think Commonwealth could well have been entitled, The Way We Live Now, like Trollope’s book of that title, for what it really is about is a world in which increasingly the very word family has come to seem something altogether new.  

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE RETURN: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between
by Hisham Matar

Random House.

In 2007, when I first fell in love with the work of Libyan-born writer Hisham Matar, it was because I had just read his novel, In the Country of Men, a polished, psychologically astute novel about a little boy who inadvertently betrays his father to the jailers of a repressive regime. The child’s grief at the loss of his father’s presence, plus the burden of guilt he feels for causing that loss, were haunting. I did not know until I read Matar’s eloquent memoir, The Return, that at the time he was writing In the Country, the author was himself struggling with grief over the loss of his own father to the repressive regime of Qaddaffi, and even struggling, with a kind of survivor’s guilt, what he calls, “the guilt of having lived a free life,” for he and the rest of his family had fled the Middle East to live zin exile in London.   

Matar’s father, Jaballah, had not had a free life. An outspoken opponent of the repressive Qaddaffi regime, he had been kidnapped in 1990, imprisoned, and after a few years during which he wrote letters to his family which were smuggled out of Libya by political supporters, never heard from again.  Was he still a prisoner, held in some miserable dungeon, like the one fellow prisoners called, “The Mouth of Hell”? Or was he dead? The uncertainty turned Matar, then nineteen years old, “into a bridled animal, cautious and quiet. I could not stop thinking of the detestable things that were surely happening to my father as I bathed, sat down to eat….I stopped speaking. I hardly left my London flat,” he writes, and, “You make a man disappear to silence him, but also to narrow the minds of those left behind, to pervert their soul and limit their imagination. When Qaddafi took my father, he placed me in a space not much bigger than the cell Father was in.”

During the years that followed the kidnapping, Matar, his mother, and his brother, Riad, spent endless hours trying to raise public awareness of what had happened to Jaballa, and to arouse British diplomats into finding out what they could about his whereabouts, all to no avail. So in 2012, after the fall of Qaddaffi and before Libya fell victim to competing militias including Al Qaida, when for a brief time the country was peaceful, Matar went there to see if he could learn something of his father’s fate.  

The Return is the story of that trip. Matar travels with his mother and brother, and the three of them manage to find and reunite with relatives they haven’t seen in years. We visit along with them, discovering the Libya that was, and its rich culture and fascinating traditions.

The book is heartbreaking. Matar learns of a prisoner who may or may not have been his father (but seems likely to have been), a man who recites Libyan poetry from his cell a night, and then one night is heard no more. He learns the details of Qaddaffi’s notorious 1996 massacre of twelve hundred prisoners (his father was most likely one of the men brutally killed that day). And he learns how his father, surviving for many years in the most horrendous circumstances, became a symbol to his fellow prisoners of all that was once steadfast and noble in Libya.


51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_SWING TIME
by Zadie Smith

Penguin Press.

I’m not a big fan of Elena Ferrante. Perhaps it’s the fault of the translator, but I find the language of her acclaimed Neopolitan novels flat and dull. But of course, like everyone else, I’ve been a sucker for the books’ subject – female friendship — a matter so important to so many of us females, but so little written about.  Well, no need to slug through those Naples novels. Zadie Smith of White Teeth fame, arguably England’s most renowned novelist and certainly its liveliest stylist, has just come out with Swing Time, a novel about female friendship which pops and sizzles and rocks. It’s all here, the passionate attachments we women form with friends, first when we’re young, later on, throughout our lives, the way we measure our lives against those of our friends, the way our friendships support and sustain us and the way they can grow stale, can wither with time or distance or achievement, or die sudden deaths from envy or betrayal. Not to mention the way we never, no matter what, forget our first best friends.

The unnamed narrator of Swing Time lives in one of London’s depressing housing projects.  She meets the girl who will become her best friend, a pretty child named Tracey, also the denizen of a housing project, when she’s seven years old, at an after school dance group. “There were many other girls present,” she tells us, “but for obvious reasons we noticed each other, the similarities and differences, as girls will. Our shade of brown was exactly the same – as if one piece of tan material had been cut to make us both – and our freckles gathered in the same areas.” Each girl has one white and one black parent. The narrator’s mother is black, a Jamaican immigrant bent on climbing up and away from the projects through education and discipline, her father a white postal worker with little ambition beyond caring for his daughter. Tracey’s mother is white, permissive, free-spending, imbued with bad taste, and determined to see Tracey, who has talent as a dancer, become a star. Tracey’s father, who rarely comes to see his wife or his daughter, is a gambler and petty thief; he’s been in prison, but Tracey boasts when he’s absent that it’s because he’s a back-up dancer traveling with Michael Jackson.

The narrator shares Tracey’s love of dancing, though not her talent. No matter. Together they bond over dance VHS tapes, spending endless hours watching Fred Astaire and other hoofers do their routines. To both girls, it seems that their friendship is forever. But time and the differing aspirations of their mothers intervene. Tracey becomes not a star but a minor chorus line dancer and the narrator, after attending university, becomes the personal assistant of a famous singing star, an international celebrity patterned on Madonna and named Aimee.

Along the way the narrator will have boyfriends — I especially liked her college beau Rakim, who wore “skinny dreadlocks to his shoulders, Converse All Stars in all weather, little round Lennon glasses.  I thought he was the most beautiful man in all the world. He thought so, too.” She will travel, with Aimee, to distant places. New York offers to her “her first introduction to the possibilities of light, crashing through gaps in our curtains, transforming people and sidewalks and buildings into golden icons.” Gambia, where do-gooder Aimee wants to establish a girls school, offers “polygamy, misogyny, motherless children (my mother’s island childhood, only writ large, enshrined in custom).”  

Along the way, the book will offer perceptive reflections on race and class, plans will be realized and thwarted, there will be scandals and betrayals, babies dubiously adopted, lovers lost and stolen, and friendships that teeter and totter yet offer identity and belonging in a world that rarely does. This is an action-packed cinematic novel that also thinks hard on its swiftly running feet.

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7 Top Food & Wine Books Of 2016

No matter how many recipes you can access online, there’s nothing quite as satisfying in the kitchen as having a real cookbook at your side, while you make your first or fiftieth creme brulée or a new roast chicken dish.

So think cookbooks as Christmas gifts, and don’t leave yourself out! Here, we have the pleasure of presenting you 7 reviews by book critic and essayist, FOF Annette Gallagher Weisman.

Annette Gallagher Weisman is an award-winning essayist and a longtime member of the National Book Critics Circle. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she has written for numerous publications including the St. Petersburg Times, edibleASPEN, TheWineBuzz, Cincinnati Magazine, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Town & Country, People, and in the U.K. Vanity Fair and Over21. Annette received an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College in Vermont.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_COOKING FOR JEFFREY
by Ina Garten

Clarkson Potter. 258 pp.

It’s that time of year when celebrity chefs come out with their latest cookbooks. Ina Garten, one of the most beloved cooks of our time, has just published her tenth, Cooking for Jeffrey.

Jeffrey, as her fans know, is Ina’s husband, the most affable of men who loves to run errands for his wife. Whether in Paris or the Hamptons, Jeffrey can be seen on her television show, the Barefoot Contessa, shopping for a special wine or cheese and coming home with his prize as delighted as a man can be to have accomplished his mission.

As well as the many beautiful food shots by Quentin Bacon, there are some personal photographs. One of them shows Ina and Jeffrey on their wedding day exuding the kind of joy and happiness they emote together on television. Cooking for Jeffrey also includes tales from their happily-ever-after marriage and recipes for his favorite dishes including Filet Mignon with Mustard and Mushrooms, Skillet Roasted Lemon Chicken and Raspberry Rhubarb Crustata.

Ina’s new television series is also called Cooking For Jeffrey. Both the cookbook and the new series are a love letter of sorts to a man to whom Ina has been married for 48 years… “My most constant and appreciative audience has been my sweet Jeffrey.”

Just reading through these easy to make recipes makes me want to say “I’ll have what he’s having!”

by Anthony Bourdain

Ecco. 290 pp.

In August of 2000, Anthony Bourdain’s controversial memoir Kitchen Confidential brought shock and awe to the food world. Since then he’s written many books, both fiction and nonfiction.

Appetites is Bourdain’s 13th book – a cookbook with the focus on comfort food that’s full of the irreverent talk he’s known for. He doles out plenty of advice too, as when making Eggs Benedict, “Toast your goddamn muffins.” Bourdain is both entertaining and informative with comments like “Caesar Salad is of Mexican origin.” And just when I am thinking – really? he adds “I bet you didn’t know that.” In fact, going through his recipes, I get the feeling Bourdain is shadowing me, and if I don’t shape up, he’ll ship me out of my own kitchen!

Seriously, reading this conversational-style cookbook is like having a friend tell you exactly how things should be done and how not to screw up. The brilliant photographs by Bobby Fisher include many candid shots such as Bourdain sitting on a closed lid toilet seat eating a sandwich or feeding linguine to the elegant Chef Eric Ripert who is wearing a badass T-shirt. But the recipes alone are worth the price of the book, from Macaroni and Cheese to British Style Pheasant with Bread Sauce and a pullout illustrated guide to Bourdain’s Perfect Burger.

Anthony Bourdain is an edgy, authentic, and likeable human being. Read him and laugh!

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE LONDON COOKBOOK
by Aleksandra Crapanzano

10 Speed Press. 352 pp.

Let’s travel across the pond to a city best known for its gourmet food. You might be thinking Paris. But, no, I mean London. Who knew a country once known for its bangers and mash and nondescript looking dishes is now considered by Aleksandra Crapanzano to be “the gastronomic center of the world.”

That may seem to be going a little far, but the world-class restaurants and other establishments serving specialty foods and beverages featured in The London Cookbook confirm that statement. Crapanzano shows us that this sophisticated, hip and lively city is undergoing a culinary rebirth.

Restaurants such as Ottolenghi, Clos Maggiore and Trullo showcase over 100 recipes that make one salivate. Some are a bit involved for the home cook, but others are relatively easy to make such as The River Café’s signature Crab and Raw Artichoke Salad or St. John’s Plaice, Salsify, and Capers. The superb desserts include Tom’s Kitchen’s Baked Alaska and Brasserie Zedel’s Bavarois Framboise, which are followed by yummy cocktails in the back pages.

It’s obvious that Crapanzano knows the increasingly diverse London dining scene inside and out. In The London Cookbook she describes in an engaging way the history of British food, the ingredients used in each recipe, as well as personal details about the chefs – a touch of humanity that runs throughout the entire book.  In fact, if you have a friend who is a professional chef, he or she, along with home cooks would appreciate owning this cookbook.


51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE 24 HOUR WINE EXPERT
by Jancis Robinson

Abrams Image. 112 pp.

Want to become a wine expert overnight without wading through books that double as doorstops? Jancis Robinson, a well-known wine critic, writes prolifically about the subject and is esteemed by wanabee sommeliers. Yet her latest book is for non-experts, the average wine lover who, after reading it, will feel more comfortable about selecting a wine in a restaurant and in a wine store.

Although small in size, The 24 Hour Wine Expert is jam-packed with useful information. Chapters include How to Taste, Ten Ways to Pick the Right Bottle and Matching Wine with Food. Last year, the 4th edition of Robinson’s tome The Oxford Companion to Wine was published – required reading by serious students. However, this tiny primer is an easy read and a user-friendly guide for anyone who loves to drink wine.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_DINNER AT THE LONG TABLE
by Andrew Tarlow & Anna Dunn

10 Speed Press. 336 pp.

Restaurateur, chef, and publisher of Diner Journal Andrew Tarlow and Anna Dunn his editor-in-chief have written a cookbook that celebrates special occasions and the art of slow living. It is organized around 17 menus representing the essence of good food, such as Ragu, a sauce that takes a weekend to make. As with other meals, Ragu is described poetically. “Serve it in the afternoon, when you can still glimpse low angular light arching through the window.”  

Tarlow and is wife Kate Huling have six restaurants, a hotel, a bar, and a bakery, all in Brooklyn, New York. At Diner, their first restaurant, there was a long table at the back where about 20 people who had worked hard in helping the restaurant get started sat around for a celebratory meal together.

Dinner at the Long Table is a big thank you to all the fans and supporters who helped make their restaurants successful. It’s also for those of us who truly love to cook, preferably without time constraints. Dishes such as Rabbit & Chorizo Paella, Roasted Leg of Lamb Dressed Down with Zest, and Cassoulet are the kind of meals to be savored, but not the kind you can whip up in 30 minutes after a busy day at the office.

There are, however, some recipes that can add a little zing to your culinary life without going to too much trouble. But this cookbook is not for cooks in a hurry; rather, it’s a book about love, about taking the time to prepare a satisfying meal for friends and sitting down with those loved ones around your table, or mine.  

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_A NEW WAY TO DINNER A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead
by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs

10 Speed Press. 288 pp.

Food 52’s cookbook A New Way to Dinner is perfect for the person who likes to make lists and be organized. I mean really organized. In fact, thinking of all the work that went into this comprehensive cookbook makes me tired.

Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, co-founders of the online home destination Food52, will plan a week’s worth of meals for you, supply you with grocery lists, and provide strategies for selecting meals you can prepare in advance. Divided into seasonal recipes, you’ll find these techniques and more, such as cooking timelines and how to mix and match food with sauces (almost like clothing), for first one meal and then another.

Hesser and Stubbs have put a tremendous amount of thought and personal experience into writing a cookbook that will make the home cook’s life easier. By taking their advice and doing some planning and preparatory cooking on the weekend, you can quickly put together meals during the week to come. Even if you’re like me, and get an adrenalin rush from winging it using ingredients I have on hand, you’ve got to admit Hesser and Stubbs are on to something. Their cookbook has so many inspiring recipes too, such as Chicken Cutlets with Charmoula and Preserved Lemon, Frittata with Peas, Spring Greens, and Ricotta and Lemony Pasta with Asparagus, as well as useful tips.

Whether you need a little structure or a lot in planning meals for the week ahead, A New Way to Dinner could be your new best friend.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_AMARO: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas
by Brad Thomas Parsons

10 Speed Press, 280 pp.

Amaro (plural amari) is the Italian term for bitters. Reading Brad Thomas Parsons’ Amaro has shown me how ignorant I was about the breadth of this genre of herbaceous liqueurs; that there’s a whole world out there of bittersweet aperitifs and digestifs that I, and maybe you, have been missing out on.

These drinks are not all as bitter tasting as Fernet-Brancas or Negronis either. Take Aperol, an orange liqueur owned by Compari but not as bitter. An Aperol Spritz is easy to make, low in alcohol, and so popular in Italy it may as well be the national drink.  Sipping this pretty orange-flavored Spritz, makes me feel as if I am sitting in a small ristorante on the Amalfi Coast or some other sunny clime.

Amaro is so versatile it can be a digestive aid, used as a hangover helper, or enjoyed as part of a cocktail. But before we get to the more than 100 recipes with accompanying color photographs by Michael Graydon and Nicole Herriot, Parsons first takes us on an informative tour of Italian bars, cafes and distilleries.

With names like “Hanky Panky” and “Exit Strategy,” even making these drinks sounds like a fun way to liven up one’s evening. Amaro is the perfect gift for the cocktail enthusiast who wants to expand their repertoire, as well as the bar professional.

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