Before last week, I had not finished a single book since Little Bean was born.
This is, for me, an utterly astounding sentence. I used to read the way I breathed air: continuously, sometimes quickly, sometimes slow and consciously, always. I used to read while walking down the street, brushing my teeth, and sitting at red lights in the car. I grew so attached to the world within the covers of books that I deliberately slowed down when I loved one, for fear that it would end soon. When I finally finished Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, I actually flung it against the wall and shouted, “F_ you for being done!” (Truly, I loved that book.)
So, to go almost a year without reading a book all the way through? Goodness, who is this?
Hi, I’m a mama. And a writer.
There are no more languid hours, the way I had when I was a kid, bending my back over the arm of the couch, the book over my head, to catch the dying light in the sky by which I was reading. Now, I have half-open books perched on surfaces around the house. I’ve been waiting for some time without writing a book to get back to them.
Now that I have done this twice, I know: I can’t read books when I’m in the middle of writing one. Words bleed into my sentences, ones I had never considered before. Phrases I read on white paper make it onto my screen before I notice fully, and then I have to erase. Magazine articles, the newspaper cover to cover, essays in books, and an endless array of oddities online? I haven’t stopped those. But entire books? Nope.
Not until last week, when I sat down while Little Bean was napping, and read The School of Essential Ingredients in a day and a half. And when I closed the last page, slowly, I grew a little teary that I had finished it so soon.
I don’t want to tell you too much, because you might want to read it yourself. Just know that the story circles through a cooking school, run by a woman named Lillian who has a calm demeanor, capable hands, and an understanding for people that comes from her past. Stories emerge with each class, from homemade pasta and chocolate cake. Not that much happens, in the Hollywood sense, but everything rumbles under the surface, in the glacial way that human relations actually happen.
And the way that Erica Bauermeister describes food — slow and sensuous, filled with poignancy and a sense of presence — made me lift up my eyes and take them in. And they made me hungry.
I read this book as I slipped under the hot waters of a bath. I picked it up as Little Bean napped, my hands curved around a hot cup of coffee. And I devoured the last pages in the warm lamplight of the living room, on the end of the couch where I fed Little Bean just a few hours before.
I finally read an entire book. This one was such a wonderful warmth and loveliness to begin it all again.
p.s. I believe in sharing, especially because plenty of us cannot afford new hardback books these days. So I’m giving away my copy, now that I have finished it. Leave a comment here, and make sure I have some way of reaching you. The Chef and I will randomly select a number at the end of the week and choose one of you! We’ll put the book in the mail, with a little present for you from us.