From My Bookshelf: Mothers In All But Name, Edited by Marguerite Guzman Bouvard

You may remember that I have some strong feelings on the subject of writing about motherhood, and some very strong feelings on the specific topic of writing about motherhood as a writer who is not a mother.

So it may not surprise you that I was intrigued when I read Wordamour’s description of a new anthology “about all the different forms mothering can take.” Edited by Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, it’s called Mothers In All But Name, and, as its subtitle suggests, it features contributions from “grandmothers, aunts, sisters, friends, strangers, and nannies.” In fact, I was intrigued enough to order a copy, and to read it this past weekend.

There are a lot of personal/familial reasons this subject matter resonates with me (and I’d love to have an anthology assignment to prompt me to write an essay of my own about [one or more of] them). But as a writer, and as a writer who has already been pretty outspoken about the feasibility of non-mothers writing fiction “about” motherhood, I have to admit that these lines resonated with me instantly:

In the ten years between [a job as a nanny for a child with special needs] and bearing my own children, I carry my other motherhood like a phantom limb. In graduate school, I occasionally write stories that celebrate the bonds of parents and children, stories that are generally well received, some even published in literary magazines. One chain-smoking visiting writer, however, eying my twenty four year old countenance (undoubtedly undercut by a relentlessly baby face) insists that I write what I know.

‘What,’ she asks, waving my manuscript about a father who fears his daughter might be abducted ‘Do you know about being a parent?’

Mothers In All But Name is definitely not the showiest, most polished, or glossiest “mama” anthology you’re likely to find, but it’s certainly a worthwhile addition to the literature on motherhood.

Friday Find: New Review of Forgetting English, by Midge Raymond

Longtime Practicing Writing readers know how much I admire Fiction Writers Review. At long last, I am delighted to announce that this practicing writer is now an official contributor to that terrific online publication!

Please read my review of Midge Raymond’s prizewinning story collection, Forgetting English. (It turns out that Raymond’s book happens to be a June selection from Andrew’s Book Club, too–how nice is that?)

Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!

From My Bookshelf: The Confessions of Noa Weber, by Gail Hareven (translated by Dalya Bilu)

From the back cover of Gail Hareven’s new novel (translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu), The Confessions of Noa Weber: “This award-winning novel of one woman’s quest to understand her obsessive love for a mysterious man is by turns funny, self-mocking, and brutally honest.”

Well, this reader couldn’t resist that description, especially when it was complemented by this enthusiastic NPR review and book excerpt (but shame, again, on NPR for not crediting the translator, to whom I also owe my first encounters with such excellent Israeli writers as Aharon Appelfeld and Orly Castel-Bloom). Bonus: I have a recurrent weakness for novels and stories about writers. Noa Weber, the eponymous protagonist, is a writer (and a successful one!).

It happens, as we all know, that book jacket descriptions don’t always deliver on their promises. This one does–sort of.

That is to say, the book is, indeed “by turns funny, self-mocking, and brutally honest.” But I can’t say I think that the first-person narrator–that self-same Noa Weber–is all that interested in understanding her obsessive love for the itinerant, Soviet-born Alek, the father of her child, a man for whom, despite a nominal marriage, Noa is, in truth, more of a mistress than a wife. Talking about it with the reader (note, not with a psychotherapist), yes. Understanding it, I’m not so convinced.

Because, despite the occasional (rhetorical) question, Noa seems remarkably self-aware. She seems to understand and accept the situation.

Further, as a writer, she knows what is an interesting story, and what is not:

For the record I’ll simply mention here that I was favored by the luck of the draw. I grew up well fed and protected, and that’s another reason why where and how I “came into the world” is not a matter of public interest. People who’ve survived a holocaust, who were born into a world that no longer exists, they can begin their biographies with “I was born,” my heroic father can begin his story with “I am born.” Not me. My early history is too boring, it fails to provide any explanation for what happened to me in later years, and I have never felt the urge to examine it or whine about it. Nor do I now.

In any case, it’s no great loss, and if the right to say “I was born” has to be paid for in dire catastrophes, stepfathers, orphanages, and picking pockets in the marketplace, I say , “No thanks,” and choose to enter this story at the age of seventeen, where the real me begins:

Me and my love for Alek–which against my better judgment I experience as transcendence.

In this case, I’m not sure the lack of an explicit, sustained quest for understanding (if I’m right) is such a flaw. The book works so very well without it.

Especially for this American reader, who considers herself woefully under-read in Israeli literature, who appreciated the book’s Israeli setting and context, who is grateful to be able to read the work of a writer who has won the prestigious Sapir Prize, and who, quite simply, looked forward to reading the next chapters for all the recent evenings the book has rested on her bedside table.

Further resources:

Gail Hareven’s profile on the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature Web site.

An interview with Gail Hareven in The Forward.

The Complete Review‘s review of The Confessions of Noa Weber. Much more articulate than anything I’ve attempted to write here. Really captures the book.

(cross-posted on My Machberet)

Sana Krasikov Wins Sami Rohr Prize

I’ve mentioned Sana Krasikov and her debut story collection, One More Year, on this blog a couple of times, but boy, do I regret not writing up something more substantive after I read the book a few months back! And that’s because Krasikov has been racking up honors and awards since then, most recently yesterday, when she was named the winner of the 2009 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

Congratulations to Sana Krasikov. I am really looking forward to the awards ceremony!

In the meantime, here are a few links to help you can learn more about Krasikov and her work.

“Maia in Yonkers,” one of the stories included in One More Year.
–Just one of many reviews of the collection.
–Jewish Book Council Q&A with the author.

The Wednesday Web Browser: Recommended Parenting-Related Writing

It’s not exactly a secret around here that although I don’t have children of my own, I’m quite interested in parent-child relationships and the infinite stories emanating from them. Today, I thought I’d point out some exemplary parenting-related writing.

First up: Recently, I reconnected with a friend who is now a mom to twin toddlers (and two wonderful older stepchildren). I was quick to recommend Jane Roper’s excellent “Baby Squared” blog on I’m not exactly sure when I discovered this blog, but Jane, whose name I remembered from the Boston writing scene, instantly pulled me in with her smart, funny writing about life with her twin girls.
Next: “Kelly James-Enger” is another name I’ve known for a long time, mainly from many years’ worth of Writer magazine articles. The other day, I read Kelly’s beautiful essay, “When Words Really Matter.” It’s an eloquent reminder that sometimes, our most significant writings won’t earn us a penny of income. But they’re infinitely more valuable than anything that might bring in a paycheck.
Finally, Gene Weingarten’s Washington Post article, “Fatal Distraction,” is currently making the Internet rounds. This extended article is notable for its powerful writing (as well as its tragic subject matter). Warning: You may not be able to get through it. (For the record, I first found this article via Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode blog at

Any of you want to recommend similar/related writings or writers? Please do so, in comments!