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Susan Ito trying to do it all: reading writing mothering spousing daughtering working living

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Great Good Woman for Books

For many years, I mourned the fact that there was no good bookstore in my neighborhood of Montclair. I even fantasized about opening up a bookstore/cafe of my own, but obviously that never happened. What happened is that Debi Echlin came along and made my fantasy her reality. She opened A Great Good Place for Books, a tiny, cozy shop that started as a used-books place and then magically transformed (seemingly overnight) into a vibrant, beautiful bookstore that hosted readings, supported authors in countless ways, hosted Harry Potter publishing parties, and became a true gem of our community. Debi singlehandedly sold thousands of books and really spread the word about books she loved. She was the provider of monthly books for literally hundreds of local bookgroups. You can browse the bookgroup table and see stacks of books with little flags that say "Books and Broads," or "Mom-Girl Books," to see what the neighborhood is reading at any given time.

I had hoped for a long and fruitful partnership with Debi and A Great Good Place for Books. She has generously supported my fledgling in-home book reading series, by providing a book table for visiting authors for parties and readings and my house. She provided a wonderful reception for my friend Sandra Gulland, author of the fabulous Josephine Bonaparte trilogy. Debi and her readers have been avid fans of Sandra's for years, and she gave her a heroine's welcome a few summers back. When my friend Masha came to town, Debi and GGP ordered stacks of books and sold them from my living room. I had always dreamed of having my own book(s) sold by hand, exclaimed over, by that beautiful red-haired woman.

When I began hosting book events at my house, Debi and Kathleen (who also works at GGP) always instantly offered to loan me their stacks of folding chairs. So each time I held a reading I'd show up on LaSalle with my blue minivan, and they'd help me haul dozens of chairs out to the car.

I'm so sad that I won't be able to work with Debi on these home readings, which she was so enthusiastic about. Debi passed away in her sleep this Thanksgiving weekend. I am really beyond shocked. She was so vibrant, full of life, sparkling, that it is really incomprehensible that she isn't behind that counter, pointing out her latest favorite books with that incredibly warm and enthusiastic smile.

I hope that I will be able to continue the home reading series with the employees who will be keeping A Great Good Place going. I hope that you will all take the time to read a good book this week, and think of Debi.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Beautiful and Delicious Book

Sometime last year, North Atlantic Books (who published my adoption anthology, A Ghost At Heart's Edge) contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in editing a unique book "about food and love." These being two of my favorite subjects, I agreed to meet the author-artist. Cleo Papanikolas is an incredibly talented and appealing artist who works in water color and collage. I was completely taken by her beautiful art work and fascinated by the stories with mouth-watering descriptions of food. We started on a journey of editing and revision, and Cleo wrapped it all up in an impressive amount of time, right before her baby Jack was born.

The book was just released, and it is gorgeous. I was also tickled to see the prettiest acknowledgement I've ever received (my name in beautiful calligraphy, above a luscious looking pastry). This is a fabulous gift for the foodies in your life. Congrats Cleo!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Author Party at my House!

When I was getting my MFA at Mills College, I took a fascinating class called "Gender and Interpretation" with a great professor named Madeleine Kahn. I remember writing a foam-at-the-mouth dueling paper in response to another student who thought the movie "The Piano" (you remember, that great love story where a mute Holly Hunter gets her finger chopped off by her sweetheart?) was a groundbreaking feminist work. I begged to differ, and compared the movie to "The Little Mermaid," about another great mute heroine who loses part of herself in the name of love. Wow, that was a fun paper to write.

Apparently it was fascinating (and sometimes maddening) to be standing at the head of this classroom as well, and it resulted in Madeleine writing a memoir about teaching at an all-women's college.

I'm hosting a fantastic dessert-and-discussion book party for "Why Are We Reading Ovid's Handbook on Rape?" : Teaching and Learning at a Women's College at my house this Saturday night. You can indulge in the famous and delicous Pumpkin Bars, and engage in what promises to be a lively, sparky discussion. Come one come all! (but please email me to RSVP)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

It's A Boy! Book Tour

I'm pleased to be hosting a new book, It's A Boy! on its national blog book tour. I actually have a piece in the book, which may come as a surprise to those of you who know I have two daughters. The essay I wrote is about Samuel, the son we lost to pre-eclampsia in my sixth month of pregnancy. I often think about what life would have been like if he had survived. We would have had a completely different family. (oddly, I could not somehow bring myself to write or submit anything for the "It's A Girl!" book -- the material was too close to be able to say anything coherent about it) When the book arrived in the mail last week, I was so excited, but when I re-read the piece, which looked so beautiful all laid out, I was also newly devastated. I'd been eager to participate in readings for this anthology, but now I don't know if I could really manage to read this piece out loud.

Anyway, I hope those of you with boys, or without boys, or those who used to be boys, will read this book. I'm really looking forward to diving into it.

Here is the book's introduction, and
here is an interview with the editor, Andi Buchanan http://www.andibuchanan.com/qanda.html

The list of writers contributing to the book:
Stephany Aulenback, Karen Bender, Kathryn Black, Robin Bradford, Gayle Brandeis, Faulkner Fox, Katie Allison Granju, Ona Gritz, Gwendolen Gross, Melanie Lynn Hauser, Marrit Ingman, Susan Ito, Suzanne Kamata, Katie Kaput, Jennifer Lauck, Caroline Leavitt, Jody Mace, Jennifer Margulis, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Catherine Newman, Sue O'Doherty, Marjorie Osterhout, Jamie Pearson, Lisa Peet, Jodi Picoult, Maura Rhodes, Rochelle Shapiro, Kate Staples, and Marion Winik.

Some questions and answers:

From Rebecca Steinitz, contributor to the "It's a Girl" book:
Q: As you read through piles of manuscripts from mothers of boys, did you find any consistent threads? Anything surprising?
A: I was surprised by the sheer volume of pieces I got on wanting to have a daughter instead of a son. Of course, I had felt that way myself when I was pregnant and had been so attached to the idea of having two girls, but I hadn't encountered too many people in my real life who felt the same. So I surprised to get so many essays on being the reluctant mother of a son.

From Sandra of the blog Dance As If Nobody's Watching (http://www.coloransas.com/sbh.html):
Q: What seems to be the biggest thematic difference between boy-centric concerns and girl-centric concerns?
A: For both the Boy book and the Girl book, I received many essay submissions from writers who were conflicted about the sex of their baby, something I came to call "prenatal gender apprehension." But the concerns of writers in It's a Boy were about the otherness of the male gender: What the heck do you do with a boy? Some of the writers in It's a Girl ask a similar question about raising their daughters, but what prompts that question is not the fear of an unknown gender, but of knowing it all too well. Also, in Boy, writers talked about the act of separation -- letting go of teenagers and a mother's changing role as her child becomes an adult. This separation, though, was mainly about adolescents. But in It's a Girl, writers wrestled with letting go of daughters who were five, eight, nine, teenagers, grown women. Clearly – in these collections, at least -- identification and separation between mothers and daughters is a different terrain from that of mothers and sons.

From Shannon at Peter's Cross Station (http://lilysea.blogs.com/peterscrossstation/):
Q: When I first heard about the project, it sounded like yet another opportunity to make stereotyped claims about gender in children. How have you been able to avoid falling into that old rut? How did you manage to do something new in this book (these books)?
A: Well, as I said in my original call for submissions, my whole idea with this book was to refute the gender stereotypes about boys and girls, and to explore whether or not those stereotypes really exist in actual boys and girls through essays by thoughtful writers. For the BOY book, I was specifically looking for pieces that questioned the cultural assumptions we have about boys -- whether the essayists ultimately embraced the stereotypes or rejected them was not as important to me as whether or not the writers wrestled with them in the first place. So the BOY book has pieces about a mother being surprised by a son's love, since what she experienced with her son ran counter to her expectations of what a boy would be like; about a transsexual mother grappling with how to raise her son in the face of everyone's attitude that her mere presence tips the scale in the direction of him being gay; about a woman nurturing her son's desire for soft, pretty things, even though a part of her wants to protect him from the harsh, messy world that will surely not be so kind; about boys who defy stereotypes, boys who fit them, and the way mothers adjust their expectations to fit the reality of who their sons are.

From Marjorie at MomBrain (http://www.mombrain.com):
A: You have a son and a daughter. How have these projects changed your feelings about mothering a son and mothering a daughter?
Q: I think the experience of having a boy and girl has probably changed my feelings more than working on these projects has. Pre-kid I was a big nurture versus nature proponent, but now having two kids and seeing how different they are, I am more prepared to believe that children pretty much come as they are – both of mine were born with their temperaments, and I feel like my work with them is to help them either cope with that temperament or embrace it. (And that's how I think of the differences between them, by the way, as differences due to temperament, not necessarily gender.) But working on the books did give me a wonderful chance to read so many people's stories about their lives as mothers of boys or mothers of girls, and I found these tales of varied experience quite absorbing. I did come away from these projects with the distinct impression that mothering a girl can be somewhat more . . . intense or personal than mothering a boy. There's something about raising a girl that makes a mother have to confront her own girlness, and brings up her relationship with her own mother. That kind of intergenerational fraughtness just doesn't seem to be there with mothers of boys – at least in the stories in my book.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The End (almost)

It really is the end of the trail, the end of a blissful journey. I have loved these weeks here. I have loved the endless sideshow of weather (snow flurries again, today) and the solitude and the company. I have loved being far away from “civilization.” I have only left the BMC property twice this month: once, to visit the wonderful Adirondack Museum (well worth it) and once, to have watery margaritas and odd, soupy chili at the only restaurant within 12 miles (the company was good, the food was not worth leaving the grounds). I have loved not driving, and not using money except for the aforementioned two outings. (credit card purchases over the Internet don’t count, do they?) I am a little terrified of returning to the hustle and bustle of regular life, of shopping and driving and …. Aughhhh! The idea just makes me want to throw the blankets over my head and never come out.

But it makes me think, that I could do this. I really could. I could live out in west Marin or the Sierra foothills or Vermont or upstate New York, and love it. Being far away from luxuries makes these things all the more precious. We have no television here (I have loved this, although have checked up on the progress of the Gilmore Girls via the website Television Without Pity, and that has been almost as satisfying as seeing it myself). Every week a movie or two arrive from Netflix. We all gather around to watch, and it is the grand social event of the week. We have made an evening out of a bonfire, and another evening out of looking at stars from the snow-crusted lawn. We have made many, many evenings out of playing Scrabble and Dictionary, and they have been drama enough for me. I have loved just sitting around and talking, something there is never time for at home. I have really, really loved not having to consult my calendar or appointment book for this month, except for micro-managing my family’s activities three thousand miles west.

Having easy access to fantastic restaurants and a million shops and movies and shows and clubs and bookstores and what-all else we have in the Bay Area has made me feel somewhat overwhelmed, numb and annoyed. But what if you could just have a wonderful restaurant meal once a month, or every two months? I know I would look forward to it the way I was so excited about the anticipation of going out for watery margaritas and chili. I felt like a ten year old going to Disneyland (and sadly, I know ten year olds who are utterly blasé about going to Disneyland!).

Of course this has been a completely “unrealistic” life that nobody can live unless they’re obscenely wealthy and have a raft of servants to cook and shop and take care of their every need. It’s been one of the greatest gifts imaginable. But it’s also made me ponder, how I can quiet things down, simplify them. Is that possible, living in a household full of five busy people? I don’t know. But I’m going to try.

I love the slow life. I want more of it.