Archive for July 2011

Why I Loved Nancy Drew

July 19th, 2011 — 8:50am

I was thrilled when NPR’s “All Things Considered” asked me to submit a piece for “My Guilty Pleasures” — a spoken essay segment on books we love but are embarrassed to be seen reading. I was sad they ultimately did not accept it, but hey, I have a blog! I can publish it! So, without further ado…

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By the time I was eight years old, I was a Nancy Drew addict. I’d squirrel away my meager allowance, buy a book when I could, then close the door of my pink bedroom and enter Nancy’s world.

I’m not sure why I was such a Nancy Drew devotee. I didn’t love Nancy — she was too perfect. She could play any sport, perform in any genre, and solve mysteries with just her wits and the occasional flashlight. And even though Nancy’s mother died when she was a small child, she was, unlike me, blessedly free of any neuroses.

But I devoured those books. There was something in them I was hungry for. I loved how Nancy’s father, the criminal lawyer Carson Drew, gave Nancy the freedom to solve mysteries, and how her housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, fretted over Nancy’s safety while making sure to put meat loaf, strawberry chiffon cake and other tasty dishes on the table every night.

When I was writing “Ravenous,” my food and eating memoir, I started re-reading the Nancy Drew series — “The Secret of the Old Clock,” “The Mystery of Lilac Inn.” Before I knew it, I had, once again, whipped through dozens of the books. I was trying to figure out a mystery of my own — why had these books held me so captive as a child? It wasn’t Nancy. It certainly wasn’t the writing. And then, one evening as I lingered over a description of the tea and dainty sandwiches Hannah served to Nancy and her friend, it finally hit me.

As a girl, I didn’t want to be Nancy, but oh how I wanted her world. She had so much that I didn’t – a stable home, a father who believed in her talents and gave her the freedom to explore them, and all those yummy homemade meals made for her with love. I use to revel in the descriptions of her solid, stately brick house in River Heights; her handsome father’s graying temples; the devotion of her best friends, Bess and George; and yes, her meal plans — the meatloaf, the roast beef, the mashed potatoes, the pineapple upside cake, and even the occasional vegetable.

It was all so solid — the perfect base from which Nancy’s independent spirit could soar. And soar she did, driving off in her blue roadster, making the world a better place by solving one mystery at a time.

By the time I was eight, I already knew I wanted to be a writer. And reading those books in my pink bedroom long ago, I knew that if Nancy could do what she wanted with her life, then so could I.

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Quote of the Day

July 16th, 2011 — 9:48am

“I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world.”
— Leigh,

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Happy Freedom Day, Inside and Out

July 4th, 2011 — 10:50am

I am so grateful for my life. I am grateful to live in this magnificent, imperfect country. I am grateful for my beautiful family, my health, and having birthed a book I’ve dreamed of for years. There is something truly freeing about living your dharma, doing what you know you are meant to do in the world. This did not come easy for me, nor do I take it for granted. The longer I live, the more sure I am that we cannot experience internal freedom unless we share at least some of our voice and truth with the world.

This review on Amazon made my day.


I have just finished Ravenous by Dayna Macy, and I am sad that it’s over. That is an extremely odd thing to say for me about a book – but this was such a lovely read, I actually find myself missing it – which is even more peculiar!

Ms. Macy’s book is a wonderful read for anyone interested in exploring their relationship with food, but even more so for emotional eaters, who will likely find themselves relating to many of the things she says about using food to fill an emotional need of some sort, or liking a food mostly because it bring back memories.

In the book, a chronicle of her experimentation and research into the food industry – or rather, since she explored the non-industrialized sources, more into “food-related crafts” – alternates with tales from her childhood or earlier times in her life, and as I saw patterns emerge in her own habits, so I started seeing patterns in my own. Her need, happiness, rage, sadness are all transparent, she is painfully honest and as such, she manages to craft something that is part memoir, part “documentary”, part self-help book – but always without preaching, without faking being more in control or in better shape than the reader. She manages to help you by simply being open and honest, even when it’s scary or painful; and because being that introspective requires a certain amount of courage, you can’t help but admire her, even when you are not sure her course of action is necessarily the one *you* would choose.

Even better, you can’t help but making similar reflections yourself, as her account of both her research and her life are so unabashedly sincere that you crave that for yourself – you too want to bee that candid, that straightforward about your life, your emotions, your experiences; you too want to be that determined to solve your issues, that open to trying whatever might work.

A wonderful read, one that I won’t include in the pile I bring to my monthly book swaps, but instead will have a place on my shelf, where I can reach for it again when I need inspiration!

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In Memoriam – Phil Wood, founder of Ten Speed Press

July 1st, 2011 — 12:29pm

I wrote this piece for berkeleyside on Phil Wood, founder of Ten Speed Press, who died in December. I went to his memorial service last weekend.


I first met the late Phil Wood, founder and publisher of Berkeley’s renowned Ten Speed Press, in 1986. Phil gave me my first job in publishing. For a few months I was the receptionist. After I booked an author on the Letterman show when I was supposed to be answering phones, he promoted me to publicist. In the four fabulous, fantastic years I worked at Ten Speed, I went to the Letterman Show with “White Trash Cooking” author Ernie Mickler to cook chicken feet; yelled at former Black Panther Bobby Seale, author of “Barbeque’n with Bobby,” for driving the wrong way over the George Washington Bridge and missing an important TV gig; and explained to People Magazine that a recent spate of books like “How to Shit in the Woods,” and “What Bird Did That?” did not mean we were launching a new imprint on scatology.

Phil died last December. I went to his memorial service last weekend at the UC Berkeley Alumni House. Phil had been a student at UC and when he died, he left an endowment for a Chair in Asian Art History in memory of one of his former professors. Close to two hundred people showed up, many from the local publishing world: Richard Bolles, author of “What Color is Your Parachute”; Andy Ross, literary agent and former owner of the now-closed Cody’s Books; David Goines, the graphic artist; and my former boss, George Young, Phil’s right hand man for decades. Phil’s friends and family mingled while drinking Prosecco and slurping down a seemingly endless supply of Kumamoto oysters (Phil was an oyster fan and a great gourmet).

Then began the funny, moving tribute to Phil’s remarkable life. His wife, Winifred, welcomed us, and we listened to two performers play the guzheng, a Chinese stringed instrument. We watched a slide show tribute to Phil’s life: snapshots of Phil as a baby, as a boy, and through all stages of his life, including the time I knew him best — as the bearded, rotund publisher of Ten Speed, wearing his omnipresent Hawaiian shirt and Panama hat. We saw Phil smiling with Winifred, showing off his beloved Asian antiques and stuffed gators. And we saw Phil, at 72, dying, while enjoying his last weeks of life sitting in his garden with the sun on his face.

A dozen people stood up to pay tribute. We heard stories about Phil’s time as a forest lookout, his work as a sales rep for Penguin Books, and his sharp business skills — he could buy an antique for $20 and sell it at Sotheby’s for $120,000. We heard how he published books like “The Moosewood Cookbook,” “Anybody’s Bike Book,” “What Color is Your Parachute?” and “Why Cats Paint,” chosen not by a P&L analysis but by instinct. People described him with words like “raconteur,” “complicated,” “brilliant,” “eccentric,” “enigmatic,” and “idiosyncratic.” Then a man stood up and used an altogether different word — “father.”

“In 2007, I got a call,” the man said. “I heard someone say, ‘My name is Phil Wood. I’m a publisher, and I think you might be my son.’” No one knew that Phil had fathered a child almost 50 years earlier, and after he was diagnosed with leukemia, he set out to track his son down. Soon after, Phil met his son, Scott, along with Scott’s wife and two grandchildren for the first time. “It was surreal,” Scott said, “and too short.” His eyes started to water. He couldn’t say much more, and sat down.

Towards the end of the day, we all went outside for the official Phil Wood Memorial Group photo. We donned the Hawaiian shirts that Phil’s wife had given each of us as a gift. In our sea of colors, we stood outside in the Berkeley sunshine, and as the photographer clicked his shutter, a cheer rang out: “”We love you, Phil!”

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