Review

Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way

by Ruth Reichl

It's Mother's Day, so books about mothers and daughters, and
relationships both good and bad, are everywhere. Therefore, it's
not surprising that this week I read NOT BECOMING MY MOTHER by Ruth
Reichl. After a trio of wonderful, funny and honest memoirs about
her life --- as a chef, as a critic and writer, as a mom and wife,
as editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine --- Reichl
has moved into the most personal territory she's encountered in all
her travels: her life with her mother. Or, rather, the life she is
living because of her mother that she didn't realize she is living
because of her mother. Does that make any sense?

In NOT BECOMING MY MOTHER, Reichl argues that the letters she
found after her mother passed away became an illumination into the
sacrifices and suffering her mother endured in a time when women
didn't have the opportunities they do now --- suffering that made
possible the opportunities that young women today take for
granted.

Reichl's mother, Miriam, wanted to be a doctor, but ended up
opening a bookstore instead, enchanting and befriending scores of
famous friends and suitors throughout the endeavor, including Max
Eastman and Bertrand Russell, who carried a major torch for her.
She was smart, but not beautiful in a conventional sense, something
that would plague her thoughts throughout her life. Her letters and
remembrances are replete with these types of sadness --- and a
depressive nature that she hoped she wouldn't hand down to her
daughter.

Miriam wanted her daughter to enjoy the benefits of both beauty
and intelligence. Of course, as Reichl points out, she came of age
in the ’60s, in a time when love and fancy weddings and
everything else from Miriam's world was done at an angle, with a
twist, with an edge. Reichl rebelled against the expectations of
what she thought was her mother's kingdom, when, in actuality, her
rebelling was exactly what Miriam wanted, in a sense.

The portrait of her mother is unerringly honest; there are dark
and light truths mixed together to make a positive and fascinating
story. Reichl has had opportunities and reached places her mother
could only have hoped to see. However, the sentiments that she
encounters in her mother's letters make for a truly revelatory
memoir, written with her usual combination of frankness and
funniness. This Mother's Day, the medium is a message: NOT BECOMING
MY MOTHER is a story all mothers and daughters will understand.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 13, 2011

Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way
by Ruth Reichl

  • Publication Date: April 21, 2009
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
  • ISBN-10: 1594202168
  • ISBN-13: 9781594202162