In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, Ava Chin discusses some of the things she’s learned foraging for edible plants within New York City limits—but that’s only half the story of Eating Wildly. She also writes about growing up as the only daughter of an emotionally distant single mother and grandparents who encouraged her to enjoy many different types of foods, and how that—and what happened when she finally connected with her father—shaped her adult relationships. As our conversation turned to some of Chin’s favorite memoirists, we talked about how her method of combining personal reflections with recipes echoes Molly Wizenberg, and then she cited Patti Smith’s Just Kids:
“It’s not just that it’s written by Patti Smith and she’s an amazing writer; it’s not just that she’s Patti Smith and she’s writing about her relationship with Mapplethorpe, or that it’s New York in the ’70s… It’s all those things plus—what she did was she wrote following the heat of the story, the emotional heart of her story. And I think that’s necessary to have readers turn the page and to be thoroughly engaged in the narrative.”
Chin could have simply written about foraging and the ways that it’s affected how she thinks about food and her place in the food economy; after all, she’d been writing on the subject online at the New York Times for several years. But “I didn’t want this book to be a guidebook,” she explained. “I felt like I needed to tell this story in a way that a 700-word blog post, even a series of them, couldn’t.” In doing so, she was able to confront the identity that others had imposed on her from before she was even born and take the steps towards redefining herself in a more fulfilling way.
Listen to Life Stories #80: Ava Chin (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)
9 August 2014 | life stories |
photo: Emilee Booher
Going Somewhere is a memoir of a bicycle trip Brian Benson took from his home in Wisconsin to his new girfriend’s home in Portland, Oregon, and it’s the kind of story that, even as it explains just what a huge pain in the ass a trip like that could be, might well get you thinking it’d be cool to undertake a similar journey, preferably with someone you love. Benson’s certainly still up for long bike journeys—in fact, he just spent a month riding around Wisconsin, MInnesota and Illinois, stopping along bookstores and libraries along the way. What possessed him to undertake such a physically exerting method of travel from one public appearance to the next? He explains in this guest essay…
Last winter, I went to Powell’s to see a favorite author discuss her new book. For most of the event, I was enraptured. I loved listening to how she read her own work, and appreciated hearing her talk, with grace and humor, about her teaching, her process, her doubts. But then, toward the end of the Q&A, someone asked her how it felt, really, to be on book tour. And this favorite author of mine sighed, and shifted her weight, and proceeded to tell us that her publisher made her take these tours, which, really, she found to be quite antiquated. Soon enough, she was talking about flight delays, traffic, jet lag.
As I listened, I started to feel queasy. I mean, it wasn’t like I was surprised to learn that travel could be taxing. I just couldn’t believe she was saying so, out loud, to her audience. Since I (like probably everyone who attends author readings) had long dreamt of publishing a book, I tended to expect those who’d done so to spend their behind-the-podium time projecting weapons-grade gratitude. Suffice it to say, I certainly did not expect them to complain about the very thing I so deeply desired.
Over the coming weeks, I stewed on this quite a bit. But the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit that I kind of saw her point. Taking a conventional book tour did seem pretty challenging—and in a very familiar way.
6 August 2014 | guest authors |