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How I Learned to Cook: And Other Writings on Complex Mother-Daughter Relationships Paperback – March 25, 2004


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New and Popular Cookbooks for Fall
Get inspired with new and popular cookbooks and other food-related titles in Fall into Cooking.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher / Penguin (March 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585422916
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585422913
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #518,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mom-daughter relationships can be fraught with competition, hostility and, in some cases, threats about rat poison. Hillary Gamerow, who writes this anthology's title essay, describes a brittle, frightening mother who casually mentions one night that she's spiked the tuna casserole and that the whole family is doomed. She tells Gamerow, "In a couple of hours, you'll start getting pains in your stomach and you'll start foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. You know what 'rabid' means, right?" And this memory isn't even the book's most horrifying. Readers meet scary mothers of every stripe, from abusive to frosty. However, this isn't a pop psychology tome, where daughters write as a form of catharsis and achieve deep understanding by story's end. Every writer in the collection has such mixed feelings about her maternal force that acceptance isn't always a given. Some do find an untidy satisfaction and feminine truce, but it often seems fragile, as when Vivian Gornick, as an adult, confronts her maudlin mom about the nature of love and is rewarded by having to cower in the bathroom as her mother drives a fist through the door's frosted glass panel. These stories offer a remarkable display of confusion, helplessness and anger mixed with adoration and love, as well as formidable talent, with contributions from Alice Walker, Paula Fox, Joyce Maynard, Jamaica Kincaid and others. Although the range of writers makes for a mix of class and race, each woman's experience in being a daughter, and sometimes in becoming a mother, keeps the collection tightly focused.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Far from the comforting stories of mother-daughter bonding that might be anticipated from this anthology's title and cozy cover photo, the perceptive, cathartic essays collected here mostly recount loveless, dysfunctional relationships. Paula Fox is brutally honest in her description of being shuffled by her parents from orphanage to various relatives to boarding school, with only occasional visits home, one of which includes her mother's ultimatum to her father, "Either she goes or I go." Others recall mothers addicted to personality-morphing prescription drugs, mothers so thoroughly abused they never really were mothers, mothers who were mentally ill, and mothers who chose to ignore their husbands' inappropriate sexual attention to their daughters. Jamaica Kincaid's most vivid memory of childhood is that of her mother setting fire to her beloved books--punishment for failing to change her brother's diaper. Several essays are enlightening, most notably psychoanalyst Kim Chernin's tale of growing up the child of Communist parents in the McCarthy era. Curiously uplifting, since most readers' experiences, no matter how deficient, will seem glowing in comparison. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Felicia Sullivan on April 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
Review by Summer Lopez for Small Spiral Notebook:
When we are very little, we see our mothers only as we want to see them-all powerful and perfect. The older we get, the more we realize how untrue-and unfair-that perception is. How I Learned to Cook is a gripping look at the truth about mothers and daughters, and the matchless strength of the bonds we share. That is not to say it is a book full of heartwarming mother-daughter tales. The authors of these stories have reached deep into the vaults of their childhood memories, often exposing pain but always revealing the powerful affect of their mothers in their lives. As adults, they are able to look back and see their mothers as the very real and often very flawed women that they were and are. In some cases the scars of childhood are strong, and one can sense that the writer is still seeking answers and explanations, but in other stories there is an echo of love strengthened through time and understanding. None of these mothers is one-dimensionally caring or cruel, and this lovely and heartbreaking anthology is full of the explorations of this most complex of relationships.
Perin points out in the Introduction that fear of betraying or demeaning the image of the mother or one's own mother has kept many women from telling the truth of the pain inflicted on them in childhood by women who were supposed to protect them from all things. How I Learned to Cook brings some such examples painfully to life. There is Ruth Kluger's mother who, upon arriving in Auschwitz-Birkenau, calmly suggests to Ruth that they go together and throw themselves against the electric fencing. Or Hillary Gamerow's, who tells her young daughter simply one night that she has put rat poison in the family's dinner, and that they will all die in their sleep.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lucy on March 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
Anyone with a mother will love this book! The diversity of the mother /daughter relationship could not be more beautifully and often painfully described in this poignant and moving anthology. I found pieces and memories of my mother and myself that I had not revisited and thought were long since gone. The authors in the incredible anthology bravely and fearlessly explore this most primal and complex relationship. Right after I read the book I went out and bought it for my mother and my sisters. I bow down to Margo Perin for the vision to compile such a powerful group of stories and to have the courage to write about her own mother with such honesty. Run, don't walk to get this book!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Christine L. Demarco on June 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
Kudos to Margo Perin for taking the mythical and psuedo-religious sense of the Mother Daughter Relationship out of the closet by showing us the truth. Sometimes Mom isn't loving or nice. Within the scope of these stories we see that our family is our first and most important community. Our young hearts, before they are broken, are wide open and expectant of love, however fragile our connection. Margo Perin has put together a collection of true stories by very talented and brave women who faced the truth of parental abuse and named it while offering healing, hope and love in the same breath.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
No, the stories aren't all roses and puppy dogs--but they are realistic, and well-written. Alice Walker, Jamaica Kincaid, Paula Fox, Kim Chernin--an excellent lineup. I was most impressed by the heavy-hitters, like those listed above; but I was also pleasantly surprised to discover new talents, like Elizabeth Payne, whose mother isn't "terrible", but only mysterious and dealing with the pain of a broken marriage. This collection will enlarge your perspective on your own relationship with Mom.
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