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Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story Hardcover – September 5, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Schaffer was working on the manuscript to his first legal thriller (Misdemeanor Man) when his father, Flip, called with an insistent invitation to a one-week baking seminar at a New York culinary institute. He doesn't look forward to the experience, as the two have never been comfortable together since the father abandoned his mentally unstable wife and left the kids behind. But Flip was dying of cancer, so Schaffer agreed to make one last effort at settling their differences. The bickering between them can be playful, but there's an emotional rawness to their conversations, and the memories they churn up, that confuses more than it heals. "I forgave. But I hate him, still," Schaffer admits. The baking class is not just a sharply focused backdrop but a buffer from the most painful revelations about the suffering Schaffer endured in adolescence—unfortunately, the class ends halfway through the memoir, and the last sections deal with his father's final days at home. The disruption to the narrative momentum is jarring, but Schaffer's dark humor holds the two stories together. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—When Schaffer's dying father telephoned him in California to invite him to take a baking class with him in New York, he was less than enthusiastic, but he accepted. This was the man who had abandoned him and his siblings to be raised by his clinically depressed "lunatic" mother. To Schaffer, his father was obnoxious, but to the other students, he was charismatic. Though the author still saw all that his father had not been to him, he began to see a more complete picture of the man as others saw him, and he realized that, in his own way, his father was asking for forgiveness. The book moves quickly; it is clever, funny, and poignant as Schaffer reveals some basic human truths that will resonate with teens. Juxtaposed with the story of the father/son relationship is the story of the baking school, including some specifics of bread making. Compare this raw relationship with the more mellow one in Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie (Doubleday, 1997).—Ellen Bell, Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596911921
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596911925
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #911,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I don't think it's possible to sum up a life as fascinating, dramatic, and exotic as mine in a few paragraphs. This is why I've written an entire book about myself (and my dramatic, fascinating, and exotic, although now deceased father) which will arrive in September 2006. The book is called Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story, and because it's more than 200 pages long, it will give you a much better sense of me than anything I can do online. I strongly recommend that you buy it. If you still have questions about who I am or what I stand for after you read it (more than once, if possible), then send me an e-mail and I'll answer all your questions.

Still, I have to say something, right? All right, fine. I was born in East Lansing, Michigan. I had no choice in the matter. That is where my parents lived at the time. Had I been asked, I would have preferred Paris, or perhaps Buenos Aires.

My mother wanted to do her psychiatry thing in the New York area, so we left Michigan in the late sixties and went to New Rochelle, a suburb half an hour north of the city, which was a fine place to grow up. Now, more than three decades later, I live in Oakland, California. A very strange and interesting circumstance is that three of my best childhood friends from the close-knit neighborhood where I grew up now live within a few miles of me in California. What does this say about New Rochelle? What does it say about California? I wouldn't dare to opine. I will say that I do not have fond memories of scraping the ice from the windshield of my mother's stationwagon at 7 a.m.

I once wrote a pretty good novel about growing up in New Rochelle, but I couldn't sell it. If you'd like to read it, send me a request at dylan@dylanschaffer.com and I'll reply with the file. It's called The Kickball War, and if it had been published, I imagine at least one review would have called it A hilarious and touching portrait of seventies suburbia through the eyes of a kid on the verge of becoming a neurotic mess. Not that the book has anything to do with me, of course.

For most of the past 15 years I've been practicing criminal appellate law in the Bay Area. I've represented hundreds of defendants in all manner of post-trial proceedings, from drunk driving cases to multiple murders. I have never tried a case. I represent the convicted'in other words, everyone who calls my office has been found guilty by a jury and sentenced, usually for long periods, to state or federal prison.

(For a sampling of the cases I've worked on, go to http://dylanschaffer.com/legal_work.htm )

Now, along with my day job, I write books, as well as notes to my wife explaining why my income has dropped so drastically in the past few years. My first, book, which I still think was a masterpiece, was Dog Stories (Chronicle Books, 1997), in which dogs declaimed about the foibles of their masters; the text accompanies terrific photographs by the genius graphics man, Jon Weber.

Then I wrote a couple novels, including the aforementioned Kickball War, and my agent said, "I can't sell these; please get me something I can sell." So I wrote the first of the Misdemeanor Man book, and the very good folks at Bloomsbury bought it, as well as the sequel.

And then I decided to take a break and write about a subject upon which I am the world's expert, that is, Dylan Schaffer. Which brings me back to my new book--Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story. You can find much more information about the new book in my blog, which I call my GLOB at www.dylanschaffer.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I could not put this book down which made it hard to get to work and keep my appointments, not to even mention getting sleep. I think I expected something mildly amusing, a respite from the reality of life, but what I found was more real than life (mine, anyway), very very touching and unbelievably funny. Even the acknowledgements were very funny. Sort of an amuse bouche - but at the end. All of you who are reading this review must already know that this is a book about a disfunctional family but what makes it unique is Dylan's compassion, his unbelievable tolerance and a week in a baking class with his very annoying father whom Dylan nonetheless loves. Dylan Schaffer I love you! I finished the book last night. I ordered your other two published books today.
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Format: Hardcover
Even though I'm not a cook by any means, this book about Dylan's journey with his father had me wishing I was right there in the cooking school with them. This author took a wholly unpleasant subject - death - and managed to chronicle it in a way that brought out the best (and the best of the worst) of his father, in the process making me laugh out loud on the subway and shed tears for a man I never knew. I can only hope that, as a writer, I am one day able to tackle such a tough topic with Dylan's extraordinary, no-BS but still tender manner.
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By Amin Ghossein on November 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What I liked best about Life , death & bialys is the tone of the

speaking voice, which reminded me of something Glen Gould once said of

Chopin : he should be played with austerity. Dylan Schaffer voice's

speaks of emotions with restraint, using detours, leaveing room for

the reader's emotions to pitch in and bring a passage to life.

Although the narrative, in general, is matter of fact and funny, it draws its full meaning from sentences that hide pain and grief rather then expose them.

As if words were too shallow to convey what is too heavy for them ,

without caving in. To speak of his father leaving home (read leaving

him) Schaffer will say : "Half a tree did not decide one day to move across the park". The detour one can apply to the book as a whole : how does one speak of the impending death of a father, even one who has left you at an early age, except through some down to earth event such as a cooking class? "Competing urges " keep the narrative moving, the author forever pulled between two poles: "bury my face and bowl" or "hit", the

polarity creating an unsetled/unsetling feeling. Until the very end. There a sentence opens up the narrative as if a flash back for a new reading:

"When it was my turn to handle the bag, I tipped it into my palm,

letting the ashes collect on my hand and spillover unto the ground. My tears fell down unto my palms."
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Format: Hardcover
Dylan Schaffer is an exceptionally good writer, thoughtful, empathetic. Moreover, he has a story to tell. I recommend this book to anyone interested in, or enmeshed in, an especially fraught parental relationship. I read the book over about 36 hours, thanks in large part to Dylan Schaffer's prose, but also because I have a personal interest in the subject. Alan Schaffer hired me as a visiting assistant professor of history in 1979, and I taught at Clemson until leaving for a senior post elsewhere in 1995.

I had a fraught relationship with Alan as department head. Alan liked to pick scapegoats among the junior faculty, and I served in that role for several years. I noted traits in Alan that Dylan Schaffer mentions: arbitrariness, difficulty hewing to the truth, being an expert on everything, lecturing other experts on their own fields. (Example: We understood that Alan had written a scholarly book, only to be forestalled by another. However, the alleged book in question was said to be a biography of Scott Joplin, not a monograph on the Federal Writers Project.) I would add others: Alan liked to stir up trouble in order to see how colleagues would react. He liked to give tsurris to the junior faculty especially. He was imperious, again with the junior, untenured faculty. (Example: he once called me in to complain that I didn't have enough office hours, and urged me to model myself after the senior faculty. I looked up the office hours of the most senior professor in the department, and promptly reduced mine by two.) I ended up not acknowledging his existence, save to transact necessary business. After I resigned to go elsewhere, Alan came to tell me that he could not understand why I treated him so.
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Format: Hardcover
Recipe for Male Bonding: take one adult son, a eccentric, charismatic and recalcitrant father who abandoned him decades prior, and a week baking bialys at the French Culinary Institute in New York. The shorthand of this is Tuesdays With Morrie Meets City Slickers Boulangerie, spiced with a small measure of Catcher in the Rye, Grown Up. But it would be wholly unfair to reduce this superb non-fiction book, which reads like the best of can't-it-down family fiction into a few cliches of other works. This is a classic tale but told both better and different. It is finely crafted, flavored with humor, insight, regret, anger and love - all spilling over into each batch of dough.

Dylan Schaffer is a criminal lawyer by profession, a writer by calling, and a baker by inspiration. He signs on for a postponed week with Dad - ostensibly to learn to bake and get to know the father who got away, leaving Schaffer in the chaotic care of the parent that stayed. His agenda is as much about trying to make a Phoenix rise out of the ashes of a non-functioning relationship as it is to finally get to ask a man's questions, wired with a teenage boy's hurt and unflinching gaze of judgment and bewilderment.

In-between the baguettes, lavosh and best bialy ever, the questions are indeed asked - each rife with a lawyer's hunger for absolute, unembellished truth of their family drama and the hopes of even minimalist forgiveness before the final bread is baked and/or the narrowing window of opportunity closes. Schaffer weaves episodes of past and present effortlessly, deftly fusing the experiences of immediacy (the bakery of the FCI with its own cast or characters) with quick sketches of memory; the ghosts that haunt father and son, albeit with their different perspectives.
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