What She’s Reading Now: Miriam Peskowitz
Contributor
I’m thrilled to bring you this first installment of a new regular feature here at the SHE WRITES blog. Miriam Peskowitz is the author of several books, including The Daring Book for Girls (and the follow-up The Double-Daring Book for Girls) and The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother?, and some academic books besides, having spent her youthful 20’s earning a PhD. In addition to writing, she has been a camp counselor, a musician, a blogger, a documentary talking-head, an historian and a professor. She has two daughters, and lives with them and her husband in an old house in Philadelphia. We asked Miriam what's she's reading now, and here's what she had to say. Links to the books she mentions coming soon. Enjoy!-Deborah Last fall, my local indie bookstore asked me, along with other Philadelphia authors, to respond to the question “What are you reading now?” For the effort of responding, the book would be pulled from its obscure spot on the shelves, and displayed prominently with a card declaring: “What Miriam Peskowitz is Reading Now.” Because it is a very serious indie bookstore, in a serious and smart neighborhood, the request invoked in me just a small amount of terror. I admit to a few days spent sorting through just which of the several titles on my night table and desk might take the honor. It wouldn’t do, it seemed, to reveal to the world that I’d been reading Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts. It’s a favorite from my older daughter’s shelf, and she’d been asking me to read it along with her. No, no. I told the serious bookstore that I’d been reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Think About When I Think About Running. It was true, certainly. I had been reading Running, and had been deeply affected by it. I especially loved the small paragraph where Murakami tells us that he runs in order to write. Never have I read a better description of the physical effort it takes to write, of the muscular toll of sitting still, of the body connected with all the mindful focus it takes to put words together on the page. Now it’s summer, and a similar “What are you reading now?” request from Kamy and Deborah here at SHE WRITES popped into my inbox in the midst of a delightful, early summer family vacation at my parents’ home. The timing helped me see the error of my Murakami ways. On summer vacation, one is rarely tempted to toss out the texture of everyday reading for the performance of seriousness. So without further ado, here is a very honest list of what I’m reading now, along with some choices by those around me, since it is a family vacation. 1. On my recently finished list is Flush, Carl Hiassen’s YA novel. Why am I reading YA novels, you may ask, (setting aside the compelling reason that they are short and finishable, as distinct from the many unfinished novels at my bedside)? I am in a mother-daughter book group with my eldest daughter, and Flush is next month’s reading selection. This time around, I got to it first, because we thought I should vet it; I can now report that although the word “jackass” is used two times and there’s some intimation of sex, none happens on screen, so to speak, and I think the book is okay for my ten year old. We do many things to protect childhood around my house, and YA topics have gotten increasingly more mature and adult in the past few years. 2. Also on the recently finished list is Wendy Wasserstein’s Elements of Style, returned to me by my mom three days into my vacation, which probably means I’ve done enough dishes and am generally being well-enough behaved to earn it back. I did love Wasserstein’s last, posthumously published novel. For most of the pages, Elements of Style reads like a callow Upper East Side glamour novel of manners, a “Gossip Girl” for grown-ups, where the anonymous blogger is replaced by a studious and middle-aged physician named Frankie. Three pages from the end, however, WW turns it all around, writing of Frankie: “She no longer had a lingering belief, like Jil, that they knew how to live better than anyone else. Or that by being in their light she’d become imbued with their glow.” The final pages are magnificent and calm. 3. Speaking of my mother, I asked, and she’s reading Donna Leon’s Death and Judgment. Likely it’s a selection for one of her two reading groups, and she’ll get to discuss it with the ladies. She said she thought I’d like it. 4. My dad finished his library copy of Dean Koontz’s Your Heart Belongs to Me. At 4 pm, I found him at the dining room table, celebrating with a glass of red wine. He told me I wouldn’t like it, which of course sent me running to read the book jacket and got me hooked right away. 5. My husband Rob is reading Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead. He promises to toss it over to my side of the bed when he’s done, though that might take a while, since like many of us he reads in five minute chunks before bedtime. 6. My older, almost eleven-year-old daughter is reading Yes We Can, the YA bio of President Obama by Garen Thomas. She reads in between splashing in our friends’ pool and watching the Wimbledon matches on TV, and thanking the universe for the time difference that brings her live sports in the morning. 7. At bedtime, I read to my three-year-old daughter an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.” I hadn’t read or thought about the Ugly Duckling for many years. I am hearing the elegance of the sentences, and the caring tone in which if you just wait and wade through life, ugliness turns into beauty. 8. Who said the only things that count are books? Not I! My dream is to find a book club that reads say, a single short story or a good essay each month, so I don’t have to fake having read the whole book, or skip through a hundred pages in the middle. Anyway, earlier today I read Ariel Levy’s New Yorker piece on Nora Ephron (thanks to a SHE WRITES suggestion). Two days ago I read “Show or Tell?”, Louis Menand’s New Yorker piece on creative writing programs. I found it fascinating. I’ve never stepped foot in a creative writing program. I learned to write in a PhD program, where no one seemed to care much about your sentences or style, so long as your five hundred footnotes were formatted correctly. I’ve considered myself lucky to learn on the job. Writing a book for Leslie Miller, my editor several years back at Seal Press, was like having a one-on-one MFA tutorial. I am ever grateful to my pal Meredith Broussard for sharing with me the fruits of her Columbia MFA, whether it’s the finer points of plotting a screenplay narrative arc, or a detailed tell-all about the names of the different sections of a magazine. Thanks Mer. 9. Honorable Mentions go to books resting in a not-always-neat pile on my night table. From each of these treasures I was nurtured, whether by a paragraph or a page. Each was read despite the daily family clamor for breakfast, lunch and dinner; despite serial badminton matches on the front lawn; despite occasional boating expedition to Crab Creek in which too many adults and children piled into a pair of kayaks, and somehow, happily survived: * One half page from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Because it’s been in the nightstand for several months, and because even a small paragraph can refresh my spirit and remind me of the sound of great writing. * Three pages of The Red Trailer Mystery, #2 in the Trixie Belden mystery series. Because I found an old copy last Saturday at a yard sale on Rebel Road (and I swear I am not making up the name of this small but fabulous street). *Several paragraphs from Peter Cashwell’s The Verb ‘To Bird.’ Because on those overcrowded kayak trips I spotted an osprey parent and child flying overhead, and watched a white egret plucking fish from the marsh. It’s all quite wondrous, and Cashwell’s lovely book translates that sense of awe. What are YOU reading now? SHE WRITES wants to know!

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  • I love your dream of a book club that reads shorter articles or short stories, Miriam -- I lobbied for that with my last book club when we all got very busy having babies and such, but we ended up slowly disbanding instead. I love books, but what if "book club" just became "reading club" now and then? Even one poem could be an hour of discussion and everyone participating...

    I'm simultaneously reading If The Buddha Came to Dinner by Hale Sophia Schatz (re-reading, actually, love this book!), Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver. I like to have one spiritual-type, one practical and one story-type book going at a time, to cover any mood. And always cookbooks, various news articles and blogs, and Writer magazine, and Body & Soul magazine, too!