Above: NYT, September 4, 2019. Lemon-soda-buttermilk-parfait.
Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Colin King.
Two years ago I was invited to give a reading in New York. My husband Andrew came with me and, naturally, we added museums and restaurants to the trip. One evening we went to Prune, a wonderful place on East 1st Street (now regrettably closed) run by chef Gabrielle Hamilton and her wife. As the server ran through the dessert offerings, one of them a multi-layered lemon parfait, I interrupted — I think I’ve read this recipe. Quite likely, he said. It had run in the New York Times just a few weeks earlier.
Lemon is my favorite dessert flavor. That alone would have gotten my attention, but Gabrielle’s description was even more memorable. The parfait is complicated. It requires hours of time and an eagerness for a challenge. One way to think of it, she wrote, is that it is perfect “for those of us who think a beach vacation is the best time to finally read Anna Karenina all the way through.”
With summer upon us, I am thinking, maybe even obsessing, about what I will read. There are many kinds of beach reads, but Gabrielle’s comment about Anna Karenina perfectly captures an approach I like. Hours at the beach, without the nagging feeling that I should be doing something else, lets me really dig into a book, even a long one with confusing Russian names.
But this year, it won’t be Anna Karenina. Instead, I’ve lined up two group biographies, both about women. The Agitators, by Dorothy Wickenden, portrays three women who lived in the mid-1800s and fought for women’s rights and against slavery: Harriet Tubman, a conductor on the Underground Railroad; Francis Seward, wife of William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State; and her neighbor, Martha Coffin Wright, an outspoken, contrarian Quaker. The women met in upstate New York and became comrades in the linked causes of abolition and equality. https://bookshop.org/books/the…
I also plan to read Anna Malaika Tubbs’s book, The Three Mothers. It covers the lives of the mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin. Like the women in The Agitators, their stories are not about what happened in the White House or Congress, or on the battlefield. They center on values taught at the kitchen table. As it happens, such things move history. https://bookshop.org/books/the…
It’s exciting that books like these are getting literary kudos. By focusing on overlooked women and widening the angle into history, they expand the genre of “life writing,” as the Brits like to call it. This is the space where my book fits too.
In another newsletter, I’ll share more thoughts on how women moved history. But for now, I’ll close with a question – what are you planning to read this summer? Look for reader suggestions in the July newsletter.