Book Review: Making Toast, Roger Rosenblatt

Roger Rosenblatt’s Making Toast (HarperCollins, 2010) is a book I stumbled across on a table display in good ol’ Barnes and Noble. I had never heard of it before, but the title caught my eye and once I read the back cover copy, I decided to go for it. Marketing strategies at work, people!

Premise

When the author’s only daughter, Amy, unexpectedly dies at age thirty-four from a rare heart condition, everyone she leaves behind is hurtled into the fog that comes with figuring out how to lead a life you no longer understand. For Roger and his wife, Ginny, this means rediscovering how to traverse the world of small children, as they leave their home to move in with Harris, their son-in-law, and their three grandchildren, Jessie, Sammy, and James (“Bubbies”), ages seven, four, and one, respectively. Suddenly thrust back into the world of birthday parties, soccer games, and bedtime stories, Roger and Ginny learn to take each day in stride. Three generations come together as Roger, Ginny, Harris, and the children begin to reassemble their lives, reconstruct their family, and support each other as they navigate the course of their grief.

Review

The main issue I take with many memoirs is the sense of self-importance that can so often accompany this genre. It’s understandable, I suppose, given the nature of telling your own story. (That’s where a good editor comes in!) However, Making Toast does not for one second fall into that sticky tar pit. Instead, Rosenblatt paints a witty, honest portrait of grief, showing us that it is—perhaps surprisingly—rather other-centric.

Making Toast follows a relatively nonsequential (though loosely chronological) format; for anyone well-acquainted with grief, you know this is the only way to write a book like this. Your endeavor to keep up with the hops, skips, and jumps of Rosenblatt’s flashbacks, memories, and present-day activities earns you a day pass to the surface level of Rosenblatt’s grief experience. This entails most notably his unabated anger at a God who shows no benevolence and whose presence will not be found with their family. Unfortunately, the book never seems to penetrate any further than this, as Rosenblatt keeps up a wall around his deeper feelings, leaving you constantly wishing to see just a little bit more.

The most impactful aspect of this book was the reminder to me of what a beautiful thing it is to be known. Several sections of Making Toast focus simply on personality traits and quirks of the characters—Jessie’s favorite winter coat, Bubbies’s way of sitting with his hands locked behind his head, Harris’s stoicism, Sammy’s favorite Power Ranger, each child’s breakfast preferences as R0senblatt engages in “the one household duty [he has] mastered”: making toast. And Amy. Amy as a child, Amy as a teen, Amy in medical school, Amy the doctor, Amy the wife, Amy the mother.

It is in this subtle, quiet way that Rosenblatt reveals the depth of his emotion for his family. Through his awareness of each person, that close familiarity gained through the intimacy of family and tragedy, he pays tribute to each family member. Toward the end of the narrative, Rosenblatt gives voice to my own thoughts:

“Odd that I seem to know Amy more completely in death than I did when she was alive. I do not know her any better . . . but there was so much life that I was unaware of until now. The distance of death reveals Amy’s stature to me” (141-42).

A testament to the powerful force of a united family, Rosenblatt’s memoir reminds us all of the human capacity to live with grief without ceasing to love. However, there is no room for sentimentality in Making Toast. There are books to be read, children to be raised, and, of course, toast to be made.

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Cooking Craze

I stayed away from Pinterest as long as I could bear it; I really did. But I caved a few months back and since then I have been your typical pinning fanatic. It might be one of the main reasons I haven’t spent as much time blogging. It’s just so darn awesome! My favorite part of the site is its handiness as a digital reservoir for all the delicious recipes I stumble upon in my day-to-day life as a food junkie (I’m nowhere near fancy enough to qualify myself as a foodie). Just the other day I decided I had to create separate boards for my “sweets” and my “savories” because there were getting to be too many recipes to handle on one board.

I thought I’d offer up a few of my favorite treats that I’ve made thus far! I didn’t take photos of every dish I made; sometimes I was just too hungry for that!

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Time Warp

Pearls, how I have failed thee! It has been far, far too long since I’ve posted on my lovely blog, but I’m planning to change that (look, I’m doing it right now!). Life has been a blur lately–a kaleidoscope of emotions, events, victories, losses, and, well . . . life. Just like everyone else in the world, my life is crazy at times and obviously I’ve been a busy bee since Thanksgiving. Buzz, buzz.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but here are a few highlights of the past seven months: a mugging at gunpoint (I kid you not); an onslaught of work; falling out of love; getting to know myself and my God; falling in love; spending four hours trapped in a tent by a feral hog (again, I kid you not);  and learning, learning, learning (dare I say growing?!).

All this has left little time for recreational reading, but I’m hoping, praying, desperate for that to change soon. Until then, I leave you (and by “you,” I mean myself) with the reminder that through all the joys and hurts, hope is always within arm’s reach.

All around hope is springing up from this old ground. Out of chaos life is being found in You.”

–Gungor, “Beautiful Things”

{Check it out here.}

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Happy Thanksgiving!

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

–Virginia Woolf

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“And miles to go before I sleep.”

There are few things that can make me more introspective than the arrival of cold weather. The whole world seems to slow down, take a deep breath, and turn in on itself for warmth. Just thinking about it prompts an involuntary sigh of contentment from me.

So many things have gone on in my life in the past three months–what feels like the whole spectrum of the good, the bad, and the ugly–and there’s nothing like approach of winter to remind me to just chill (glorious pun intended) and enjoy everything God has given–is giving–to me. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what I want out of life, both personally and professionally. It’s an exciting—albeit overwhelming–activity! There is so much that I want to do in this world; to speak in clichés, there’s so much to do and so little time. Worrywart that I am, this bothers me greatly! But then I discovered this Tom Clancy quote:

The only way to do all the things you’d like to do

is to read.

Well played, Tom, old boy. Well played indeed.

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“Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt”

I recently loaned a friend my copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, complete with underlines from the class I took when I first read it. Flipping through it when I got it back, looking at my underlines and brackets and asterisks, I realized again how awesome Vonnegut is. I don’t claim to “get” everything he does, but that doesn’t keep it from stirring something deep in my soul. (Now, of course, I’ve added Slaughterhouse-Five to my “to reread” list.)

It made me think of an article I read awhile back that I just loved. Put out by the A.V. Club, “15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will” is full of some of the best Vonnegut quotes of all time. Its one failing is that it doesn’t have my favorite quote–the title of this post–listed. I suppose I can forgive them their oversight.

I encourage you to read the whole article; I promise it’s really not that long! But in case you’re not feeling up to it, below are my favorites of the selected quotes. I was going to go with a top five, but I couldn’t make it less than seven. Just read the article!

  • “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” —A Man Without A Country
  • “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” —God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
  • “She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing.” —Cat’s Cradle
  • “There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too.” —Mother Night
  • “That is my principal objection to life, I think: It’s too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.”  —Deadeye Dick
  • “So it goes.” —Slaughterhouse-Five
  • “We must be careful about what we pretend to be.” —Mother Night

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True Life: I’m Addicted to Books

Seriously. I have a sickness. I cannot not buy books. I can’t walk by a table of them and not pick one up and feel the neeeeeeed to see what delicious literary feast (or, let’s be honest, half-warmed TV dinner) awaits me within its pages! And if I stumble upon a local bookstore, I’m a lost cause. I’ll tried my hardest to singlehandedly keep that store afloat–at least for another day.

Complementing this problem is the fact that reading for nine hours a day at work and then going home to continue reading doesn’t quite work out all the time (curse you, eyes!). So you can understand that this of course means that I have a whole section of my bookshelf dedicated solely to books I haven’t read yet. Books just begging me to crack their spines, crease their pages, and fall in love with their characters. Drool.

I want nothing more than to grab a giant stack of books, run away from life to a log cabin in the mountains, and camp out until I’ve finished all of them. Alas . . . real life is rude and just won’t let me do that. So I’m left with prioritizing what I want to read next. Here are my current top three to-be-read-as-soon-as-humanely-possible books:

You guys, I want to see this movie! But (surprise, surprise) I've just got to read the book first!

 

 

Tina Fey's writing made me smile from the first line I read in the store. I am pumped!

Somehow this book missed all my required reading lists, which is probably a good thing because now I'm actually excited at the prospect of reading it.

 

 

 

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