Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Auntie X and Auntie Y
Every time I sit in on a discussion of my novel, I learn something new. Last night I attended the meeting of a local book group, and it was no exception. This was a group of perhaps ten women who have been meeting monthly for over ten years. I was invited because one member emailed me while she was reading the novel. She grew up in Detroit, in all the same neighborhoods and schools and synagogues that inhabit my book, and she was moved to contact me. One thing led to another, and there I was in another warm living room with people who have rich, interlocking relationships with each other, who love to read books, and who take the time and trouble to gather to discuss them. It's enough to give one hope for the world.
The discussion ranged widely around social issues and urban issues and "white flight" and migration patterns in Chicago, New Haven, and other parts of the country. The book group members discussed Harry and Ruth and Curtis and Alvin, asked questions about my process and my background, and shared stories of their own. Then, one woman mentioned the Chanukah party that takes place in the chapter called "Family." In particular, what she focused on were the latkes--the "good" latkes and the "bad" latkes.
In the picture above, you see what I think of as good latkes. One sign of a good latke is that the batter was grated by hand (not in a food processor or from a mix). How can I tell that this batter was hand grated? The well-defined potato shards. This is essential to a good, crisp latke. The latkes in the above photo are also golden, and you can thus be sure that they are very crisp. Now . . .
The issue that the woman in the book group raised is that when you are seated at a table with these two plates of latkes, which are you going to eat? Are you going to be polite and eat one of Auntie X's soggy latkes so that hers don't sit untouched? Will you forgo Auntie Y's golden crispy ones just to make Auntie X feel appreciated? Will you forgo Auntie Y's crispy ones and settle for Auntie X's soggy ones so that others can enjoy the superior product (the martyr approach)? How will it look if the crispy pile disappears in a minute, and the soggy pile remains all evening? Perhaps more important, how will Auntie X feel about Auntie Y (perhaps they are sisters) as a result of this latke affair, and vice versa? There is always the possibility, of course, that some will prefer the soggy latke, that they don't see them as "soggy" at all but pleasantly accessible.