Ruth Reichl admits that, "Like most women, I decided who my mother was long ago, sometime during childhood." But she built up the courage to go through an old box of her mother's letters, notes, and journals, spanning a lifetime from 1924 to 1988.
As Reichl pieces together the story of her mother's life from these scraps of paper, she discovers a woman she never really knew and how much she missed by not knowing her better when she was alive. Miriam Brudno dreamed of becoming a doctor, like her father, but was discouraged by her parents who feared no one would marry her. Instead, she embarked on a more ladylike profession, opening a bookshop where she corresponded with authors and intellectuals all over the globe.
She was almost thirty when she finally married and started a family, leaving her bookshop and her dreams behind. Smart and well-educated with too little to do to fill her days, Reichl's mother and her friends were often bored, miserable, and quietly rebellious. In Not Becoming in Mother, Reichl confronts the painful transition her mother made from a hopeful young woman to an increasingly unhappy older one and comes to understand the lessons of rebellion, independence, and self-acceptance that her mother succeeded in teaching her.
"As I came to know this new person, I began to see how much I owe her. Mom may not have realized her dreams...She did not have a happy life but she wanted one for me. And she made enormous emotional sacrifices to make sure that my life would not turn out like hers."
Ruth Reichl is the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, the author of Comfort Me with Apples, Tender at the Bone, and Garlic & Sapphires, and the editor of the comprehensive Gourmet Cookbook.
She has been the restaurant critic of The New York Times and the food editor and restaurant critic of the Los Angeles Times.