02 December 2011

Imprint Friday: The Smartest Woman I Know by Irene Beckerman

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

One of the casualties of modern, mobile life is the special connection between grandchild and grandparent that develops when the two generations live close enough to affect each other's lives. In The Smartest Woman I know, Irene Beckerman honors that bond and remembers the pearls of wisdom she gathered from her grandmother Ettie.

It’s been said there’s nobody as smart as an old woman. That’s Gingy’s grandmother, Ettie, though she had no more than a third-grade education. She dispensed unforgettable wisdom to Gingy and her sister, Tootsie, as well as to the customers at her and (her husband) Mr. Goldberg’s stationery and magazine store, where customers ranged from Irish nannies to Sara Delano Roosevelt to Marlene Dietrich. Clever about life and love, food and men, Ettie had advice for everyone, and it didn’t hurt that she got some of her best ideas from talking things over with God, out loud.

Known for bringing wit and emotion to issues that concern women, depth and poignancy to subjects as seemingly trivial as clothes, beauty, and bridesmaids, Gingy now magically brings the irrepressible Ettie Goldberg to life.
I was fortunate to know both my grandmothers well. They lived within a few miles of my childhood home and thus were a true part of my everyday life. And because they lived into their mid-nineties, I was able to know them through adult eyes. And like Irene Beckerman's, my life was enriched by grandmotherly wisdom.

The Smartest Woman I Know is part memoir and part tribute to Beckerman's grandmother Ettie. Owing to circumstances that Beckerman does not discuss, she moved in with her grandparents in 1947 at the age of twelve. This slim volume, which recounts life in the Goldberg household in New York's Upper East Side, is a refreshing, loving story of a special woman and is devoid of contemporary dysfunctional drama.

Using fun illustrations, self-deprecating humor, and an informal style, Beckerman remembers the ups and downs of her teen years and her grandparents' relationship. Ettie and her outlook on life will touch your heart.

To give you a feel for the book, I'd like to share some of Ettie's advice to her granddaughter:
  • After complaining about her looks: "There's nothing wrong with how you look . . . even Rita Hayworth doesn't look so good in the morning." (p. 42)
  • After an embarrassing incident at work: "Never worry what anybody thinks. Only worry what God thinks." (p. 63)
  • Commenting on three spinster sisters who did good works: "Sometimes life is all about the song you sing." (p. 75)
  • At high school graduation: "Smart people are smart because they make smart choices. There are some things maybe you want to do, but you don't do them good. It wouldn't be smart to choose them to make a living." (p. 97)
I wholeheartedly recommend The Smartest Woman I Know to readers of all ages and especially to those who had wise grandmothers. It's absolutely perfect for holiday gift-giving or as a stocking-stuffer. I guarantee you'll read this touching memoir more than once.

Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

The Smartest Woman I Know at Powell's
The Smartest Woman I Know at Book Depository
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Published by Workman / Algonquin Books, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781565125377

10 comments:

Julie P. 12/2/11, 7:03 AM  

I almost picked up this book a few days ago. I might read it this week since I'm having problems focusing on longer text.

bermudaonion 12/2/11, 7:43 AM  

I really enjoyed this book! My grandmothers passed away when I was 5 and 8 so I never knew them well. I've heard some of the gems my maternal grandmother came out with and this book made me think of her and wish I'd known her better.

Daryl 12/2/11, 9:20 AM  

I knew I recognized the name Gingy ... its unusual .. Ilene Beckerman also wrote the book "Love Loss and What I Wore" (the play) is based on. Gingy's mother died when she was about 12 which is why she ends up living with her grandmother... if you get a chance to see the play, you must!

Beth Hoffman 12/2/11, 10:15 AM  

I think I need this book!

Michelle 12/2/11, 5:28 PM  

This sounds like a it's a bit of a sweet read.

Zibilee 12/2/11, 5:34 PM  

I haven't been lucky enough to have a close relationship with my natural grandmothers, but I have "adopted" a couple of older ladies who are confidantes and beloved friends. I bet that I would love this book and all the ways it speaks to the heart. Great review today!

Christine 12/2/11, 5:39 PM  

What wonderful words of wisdom.. I could use someone whispering those words to me now and then. Words I would wholeheartedly pass to my daughters, but sometimes I need to hear those things too.

Thanks for the review.

Jenners 12/2/11, 8:36 PM  

I could definitely see this being an excellent choice for a stocking stuffer.

Susan Bennett 12/3/11, 1:30 AM  

This sounds quite touching and I'm not normally taken by books of this nature. Maybe I'm feeling sentimental for the love of my grandmothers at this time of year.

I was lucky too. I didn't lose my first grandparent until I was 24; my last at 35.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 12/3/11, 10:02 PM  

How refreshing to find a memoir that shows a happy/comfortable relationship!

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