Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Smartest Woman I Know

The Smartest Woman I Know / Ilene Beckerman
Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, c2011.
99 p.

This charming book -- from the author probably best known for Love, Loss and What I Wore -- came to me via TLC Book Tours. I'm so glad I was offered a chance to read this, because I likely wouldn't have known about it otherwise. I don't usually search out small illustrated books like this one -- I don't intentionally ignore them but they aren't really on my radar. But this was a delight to read!

In this volume, Ilene Beckerman (known as Gingy) tells us the story of her life with her grandparents, whom she lived with from the age of 12 on, in their store/home on Madison Avenue, New York City. It's a form of memoir, detailing her life experience in relation to her grandparents. She focuses on her grandmother, the amazing 4'10" Ettie, who was never short of words. Throughout the book, Ettie's commentary on the life she's led, the men around her, the expectations of society, the role of her granddaughters, and her conversations with God pepper the text, either embedded in the tale or highlighted in little coloured bubbles on the page. Ettie, unlike most Jewish grandmothers, didn't cook and spend all her time in the kitchen -- in fact, she spent most of her time at the counter of her store, chatting with regular customers and running a tight ship.

Ettie Goldberg was full of advice, and Beckerman shares a lot of it. For example:

  • You better eat something while you're waiting for a free lunch.
  • Feed your stomach and the rest will take care of itself.
  • A husband is like buying new shoes. You might see something you fall in love with right away, but if it's not a good fit, it will never make you happy.
  • Sometimes life is all about the song you sing.

One of the delights of this book is its format. The storytelling is accompanied by colour and illustration. There are pen sketches, and photos cut-and-pasted with additional drawing in a collage type image. Near the beginning there's a map of New York with her grandparents' stationery store drawn on to it. As I was reading I couldn't help thinking of it as a great example of art journaling, polished up a bit to share with others.

I found the storytelling straightforward, touching, funny, endearing and so enjoyable. Beckerman has a gift for choosing just the right story to tell, just the right details to shape the tale. She sketches out the characters in her life and captures their individuality beautifully.

I know I'll be sharing this one. It reminded me of my own grandmother (who I miss terribly) and the things she used to say, things that I find myself saying often. Like when something disappointing happened to us as children -- she's always shrug and say "Well, it's better than a kick in the head with a frozen boot." Or the one time that my sister was complaining about yet another boyfriend's deficiencies, and my normally staid grandmother came out with "They all look the same in the dark." While my family was very different from Beckerman's, there is still that attachment to our grandmothers that is such a common thread.

The publisher, Algonquin, is very generously offering a giveaway of this book to three lucky readers! (U.S./Canada only) If you want a chance to win a copy of this lovely little book, just leave a comment sharing something your grandmother used to say. Let's celebrate the wisdom of our grandmothers :)

Remember to leave an email or a way to contact you in your comment in case you win -- if you have a blog and I can find your contact info there, that is fine. I'll be drawing names randomly on the last day of the blog tour (Nov.8) and will let you know after that if you were one of the lucky ones!


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book.

Check out the other stops on this blog tour to read their thoughts on the book, and for additional chances to win a copy!

Monday, October 17th: Arriving at Your Own Door
Thursday, October 20th: Books Distilled
Saturday, October 22nd: A Life Sustained
Monday, October 24th: Sarah Reads Too Much
Tuesday, October 25th:Quinceberry
Wednesday, October 26th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, October 27th: Suko’s Notebook
Tuesday, November 1st: Overstuffed
Wednesday, November 2nd:The Indextrious Reader
Thursday, November 3rd: Evolution You
Friday, November 4th: Colloquium
Monday, November 7th: Life in Review
Tuesday, November 8th: Lesa’s Book Critiques


  1. Hi there. I am interested in your book.

    I grew up in England and it can be quite chilly and damp a lot over there. When I would stay with Gma and Gpa, it was usually Easter and a little cold at times, so we would all huddle in the living room around the fire and if I accidentally left the door open (which lead to draughts), my Gma would have a special way of saying "Close the door" which I can still hear to this day...

    She was called Vera and lived until she was 99 years and a bit.

  2. Sadly, I don't recall any wise words of my grammies. They died when I was in my teens/early twenties. But, oh this book sounds wonderful. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  3. I'm blessed to still have one set of grandparents (they are 93 and 87 years old - wow!) and I think I'd really love this book as well.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  4. My grandmother will be 100 years old in January. She married in 1931 and raised 7 children on a farm during the depression and into the second world war. She was a teacher, a musician and she has written several books. I could listen to her for hours...her wisdom, her experience, her life.

    Ironic that having written several books, what I tend to remember most is her advice: "Never put in writing that which you aren't prepared to have published." Basically, think before you ink. Sage advice that is still relevant today.

  5. Lovely review! I also enjoyed this book, very much.


Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!