Nine years ago, one of my book clubs chose a series of memoirs. One of those books was Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. In Tender at the Bone, Reichl describes her early life and learning to cook as a defense mechanism because her own mother was a terrible cook. Eventually, readers learn her mother was bipolar which accounts for her mood swings and her inability to stick to one thing for very long.
In her most recent memoir, Save me the Plums, Reichl describes being offered the job as editor of Gourmet magazine. She describes being courted to take the job despite her reluctance and even belligerent answers of “NO!”
Eventually, Reichl does take the job as editor of Gourmet; Save me the Plums details her beginning at the magazine through to its closing. She had to learn how to be the boss, how to make decisions that affected others, and how to turn Gourmet into a magazine a wide variety of people wanted to read. When Reichl’s young son learned that if his mother took the job at Gourmet, she would be home each evening, he encouraged her to take the job. He missed seeing his mother in the evenings because as a food critic, she was out most evenings.
In Save me the Plums, Reichl gives readers additional glimpses into her early life with her parents. She describes a winter day when she returned home from school to discover her mother had purchased a “large dead birch tree” which workmen were hoisting up to their eleventh-floor apartment. She made other extravagant purchases the family could not afford: a house in the country, a boat, a fur coat, and a large painting. When the items had to be returned, Reichl’s mother was heartbroken. She would often take to her bed and stay there for months.
Reichl’s father was the anchor who held the family steady. He loved his wife and stood by her with whatever scheme she devised. Sadly, he could not give her all the money she wanted for fine things.
Reichl moves into her job as Gourmet’s editor by describing the people she works with and the terror she feels at taking over such a massive job. She has an office which she is allowed to decorate with the bright colors she loves. She has a budget she could only have dreamed about and a car, clothing allowance, and travel money.
Save me the Plums is a vivid account of Reichl’s ten years with Gourmet. In the end, as the magazine lost revenue, Reichl knew there would be changes. She writes, “I’d fortified myself against the pain of being fired, but this was worse: They had murdered the magazine.”
Readers can feel Reichl’s pain over the loss especially as they look back over the beginning of Save me the Plums where Reichl recounts her first encounter with Gourmet. That story, in itself, is enough to get readers interested in the rest of Reichl’s memoir. A few recipes sprinkled throughout the book also add to the story.
Ruth Reichl is host of PBS’s Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth. At her Web site, http://ruthreichl.com/, discover more about Reichl, her books, and her other work.