I like to call her my mentor, although I suspect she would hedge slightly at that acclimation; however, I believe I can call her my friend and teacher and not come off as taking something that may not belong to me.
Speaking of Barbara O'Neal, aka Barbara Samuel. Her newest novel, The Secret of Everything, came out last Tuesday and, well, naturally, I dialed up our local Barnes & Noble at 9:01 a.m., on that very day to ask whether they had that title in stock. They did and so, I happily asked to have it reserved for me and I would run by there on my noon hour and pick it up. Had to give it a little hug to my chest, yes, when I finally clutched it in my hand.
Just a little background here. The first Barbara Samuel novel I read happened to be The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue. Not sure exactly when it came out, maybe five years ago; wait, let me check the copyright on my copy - yes, 2005, Ballentine Books. Now, I don't know about you but I do not rely on the New York Times Best Seller list to dictate what I am going to read; however, I do check it every Sunday, just because I suppose it is the literary thing to do. I would like to think I'm literary. Anyway, in buying books, I tend to purchase with instinct. That particular day, the day I purchased The Goddesses, I was wandering around Barnes & Noble, picking up this book ("nah"), picking up that one ("oh, I don't think this is the one"), carrying one around for awhile with every intention of buying it, however hesitant I felt and then, I stopped off at one of the tables in the middle aisle of the store and there was this book; this yellow covered, sort of intriguing book with a photo of four women around a checked tablecloth, elbows, rings, coffee cups, silver spoons, the book just sitting there (for me?) and I ran my finger over the cover and I thought, "yes, this is the one." I do that. It's a process, no matter how weird it may sound. I do it all the time.
Seriously, I never knew, prior to Barb, that the written word could mean something. Oh yes, I'd kept journals and diaries all my life and I've written several simple stories in my day but, before her, I did not realize that the written word could be so powerful and so enormous and so important. Or that anybody would want to read it.
Long story short, The Goddesses, was the book du jour on that particular day and therefore, I put everything else I had been carrying around down and took it home and spent probably one whole weekend devouring it. And I've read it four times since. I have wondered, could I write something like this? Could I do that?
That's what Barb does to me.
And she's done it again with The Secret of Everything. Granted, I'm only eleven chapters in but I am loving every footprint on every page.
I want to know what happens to Tessa Harlow. I want to see where she has been and why it's affected her so deeply, why the memories are so suppressed and what it will take to break them out. How will she handle that knowledge? Once she knows, there is no going back. It worries me. Is Vince the man for her? I like him (oh boy, I really like him!) but, is he The One? And the dog, what about that dog? I love dogs - you know, I did notice that Barb so subtley snuck her own Sasha into that book, very fitting since Sasha is not long for this world, from what I understand and I do understand loving a dog because I love mine. Who is the mysterious man, full of anger, who appears and disappears? Natalie? I like her. I want Natalie to be happy. Sam, lovable, beautiful, secretive Sam. What secret is he hiding? Annie, Rhiannon, on and on and on. Oh wait, there is Vita and her restaurant, 100 Breakfasts. I love restaurants. Not talking about Shoneys or Perkins; no, I'm talking about where real cooking lives, where pots and pans clatter and line cooks shout nonstop and places that reek of home. I love breakfast too so, there you go. This book was to be titled 100 Breakfasts for the longest time but changed late in the editing process, I think. Hope I'm not saying something that is not quite correct.
There are recipes, several of which I'm dying to try out. Carrot pineapple muffins, for one.
I read an article recently, written by some big deal New York authority, who seemed to turn her nose up at foodie novels and basically stated that it all was a passing trend and one that would be easily forgotten, blah blah blah.
Well, I beg to differ. I don't think the passion for food, for good food, will go away anytime soon. As the world becomes harder, bleaker, more dangerous, I think food will endure as the mainstay, the refuge, if you will, during dark times. It will bring people together, cement families, even make families. I believe that.
I will continue writing about food and I bet Barb will too.
So, go pick up The Secret of Everything and let yourself linger there. You're gonna like it.