My Life in France

What are you reading?

“I just finished My Life in France, by Julia Child and her great nephew Alex Prud’homme. She told him all her stories, and he put it together.”

What did you like about it?

“I myself have recently started traveling to other countries, and I was surprised to learn that people in the ‘30s and ‘40s were going all over the world. Just the whole concept of ex-pats was new to me, and it was really cool to see and hear what it was like for them. I don’t know why I thought travel was so hard. [Child] actually met her husband in China, and I was, like, ‘Who went to China back then?’ It was interesting to me because I’ve just discovered all this stuff, and of course, it’s been going on forever. She was a foodie, and I’ve been shocked to find out the different things that people eat in different parts of the world. Things with eyes. We were taken to a restaurant in Singapore by Chinese people — very crowded and hard to get into because of this fabulous dish. It turned out to be curried fish head. I didn’t eat it. But I did end up eating off a banana leaf without silverware. And I shouldn’t be shocked — it’s just my lack of experience. I’m sure that since the beginning of time people have been eating strange and unusual things.”

Who is your favorite author?

“Maeve Binchy. She’s the bestselling author in Ireland, and I’ve read every one of her books. It’s fiction set in Ireland — you learn a lot about Irish culture. There aren’t any kind of graphic sex scenes, things that you sometimes find in books. That would bother me. These are books that I can give to my daughter. And the women are always very strong.”

Do you have a favorite book?

“I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen because there was a circus guy and an elephant on the cover, and it reminded me of my grandfather — he was from that era of the traveling circus. He was very influential in my life — he always said, ‘Get all the education you can. They can take your house, but they can’t take your education.’ My mother said, ‘I’m not sending you to college because girls just go looking for husbands.’ And in high school, I wasn’t considered college material because I had a single parent. But the words of my grandfather meant everything. I did go to college, and now I have a Ph.D.”

What book has been most life-changing for you?

“I read When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold Kishner, once, and it helped me to get over a terrible tragedy. Then I read it a second time later on, and I just didn’t get it anymore. It was the weirdest thing. I also thought Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger was life-changing. There are something like eight derogatory terms for an angry woman and none for an angry man. They’ll call her a bitch and a castrator, but if a man is angry, it’s perceived as strong. I realized that that was probably true — it’s a shame, but it’s reality. I watch it, because I know how it’s going to be perceived. We don’t have the right to be angry.”

Do you read any magazines or newspapers?

“I’ll read garbage when I go to the hairdresser — People, things like that.”

Do you talk to your friends about reading?

“I belong to a neighborhood book club, and I really love it — it’s once a month, and I live for it. We have everything from homemakers to doctors and lawyers — somebody has her degree in literary criticism, and I love hearing from her. You don’t have to have read the book — it’s always at the same time, and you just show up. Sometimes, if I’m skeptical about a book, I’ll go and listen to the conversation and then read the book based on that.”

Name: Roxann Diez Gross | Age: 53 | Occupation: Assistant professor/medical researcher | Neighborhood: Pittsburgh | Where interviewed: The Upstart Crow Bookstore, Seaport Village

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