Sue Monk Kidd and
Ann Kidd Taylor
Viking: 282 pp., $25.95
In 1998, Sue Monk Kidd was 49. Her daughter Ann was 22 and had lived away from home for four years. Her mother missed her "almost violently." After Ann's graduation from college, the two traveled to Greece. Ann was teetering on the brink of depression; rejection from graduate school, a break-up and a wavering sense of her purpose in life caused her to create a distancing force-field. Sue felt her body abandoning her and felt a constant "ache for some unlived destiny." They found themselves in the emotional and physical landscape of Demeter and Persephone -- Demeter grieving for her daughter whom Hades has dragged to the underworld, Persephone grieving for her mother and her lost self. In the myth, Persephone eats pomegranate seeds from Hades, guaranteeing that she will be with her mother for only a part of each year.
In a shop in Greece, Sue buys two pomegranate charms, one for each. Ann is fascinated by Athena, Aphrodite and Venus during their travels. Sue by the Virgin Mary, with finding the Old Woman (a character from a May Sarton poem) within herself. On this trip, Sue begins to write "The Secret Life of Bees," a novel she was not sure, ironically, would even be published. On subsequent trips, to France and back to Greece, Ann, after struggling with the idea, decides to become a writer. This book, written in chapters that alternate between mother and daughter, is her first. Mothers of daughters are the best audience for this thoughtful, honest and uplifting book, but it is also about letting go and moving forward against doubt. Something we all must do from time to time.
In Cheap We Trust
The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue
Little, Brown: 288 pp., $24.99
Lauren Weber's economist father kept their New England house at 50 degrees in the winter. He tried not to use the brakes on his car in order to conserve them. Weber wonders when cheap became a dirty word, as in: "Cheap suit. Cheap date. Cheap shot." Has the history of frugality in the U.S. been a straight line toward laziness and debt, or is it cyclical? Starting with Benjamin Franklin's writings on the subject, Weber takes us through the Puritans and Quakers, the Depression, the post- World War II sea change toward denying ourselves nothing and finally to eco-cheap. She works hard not to moralize (humor is always the best antidote to preachiness) and introduces some fantastic characters along the way, for example, Hetty Green, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "world's greatest miser."
No Impact Man
The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 258 pp., $25
Blogging has inspired a rash of projects in which the author spends 365 days on a quirky experiment (say, cooking Julia Child's recipes). For Colin Beavan, 42, it was wanting to know whether a life with as little impact on the environment as possible led to greater happiness. He was living in Greenwich Village with his wife, Michelle, who "grew up all Daddy's gold Amex and taxi company charge account and huge boats and three country clubs." Colin "grew up all long hair to my shoulders, designer labels are silly, wish I was old enough to be a draft dodger and take LSD, alternative schooling, short on cash, save the whales and we don't want to be rich anyway because we hate materialism." Their daughter Isabelle, 1, was so far innocent of either stereotype. It is fun to watch Beavan face each new question: Do I blow my nose in paper products? Do we give up takeout? Stop using the elevator? He finds the parameters of his new life comforting; it's living without rules that makes decision-making difficult. "[I]f I want to change the world, I have to change myself," he writes. There's something inspiring about a smart, committed person coming to an elegantly simple conclusion.