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The Sunday Salon: Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

The Sunday Salon.comSometimes I think a book comes along at just the right time — it hits a chord you didn’t know needed to be hit, or speaks on some way that makes the impact of the book more than the sum of its part. That doesn’t diminish how good the book is, just amplifies what its about.

This week, I had one of those books — Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt.

making toastMaking Toast is Rosenblatt’s memoir of the time just after his 38-year-old daughter Amy’s unexpected death from a rare heart condition. The day of Amy’s death, Rosenblatt and his wife Ginny move in with Amy’s husband Harris and their three grandchildren — seven-year-old Jessica, four-year-old Sammy, and one-year-old Bubbies (aka James). Over the next year, Rosenblatt and Ginny learn to be part of a new routine, finding a way to cope with Amy’s death by trying to fill in as best they can for a family learning to survive without their mother.

The book’s magic lies in it’s simplicity. The memoir is made up not of a single narrative, but of a series of moments that build to a story about family, grief, and trying to build a new life after the inexplicable happens. And Rosenblatt never overstates these moments, just lets them work for himself. Take, for example, this anecdote where the title of the memoir comes from:

I wake up earlier than the others, usually around 5 a.m., to perform the one household duty I have mastered. After posting the morning’s word, emptying the dishwasher, setting the table for the children’s breakfasts, and pouring the MultiGrain Cheerios or Fruit Loops or Apple Jacks or Special K or Fruity Pebbles, I prepare toast. I take out the butter to allow it to soften, and put three slices of Pepperidge Farm Hearty White in the toaster oven. Bubbies and I like plain buttered toast; Sammy prefers it with cinnamon, with the crusts cut off. When the bell rings, I shift the slices from the toaster to plates, and butter them.

Harris usually spends half the night in Bubbies’s little bed. When I go upstairs around 6 a.m., Bubbies hesitates, but I give him a knowing look and he opens his arms to me. “Toast?” he says. I take him from his father, change him, and carry him downstairs to allow Harris another twenty minutes’ sleep.

I like that section because of how much it says so many things about routines and the love from parents and grandparents and the ways in which life changes in an instant but the simple things, like making breakfast, still have to keep going.

I don’t think I can rate this book because it was exactly what I needed to read this particular week and that timing is linked to why I loved it so much . I’d had a really stressful week where things just never felt like they were working for me and I needed a way to let all of that go so I could get ready to move on to next week. I started reading Making Toast on Thursday and started crying within the first five pages. Not because the book is so terribly sad, but because it was so beautiful and simple and emotional in a way that allowed me to let everything go. It let me channel all of the negative feelings I was having through the story and by the end I just felt better.

I would have loved this book any time I read it — Rosenblatt’s writing is clean and purposeful and he writes with such love for every single one of the people in the story that you can’t help get pulled in. It’s a lovely little book that I sat down and read in an afternoon, and I think lots of other people should read it. But I can’t rate it. I can’t put a number for the book because it impacted me in a much bigger way. That’s one of my favorite experiences of reading, and one that I can only hope every reader understands.

What’s the last book you read that hit the perfect emotional chord making it even greater than the sum of the book’s parts?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) March 14, 2010, 9:22 am

    Your review is fantastic and has made me anxious to read this book. I can’t think of the last book that I read at the perfect time like that, but it has happened to me quite a few times.

    • Kim March 15, 2010, 3:29 pm

      bermudaonion: Thank you! I hope you get to read the book soon. It’s only like 160 pages — an easy read for a long afternoon.

  • diane March 14, 2010, 9:45 am

    I liked this book a lot, and was not expecting too. Excellent review.

    • Kim March 15, 2010, 3:29 pm

      diane: Thanks! I expected to enjoy the book, I just didn’t expect it to impact me quite as much as it did. It was a pleasant surprise.

  • Aarti March 14, 2010, 4:11 pm

    I am glad you read and enjoyed this book! I have heard so many good things about it, and have had it on my radar for some time. It sounds so bittersweet and moving.

    • Kim March 15, 2010, 3:30 pm

      Aarti: I think that’s a nice way of putting it. There’s a lot of sadness to the story, but also some very sweet and hopeful moments too.

  • Jenny March 14, 2010, 7:48 pm

    This sounds like a lovely book, but I think way too sad for me. I’ve just finished watching The Scariest and Saddest Ever Science Fiction Miniseries ™ so I need cheerful fare for a while! 😛

    • Kim March 15, 2010, 3:31 pm

      Jenny: I know the feeling! I went on a cheeful book binge last year after reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — that book took so much out of me.

  • Jeanne March 15, 2010, 8:12 am

    I think Summerland was like that for me. I’d been reading all the books on the recommended list for elementary school children with my children as they read them, and it was Bridge to Terebithia and Number the Stars and all manner of terrible, heartbreaking stories. Then I read Summerland and the child had the power to change the world, and I loved it immensely and still do.

    • Kim March 15, 2010, 3:32 pm

      Jeanne: That’s great. I love Bridge to Terebithia, but that’s a hard book to read too. A cheerful book often hits the spot too.

    • Care March 17, 2010, 8:26 pm

      May I butt in here and ask who the author is of Summerland? I just searched and LOTs of this title pop up. I’m not familiar. Thanks!

  • Lenore March 16, 2010, 3:01 pm

    I’ve heard about this now in a couple of different places, and it sounds like something I’d like to read.

    • Kim March 19, 2010, 7:55 am

      Lenore: I do think it’s a good book worth reading, I hope you get a chance.

  • Care March 17, 2010, 8:12 pm

    Let’s give a cheer for simple and meaningful books that remind us a bit of what’s really important. At least, that’s what I gather this book is?

    • Kim March 19, 2010, 7:56 am

      Care: Yes, that’s exactly it. Cheers indeed 🙂

  • Jodie March 18, 2010, 1:05 pm

    I always think it’s funny and kind of wonderful how a book that isn’t at all about how our life is now can hit just the right spot because of the tone, or the writing or the emotions. I think probably The Visible World by Mark Slouka was the last book like that for me.

    • Kim March 19, 2010, 7:58 am

      Jodie: You’re absolutely right. There isn’t much of anything in this book that I can directly relate to, but there is something sort of universal that did have an impact. I loved that a lot.

  • Lisa March 18, 2010, 2:57 pm

    I hear this author on NPR and he sounded like such an interesting guy with such an unusual point of view. I’m really looking forward to reading this one.

    • Kim March 19, 2010, 7:59 am

      Lisa: That’s great, I hope you get a chance to read it.