Books I Wish I Had Written

Photo by stockimages,

Photo by stockimages,

I seem to be in a minority, but I’m more amused than annoyed by all of the navel-gazing that happens on Facebook.

One of my favorite features is the “best book lists” that people post on their profiles. Reading them feels like spending an afternoon browsing through a great, used bookstore, or a morning at a bibliophile’s estate sale-and, okay, occasionally like an evening at a very pretentious cocktail party.

You can learn a lot about your friends by eavesdropping on their virtual bookshelves.

Not only have I gotten turned on to excellent but obscure books I never would have picked up-thanks to Heidi for The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken and to Dan for Beginner’s Greek by James Collins—but I’ve been re-reminded of some of my favorite authors who have fallen off my radar screen.

Still, it’s almost impossible for me to create a list of my favorite books. Two of my favorite writers, Jane Austen and Nora Roberts, have written almost 200 books between them! There are way too many to choose from. A favorite book list seems like a daunting task.

Instead I’m going to take a stab at a mere fraction of the “Books I Wish I’d Written.” In no particular order, here are five of the books that I am mesmerized by and in fact worship to the point that they could easily turn me into a ginormous green-eyed monster if I didn’t like their authors so darn much.

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler—Tyler makes it look deceptively easy to portray the complexities of relationships in this book about a guy who recovers from mourning the death of his son with the help of a very quirky dog trainer. Incidentally, he writes travel books for people who don’t like to travel but are forced to, hence the title. I’ve read everything Tyler’s ever written and I am constantly awed by her ability to bring characters and relationships to life with her minimal but letter-perfect prose.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott—I doubt there has ever been a more honest, hilarious and brutal depiction of early parenthood than this book, which is a journal of Lamott’s son’s first year of life. Forget the baby booties and the bassinets; Operating Instructions is my favorite baby shower gift for expectant parents.

Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume—This book could have been called “Are You There, God? It’s Me Leslie” when I read it in 6th grade, that’s how strongly I related to her treatise on training bras, menstruation, first kisses, zits, and bratty little brothers and sisters. Unlike many classic books that are better to have read than to actually read (the ones you suffer through to pass an English test or to not be ostracized out of future water cooler conversations), this is a REAL classic.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling—Granted, I’ve only read about half the series and have been more than satisfied with watching the movies and updates from my son, but is there anyone in this world who doesn’t wish they had come up with this jackpot of an idea? So what if I’m only marginally interested in fantasy books. Rowling is a real life Cinderella story, complete with a Scottish castle to stash all of her millions. Between that and getting so many kids excited about reading, how could I not want to have written this book and its six successors?

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby-Remember mix tapes? This book-a story about a “bloke” who runs a London record store and his reluctant ascendance to adulthood-is one of those perfect mix tapes combinations I wish I had thought of, a funny, sweet and endlessly interesting argument about growing up, falling in love and arcane pop music. Hornby’s writing is both brilliantly thought provoking and accessible. As a writer, he’s everything I look for as a reader, and everything I want to be when I grow up.

When Leslie’s not reading or writing, she’s usually on a hunt for her next favorite book. Send your recommendations to For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 28, 2009.

School needs a longer recess

Photo by Naypong

Photo by Naypong

Why oh why does school have to start in the middle of summer? I’d like to put school in detention for at least another month. Can’t we have a longer recess?

This happens every summer: just as I get used to the lazy morning camp schedule and I master the fine art of carting towels, beach chairs, boogie boards, sunscreen, hats, clothing changes, reading material and snacks from the parking lot to the beach in a single trip, it’s time to start adjusting to a “schedule.”

As far as I can tell, school is the one place in town that actually adheres to real time “schedule,” not Santa Barbara time, which is always about ten minutes late.

What’s up with that? Isn’t Labor Day the official end of summer?

UCSB doesn’t start classes till September 24th. I tell you; those kids are getting smarter every year. September is one of our most beautiful months. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to have summer in sunny September and school during June gloom? Who do I call about that? Is it too late to make this one of the key issues in the mayoral campaign?

This is a community-wide issue, you know. It has almost nothing to do with the fact that my June To Do List still intact. I’m not the only one who’s upset about this-and it’s not just kids and their parents who are affected. The entire town changes when school is back in session. There is more traffic, roaming gangs of parents and babies hit the streets between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and senior citizens take over the counters of yogurt stores, coffee shops and smoothie joints.

Are we really ready for this? I think not. Can we move summer out a month? Yes we can.

It seems ludicrous to be going back to school when the weather will finally be perfect. Can’t we enjoy just a few more weeks of summer? I am so not ready to start worrying about bedtime and balanced meals and homework.

How much homework is there in fifth grade anyway? There can’t possibly be more than there was in fourth grade. I didn’t have as much homework in college as my son did in fourth grade.

Then there’s the PTA. I wish I could say I didn’t hear anything from them all summer, but this year’s president is really organized and quite frankly, it scares me. Just last week I had 247 emails and 33 phone calls. How will I get any actual work done with so much volunteering to do?

The night before the first day of school is always the longest night of my life. I lie awake worrying that my alarm clock no longer works after spending summer in storage, that no one will sit with me at Java Station after drop off, or that I’ll be ostracized for not reusing all the baggies in my son’s lunch.

Then of course there are all the other children at school to worry about. The ones that will remind my son that I am totally unfair about everything, and an incredibly evil embarrassment who is depriving him of a cell phone, and iPod, a Nintendo DX, his own laptop, and just everything else he needs. Come to think of it, this ongoing conspiracy among school children really should also be an issue in the mayoral election.

Can we do it? Yes we can!

Sigh. Pass the margaritas. I’m not ready to worry about all this yet. It is still August, after all. I don’t care what the school calendar says-my summer doesn’t officially end till next month.

When Leslie’s not complaining about school, she can be found soaking up those last rays of summer at the beach, with her trusty laptop in tow. For surf and tide information email For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 21, 2009.

I Like to Watch

9fb5e72e6e4eae69_FoodnetworkchefI have a confession to make.

I like to watch people play with exotic tools like drizzlesticks, poach pods, mincers and mandolins. I find the sight of a grown man rubbing naked chickens down with butter dangerously alluring. In fact, I’d rather have Duff Goldman whisk my eggs and Bobby Flay pinch my salt than watch Skin-a-Max any night of the week.

Whether it’s Nigella Lawson lustfully sucking up oil-soaked spaghetti, Guy Fieri ferociously French-frying a potato, Paula Deen daintily deboning a chicken, or Michael Symon taking mucho macho control of an impossible mission, I love to watch the Food Network.

Food porn is my porn of choice.

“Just like sexual porn, food porn is something that you watch but not necessarily with the view of doing or putting in practice,” said a story in “The Montreal Gazette,” which quoted Valerie Bourdeau, a Concordia University student who did her master’s thesis on the subject. “The watching is the entertainment.”

I couldn’t agree more.

But my predilections aren’t limited to the small screen. “Big Night” is one of my favorite movies, as are “Chocolat,” “Ratatouille” and especially “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

I appreciate print as well. One of my favorite times of the year is chocolate catalog season. Though I’ve never actually ordered anything from Hickory Farms, their catalog has kept me company through many a long winter’s night.

Yes, I’ll admit it. I am addicted to food porn.

And just like some people who like to watch that other kind of porn (or so I’m told), just because I like to watch other people do it, doesn’t mean I want to try that at home.

With all of these joy of cooking shows on TV, “Julie & Julia” lighting up the big screen and everyone from Maureen Dowd to Barbara Kingsolver writing about food, it’s a culinary orgy out there-but I just like to watch.

Watching other people cook is, well, potent. Watch Giada or Ina or Mario for a half hour and then go shopping. You’ll see that even a fairly standard grocery store can feel like a glutton’s paradise, with the smells and the colors and the labels of the food romancing your senses.

But while I lust for all things gastronomic, I have absolutely no desire to bisect a living lobster, truss up a pheasant or go anywhere near a sweetbread, despite it’s deceptively enticing sounding name. Like the best of pornography (or so I’m told), food porn depicts beautiful things arranged in ways you might not have previously thought of, with star chefs doing things onscreen that few amateurs like me would ever try at home.

In fact, if my husband told me he wanted to take over ALL of the cooking tomorrow and forevermore, I could quite happily never set foot in my kitchen again.

Sadly, that’s not going to happen.

We both admit to marrying poorly in the kitchen department. While I cook more than I used to out of necessity, my most used recipe card is still the one my sister-in-law gave me, with phone numbers for all the local takeout places that deliver. The only thing I truly “like” to make is reservations. In fact, we once joked about holding a Plastic Chef competition at our house. Hey, if the Chairman lets us hold it in Kitchen Stadium with Alton Brown doing the play by play, then “let the battle begin.”

That’s something I’d really like to watch.

When Leslie’s not perusing the Food Network, she’s online at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 14, 2009.

Testosterone Central

Photo by Ambro

Photo by Ambro

How do you raise a boy to be in touch with his sensitive side, but not to be a wimp?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently.

I just returned from a few days at “Testosterone Central,” otherwise known as my friend Andrea’s house. She has three strapping young men between the ages of 9 and 15-in addition to her rather strapping husband and large male dog-so Andrea’s house oozes more testosterone than a bachelor party at a NASCAR race on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s beautifully decorated and there’s always something wonderful cooking on the stove. But from the moment you get out of the car-and trip over the discarded scooters, soccer cleats, gym bags and tennis shoes-you know that this is not a place for wimps.

These boys live in a swirling cauldron of testosterone and they’ve marked their territory everywhere you look.

Of course, my son Koss loves it there. What boy could resist the chin up bars, Lacrosse sticks and Old Spice products hiding in every corner? I can practically hear Koss’s voice deepen and the hair start to grow on his (barely) ten-year-old chest after a few minutes with “Da Boyz.” It doesn’t matter how much time has gone by, it never takes him long to pick up the stride at “Testosterone Central.” The older kids, and the various neighbor boys who hang out all the time, treat Koss just like another little brother—which is both good and bad.

He loves being part of the gang and tagging along for whatever adventures may happen, but as an only child he’s not used to having to keep up with anyone, and even less used to not having anyone coddle him or help him along. In fact, I know he’s getting older because this is the first time he’s left their house without any injuries.

I’m not saying that “Testosterone Central” is dangerous, only that Andrea is on a first name basis with the emergency room nurses in multiple states. Those kids get hurt and she barely blinks an eye. I guess having three sons toughens you up. Come to think of it, when her kids get hurt they barely blink an eye. I guess having brothers toughens you up too.

Koss is not all that tough. He’s never really had to be. I’m sure part of the reason that he still sits on my lap and likes to cuddle is because he doesn’t have any older brothers to tell him not to. I love that sweet, cuddly side of him.

But he also loves to immerse himself in that boy energy at “Testosterone Central.” It’s not exactly animal house, but you can tell that it would easily slip into fraternity style mayhem if mom-and the housekeeper-went away for an extended period of time. No wonder Koss loves it there.

He’s spent a lot of the summer hanging out with his girl cousins, and was completely comfortable being assigned to an all girl group (plus one male counselor) at Nature Camp. I don’t think the boys who live in “Testosterone Central” would be-except maybe the oldest one, who’s got a whole other level of testosterone kicking in.

I asked Koss about whether he felt he behaved differently with all boys or all girls. “When I’m with the boys I definitely feel more aggressive with them,” he said. “I try to be funnier with the girls.”

That’s when I realized that I didn’t have to be too worried about him one way or the other. He already knows exactly how to behave with both boys and with girls. If he can make the girls laugh and then go tackle the boys-and as long as he knows the right ones to cry in front of-he’s going to be just fine.

Share your MOB (mother of boys) tips with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 7, 2009.