I generally steer away from reading writers whose books have won major awards. It isn’t because the writers aren’t terrific or their books are no good. It has nothing to do with them. It has to do with me. When I was younger, someone recommended that I pick up Salman Rusdhie.  He had won every award on the planet and then some with his work. I tried to read his books. I could never understand them. I felt really stupid and I feel ashamed even now to admit that I could not understand them. I was lost in his words. But he is a great writer.. just not one for me. I have had similar issues with The Fountain Head. I could not get my head around that book.


It seems to be that good books, the ones that resonate with you, come into your life without notice and then make such a home in your heart that you wonder how you had survived so far without them. I was at a small thrift store near my house last week, wandering the aisles when I happened upon a hardcover just lying on the side of an old table. “Miss Dennis School of  Writing” (http://www.amazon.com/Miss-Dennis-School-Writing-Lessons/dp/0963124625/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1287502814&sr=8-1) by Alice Steinbach. I stared at the book, feeling an odd pull to pick it up. But then I saw the words “Pulitzer Prize winning writer” and I walked away. I knew if the writer had won the Pulitzer, I was going to be way to stupid to read and understand her. For some reason, my three-year-old, who was with me at the time, picked up the book and gave it to me. “Mama, for you!” I looked at his face and then the book. It felt right in my hand. But in my head, it felt like it did not belong with me. 

I struggled for a bit but then decided it was only a dollar and if I did not understand it, I could always bring it back to the store.

It is the best money I have ever spent in my life (with the exception of my Susan Orlean collection). 

Alice Steinbach writes with grace I have never rarely seen before. Whether she is contemplating being the mother of two boys, or wondering how we age or thinking about fashion. Her words are full of emotion about everyday things. She doesn’t do exotic (thank God) but allows us nestle in the universal truth about life and how it’s magic lies in the mundane and seemingly simple things and not in the miracles we all seem to crave.

I hear she lives in Baltimore. So here, with much admiration, I want to make this offer: Please Ms. Steinbach.. I hope someday you will read this post and you will allow me to cook a meal for you. You have touched my heart and changed my life with your words. You have inspired me to be true to who I am and to write what I really believe. You have made a difference in my life.

Oh, and that Pulitzer… never again will I allow that to scare me away from discovering writing and writers to fall in love with. 

To all my readers, I ask you.. has a writer ever changed your life? Do share.. I would love to learn more. There is no contest, no giveaway associated with this.. Just my hope that you will share your love with me. 

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  1. Lots of books have changed my life over the years, some good and some bad. Here is a short list:

    * Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Now that I live with someone, this book made me understand that no relationship is perfect and sometimes we just have to stop getting stressed out on the small things.

    *Beyond Good and Evil by Nietsche: Really made me rethink my perspective on morality.

    *The Passion by Jeantte Winterson: did not thnk a book without guns and blood can suck me in like this one.

    *Sons and Lover by DH Lawrence: Made me feel ok to hate my parents as a teenager.

    *Anything by Colette: The description turned me on to French food, for a little while anyway.

  2. Your entry is one of the most touching entries I’ve read in a while. Though, I’m a bit biased because I write open letters as well.

    I wish for you that Alice sees this one day too. On the other hand, I bet that you could seek her out somehow and get a hold of her.

    You might enjoy reading: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. It’s a great read to see how he processes his own writing.

    You sound like a great blogger and mom and more.

    {hugs} from Seattle, WA.

  3. Alice Steinbach has done that to me too… I can totally relate to the sentiments…more about that in a letter I have thought of writing to her 🙂
    I stumbled upon her book Educating Alice by chance. And went on to read that and Without Reservations back-to-back.
    Sometimes, accidents are indeed serendipitous!

  4. Nice post, Monica. Though I’ve never read Steinbach, I feel sorry for the writing world. We cannot afford to lose writers’ writers, can we?

    As for me, where do I begin? The works of R. K. Narayan-simple, direct, ordinary, yet powerful. Shakespeare, Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rohinton Mistry, Allende… In the short story world, I’m crazy about TCBoyle and his wit and his orchestration, I enjoy Lorrie Moore, love Rushdie’s works (only short stories, not his bigger work as much), admire Lahiri’s stories although she is very predictable of late, love Lori Ostlund’s views of the world.
    In nonfiction, certainly Susan Orlean (big, big admirer of her voice and body of work), Ted Conover (still believe few get to the heart like Conover), Mary Roach (still the funniest in science writing). So many more I could talk about.

    Kalpana Mohan

  5. Writers change my life every day. They open my view of the world and make my life richer.

  6. I just finished “Without Reservations” by Alice Steinbach. I read it while traveling alone in Ireland. She was my traveling companion who perfectly captured in words many of my experiences and reflections. I considered writing her because of the way that this book touched me and tried to find her contact information. I was sorry to see that she passed away in March of this year. It surprised me-again the similarity of our experiences. She was comforted by reading Freya Stark along her travels and then found that Freya had passed away that year.

    In my internet search to find a way to reach Alice Steinbach I was fortunate to come across your blog post.. This is the first comment I’ve left on a blog. I felt I needed to express my love for her writing and what it meant to me. Thank you for sharing your letter to her.

  7. i was filing my books today and picked up ‘Educating Alice’. i read it a few years ago and loved it. it was inspiring to read of her adventures and her choices in life. i thought i’d see what she was up to now, and was dismayed to read that she had passed away. it’s a great legacy to leave us though – inspiration to explore the wonders that are around us and share them with others.

  8. Hi there, i have just this morning finished reading ‘Without Reservations’ by Alice Steinbach and went to google her to find out what else she had written and discovered your post. I feel quite the same, that i was meant to read her work. She had an ability to remind me things as I was reading that perhaps i knew but had forgotten on the busy road of life. It’s sad to hear she has passed away but her legacy lies in all that have read something she has written.

  9. I just finished Without reservations, am currently reading Educating Alice and will be going to the library this afternoon to start looking for The Miss Dennis school of writing. I was so sad to hear Alice died last year, since she was in Baltimore I thought I might meet her someday and tell her how much I enjoyed her books. In the journal I keep with comments about all the books I have read I said I think she would be the perfect traveling partner because she is open to anything and is not judgmental and looks at life in the places she visits. I am so sorry there will be no more books from this talented pen.

  10. Hello Monica, searching for Alice brought me to your blog and I feel a the kinship with you and the others who have posted their comments about Alice Steinbach. I have her three books well marked and underlined. She will continue to inspire me.

  11. Lorraine Rorke Bader

    I am so glad to know that I am one of many admirers of Alice Steinbach. A few weeks ago, I was helping a friend edit her bookshelves, and I rescued “Without Reservations”, and it was the perfect book for me right now. Kind of an early”Eat,Pray.Love”. I love Alice’s descriptions of people and places. When I goodgled her I was sad to see that she had passed away a year ago. I will read her other two books .
    She inspired me that “Naohiro” is a possibility in all our lives. Thank you Alice.

  12. Just like the others I too was searching for more information about Alice Steinbach. I read Without Reservations in 2009. I have read it multiple times, underlining many of her words that touched my heart Being a woman of “a certain age” and a travel addict certainly are 2 obvious reasons that I have such an affinity for her writing. I recently decided that I must read it again because of an upcoming trip to Paris in July. While searching for her on Facebook tonight I found her obituary. I am truly sad but also continue to be inspired by her writing and travels. Thank you Alice.

  13. I am so saddened by her passing. Does anyone know what became of her relationship with Naohiro?

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