skip to main content

Recent Searches

    Popular Searches

      Recent Searches

        Sign In

        Recent Searches

          Popular Searches

            Recent Searches

              1. Le Scoop
              2. Lifestyle
              3. Entertainment
              Bess Kalb walking down a path outside

              From The Author

              Bess Kalb On Books, Babies and Reading During A Pandemic

              Bess Kalb is a new mom and the author of the new best-selling memoir, “No One Will Tell You This But Me,” which she is adapting into a screenplay to be produced by Sight Unseen Pictures. The book, written in the voice of Kalb’s hilarious and unforgettable Jewish grandmother, Bobby Bell, tells the story of four generations of women, starting with Bobby’s mother, Rose, who left Belarus alone at the age of twelve and found her way to New York City. It is funny, heart-warming, not too long (!) and exactly what we need right now. We caught up with Kalb on sheltering in place with a baby, what it’s like to have your grandma’s voice stuck in your head and the books she is surviving on right now.
              Interview By
              Liz McDaniel
              Your book was a salve, so thank you. And I know it’s a loaded question now but how are you doing? You have a baby, you’ve just launched this book into a very strange world.

              My son is seven months old and in a way, it’s very grounding to be home with a baby now. All day I’m with somebody whose life has changed completely for the better. He has his mom and dad around constantly doting on him and tending to his every need. He doesn’t have friends that he misses, no offense to him. He gets to hang out with us and his two cats, and it’s paradise. As hard as it is, I am living with somebody who is thriving in quarantine. If I am having half as good of a day as the baby’s having, I’m doing fine.

              While it centers around your relationship with your grandmother, I think it’s interesting how your book highlights four generations of women and how expectations have changed for mothers. Did you think about that as you were writing it?

              Right, I mean, my grandmother was someone who left her children for months. She would go on these incredible trips and send postcards. I have one from Athens, Greece, and they’d say, I hope you all have a slide projector because we have all of these amazing photos. So this is definitely different than the color-coded homeschool schedules my friends are posting on instagram.

              Yes, what do you think Bobby would think about the color-coded homeschool schedules? Please tell me she would think they are ridiculous.

              I think she’d ask, Who are these for? Certainly not the kids.

              That style comes through in her interactions with you in the book. She treated you like an equal and took you to fancy lunches and to museums. Do you think you felt that distinction as a child or was it something you realized as you were writing the book and reflecting?

              I think I did feel it. I think I knew some people’s grandmothers were baking with them and doing things like that, but I was going to the salon and out to lunch and to Bloomingdale’s and the expectation was never that I would act any differently than she did. My job was to keep up. The expression was “We’re birds of a feather.” She created me in her image so she would have a best friend. That was her goal and it worked.

              I want to talk about the art of the nudge. Throughout the book, your grandmother nudges you on these central things, your career and moving to Los Angeles, your relationship with Charlie, who you end up marrying. And now that she’s gone, how do you still feel that presence in your life?

              I love that, the art of the nudge. And I do feel that. I hear her voice constantly, especially since becoming a mother. This might be too much information but even making the choice to get an epidural, I could hear her saying, You will suffer enough throughout this child’s life. And there are some decisions I’ve made that she might not have approved of, like having a doula, I don’t think she would have done that.

              But I realized, especially writing this book, that my grandma is still close to me and I have her voice and I’m able to sort of fall in to her mindset as a character because I knew her so well and I think that’s the gift that she gave me, which is her stories, and her constant presence in my life allows her to help me out and guide me even after she’s gone. I can hear her voice in my head, saying, you know, Get the nicer high chair! A specific example recently, I get my baby dressed in the morning in a good, fully put together outfit. I’m in yoga pants and a rotating cast of four t-shirts but my baby is always in good clean pants, a good shirt and a little sweater and that’s definitely something that feels like my grandma’s hands are guiding mine.

              What do you think Bobby would think about the situation we are in now?

              Well, there’s the funny side of what she would think. My grandma would be like, Oh god, you need to get your roots done. My grandma would probably find a way to quarantine with her colorist. Truly. There are times when I’ve put on a nice shirt before having dinner with my husband fully because that’s a Bobby Bell move. Just because you are living in a bunker doesn’t mean you have to look like it. So my grandma’s mantra of spending time on yourself to feel like a person and to feel good about yourself really has come in handy in quarantine.

              Also, my grandma’s amazing ability to survive and thrive with very little has been inspirational to me. I’ve been thinking a lot about my great grandma, too. There’s a story in the book about my great grandma Rose coming to America from the shtetl. She was twelve years old and she was by herself. It’s astounding. That’s an impossible thing to do. This was an era before any modern communication or modern transportation when travel for anyone was very dangerous as a Jew leaving Belarus, but she did it. So at a time that can feel daunting, impossible and really scary, I draw a lot of strength from this ancestor I have who is similar to ancestors that many Americans have. Many people in this country come from somebody who made a great sacrifice to be here. So now more than ever I’ve been thinking about Rose and the journey she made. This is not as bad!

              Can you talk about the role that the stories played in your life leading up to this moment, and how mothers can pass the stories of their own families along to their children?

              I feel like I am the middle-man in this book. The strength of the book is really a testament to how compelling and what a good storyteller my grandmother was. A lot of the stories in the book deal with her mother and her brothers, these are people who I never met, they were dead long before I was born, but I felt very close to them growing up because she repeated four or five stories about their lives, a lot. They felt almost like fables that I turned to growing up, Here’s how you use determination. Here’s how you use forgiveness. My grandma would repeat, My mother would say when you’re having a rotten day, buy yourself an ice cream soda and a new hat. She said that to me hundreds of times growing up and as a result, I remember after a horrible break-up in college, I went and I ordered an ice cream soda because that was a story she told me about her mother. So for people who would love to pass on stories from the women who came before them, really find the moments in these people’s lives that gave you the most meaning and that you remember the best, because chances are if you remember a story it’s impactful and important and valuable. It stuck with you for a reason. You don’t have to worry about the style or writing it down or the craft of writing it, just write it the way that the person told it to you and that way you can pass it on in a more concrete way.

              Finally, comfort reading. I know there is such a thing right now because I read your book, so what are you reading now?

              I have turned to David Sedaris at all of the saddest times in my life and this is no exception. I think “Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim” is such a good comfort read for right now, especially if people are feeling cooped up with their families. He’s so funny and brilliant. To fall asleep at night, I’ve been going back and reading “My Brilliant Friend.” Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels are just so dreamy and lovely and compelling. There’s a very funny book that came out recently, Samantha Irby’s book, “Wow, No Thank You.” I’m reading that on my kindle for right now because I didn’t want to get a delivery. It’s so funny. She’s such a good writer. I loved her other books, “We Are Never Meeting In Real Life” and “Meaty,” but I love “Wow, No Thank You” for right now.

              Bess Kalb is an Emmy-nominated writer for her work on Jimmy Kimmel Live. A regular contributor to The New Yorker‘s “Daily Shouts,” her work has been published in The New Republic, Grantland, Salon.com, Wired, The Nation, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles.