Brief reviews of "She Matters," by Susanna Sonnenberg, and "Dinner With Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table," by Cita Stelzer.
By Susanna Sonnenberg (Scribner, 255 pages, $24)
Susanna Sonnenberg’s “She Matters: A Life in Friendships” brings to mind those coffee commercials where female friends laugh and languish over cappuccinos and confidences.
In 21 essays, Sonnenberg describes the push and pull, trials and tenderness of her friendships with women over more than two decades. The opening paragraph provides that rare inexorable pull one always hopes for from a book: “Patricia will be late. As I think this, with a tolerant fondness, she texts that she’ll be late. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve known her eighteen years, and she confirms herself, the deeply known friend, which reminds me of love in its greatest warmths, its common comfort.”
With candor and detail, she dives into the painful realities of friendships. Squarely self-aware, she doesn’t veer into self-congratulations or smugness. She burrows into the crannies of her own psyche to share unvarnished truths.
With an indulgent pace, Sonnenberg also soaks her essays with details of time and place. “We ventured to Boston, ordered half carafes of wine late night in the North End, brought home cannolis from Mike’s Pastries. Movies starring Barbra Streisand or Prince bred in-jokes that lasted for months.”
What these stories are not is treacly odes to the power of sisterhood. These are the stories of real women. Sonnenberg’s hard-core honesty, sharp detail and lovely prose make this a collection worth passing on to a friend.
ROCHELLE OLSON, Staff writer
"Dinner With Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table"
By Cita Stelzer (Pegasus Books, 332 pages, $27.95)
Winston Churchill invariably figures prominently on those fantasy lists of titans with whom mere mortals would wish to dine. Turns out the great man had a list of his own. It included a sparkling array of political leaders, social eminences, military leaders, scholars, authors and “all around good chaps.”
Churchill used dinners as a tool to persuade, charm, warn and, more often than not, glean critically important information. For all the mastery he displayed as Britain’s wartime leader, he was even more formidable at the table.
Indeed, the stories that Cita Stelzer relates are so interesting, so rich with delicious morsels of little-known facts and gossip, that the reader often feels transported to the dining rooms, restaurants and shipboard messes where Churchill held sway. And Stelzer has no time for those pernicious rumors that the prime minister spent most of his days in a quasi-alcoholic fog. Churchill’s preferred drink, in fact, was champagne, and he took his whiskey — Johnny Walker Black — light, with ample amounts of seltzer or water. “Mouthwash,” one aide called it. No ice, of course. True to form was Churchill’s wit, which the author recounts at every possible turn. Meeting Stalin in 1945 together with FDR, he described Yalta as the “Riviera of Hades,” and his “Dissertation on Dining Room Chairs” was, for all its earnestness, wonderfully droll. What an amazing buffet this splendid book is.
MICHAEL J. BONAFIELD, Night copy editor