Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bettyville by George Hodgman

The Novel Bakers proudly present the most unique and unforgettable memoir of 2015:
Bettyville by George Hodgman. 

A witty, tender memoir of a son's journey home to care for his irascible mother--a tale of secrets, silences, and enduring love.

"When George Hodgman left Manhattan for his hometown of Paris, Missouri (population 1,248), to care for his aging mother Betty, he expected the trip to be short and bittersweet. But life conspired to keep him in Bettyville." 
Bettyville. . .  a place of tornadoes and tractors, cows and choir practice, and long, dry spells, prompting the residents to pray for rain. Bettyville isn't just a place, it's also a noun, a verb (she Bettified everyone in the beauty parlor), an adjective (She's acting Bettyish again) and a state of mind.

Betty loves pink roses, strappy sandals, and fast cars. She can't stand bad hairdressers, sneaky people, baking cookies, and gossip. "Betty, a woman who has lived her life in conventional clothes, possesses a will as strong as any man's." 

Her son, George, had grown up in Paris, but now he lived in New York City, editing books for major publishers like Simon and Schuster, Henry Holt, and Houghton Mifflin. He'd also written for Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair. An unexpected event sent him home. He became Betty's caretaker, preparing "near lethal" meals, driving her to the beauty shop, and helping her hold on to her place in this world. As his brave, independent mother struggled with old age and declining health, George's sojourn became a game changer for himself. Through it all, he never lost his wonderful sense of humor. For example: he just couldn't bring himself to discuss the inevitable funeral arrangements because he feared that Betty's last wishes would be Bettyish--surely she'd want to include a salad bar for the mourners. 

It's never easy to live with another person, and sometimes Betty could be persnickety.

"There are days I cannot please her. Carol, who has worked in nursing homes, says that old people who are failing get the angriest with those they are most attached to, the people who make them realize they are no longer themselves."
--George Hodgman, Bettyville 

"Bettyville is a warm, funny book about what it means to care for an older parent, to come home to small-town America, and to have complicated relationships with the people around you. But above all, it's a book about families: how families shape us, infuriate us, and often give us strength when we least expect it--and need it most. "

"When you finish reading, you'll wish you could spend more time with Betty, George, and the other residents of Bettyville." And, you will fall in love with a very special four-legged resident.

George writes about "the War of Shoes" that broke out over her favorite footwear:
"If I were starting a Betty Museum, I would make an exhibit out of the sandals with their worn, thin straps and soles indented with my mother's dark footprints. These shoes are relics; they sum up our last years on this planet. I treat them kindly; they have served us well."

"Beneath the comic banter is undying love, loyalty, and, occasionally, the desire to throttle each other."

In one part of the book, George remembers when his mother made cinnamon rolls:

". . . the kind she always managed to tear apart trying to get out of the container, the kind that came with icing that made her scream out when it squirted suddenly from the tube."

In honor of Bettyville, my son, Bandwidth, volunteered to make scratch cinnamon rolls. 

I volunteered to be a taste tester and to take step-by-step photos with the iPhone. 
Homemade Cinnamon Rolls (bread machine version)
                                                                                         Yield: 10 rolls
Make the dough:
1 cup warm milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup melted butter
4 cups All-purpose flour
1 pack Rapid Rise Yeast (or 2 1/2 tsp yeast)
Add ingredients to the bowl of your bread machine. Choose the "dough" setting. It will take 1 to 1 1/2 hours for the dough to double in size. Remove dough from pan. Roll out onto a floured board (I always cover mine with waxed paper). Shape dough into a rectangle.

Make the filling:
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup soft butter
Into a bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. Spread softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the butter. Roll the dough into a log. Using dental floss, cut the dough into rounds. Place rounds in a greased pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees F. Remove rolls from the oven and cool slightly.

Make the glaze:
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups powdered sugar
3 to 6 tablespoons hot water or milk
Place ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and blend until smooth and slightly thickened. Spoon (or pour) the icing over the rolls.

Comfort food plays a role in the book.

from Bettyville:

"I need a brownie. Last night I made a panful, but they are all gone. Every one. . .
I grab a spoon and last night's chocolate pie from the refrigerator, go to my room, shut the door, and lock it. She may magically materialize. Sometimes I think she can walk through walls.
I eat the pie like someone is going to yank it away, straight from the dish, wiping the last bits of chocolate from the dish with my fingers."

The book is funny, poignant, and wise. One minute I was laughing and the next, I was holding back tears. And, I had a non-stop craving for cinnamon rolls. I loved so much about this book, but I don't want to reveal too much. Your adventure awaits!

From an interview with George Hodgman:
Q: What do you hope readers will most respond to in Bettyville?

"We are scared of being old; therefore, we are scared of the old. They make us scared and uncomfortable sometimes. I want people to look at their Bettys and see the human struggle of their lives."

Like all great books, Bettyville takes us on an unforgettable journey, one that shines a light into our own lives, showing us that we can indeed find our way home and back again. 

Happy Pub Day, George Hodgman!

Visit the Novel Bakers for more delightful--and edible--reviews of Bettyville.
Mary at Home Is Where the Boat Is

You're invited to visit the Novel Bakers' "Bettyville" board on Pinterest.

Resources for Readers:
Get the latest from George via Twitter and Facebook.
Meet George: book tour schedule

Thanks to Viking Books for providing advance copies of Bettyville.

Shared at the following link parties:

The Scoop,  


  1. Oh I love your rose-strewn review...you did the book proud! The War of Shoes was one of my favorite parts so how fun that you included some sandals (if in slightly better shape :) than Betty's for your review! Your touches of pink, old photos, Eiffel Tower nod to Paris, NYC snow globe....*sigh* along with your cinnamon rolls and pie make for such delicious fun.You and Jain inspire me, I'm off to eat cinnamon rolls and drown my sorrows in Bloody Marys. ♥

  2. I love everyone's take on this book presenting it in such a beautiful and humorous manner!....Bandwith's cinnamon rolls look amazing and may I ask if the shoes come with the book!....Need to get this book!!

  3. What a wonderful review of Bettyville, Michael Lee. It's a book that I was unfamiliar with, but now would love to read. I'm sure it is both poignant and full of humor, just like life. George's quote, at the end of your post, is so true, and one that we all must face. Tell Bandy that the cinnamon rolls look fabulous and now I'm craving their homemade goodness! You shared great pictures, too, my friend!

  4. Hi Michael Lee! Oh, this sounds like a good book. Going through the loss of my little mother I understand all of these emotions - the good ones and not so good ones. Now, gotta love a guy who cooks for his mommy! Thanks for the book review and the cinnamon rolls! :)
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  5. Now I want cinnamon rolls! *swoon*

  6. I can't WAIT to get this book and read it. I also sent the link to MY son and think he might like to read it too. I think I may become a "Betty" but hope my son doesn't have to be my caregiver. Your review is beautiful and I LOVE those sandles, please share what brand etc. I love kitten heels! Now I need a cinnamon roll....or 3!

  7. dang girl, you have some pretty great props! and its color coordinated to you banner too ;-) this book was ripe with visual ques, to fun to play with! as a southern bell you have the market cornered! i love love love all your details...

    my gosh i am just smiling and smiling my way through your pics, i hope george gets to see this, it cannot be any more touching...

    how cute you and mary went with the rolls! to tell you the truth i didn't think i could make them very well, so glad i didn't try rather than following in your footsteps!

    i DO wish i made your pie...

    omg, this was fun fun fun, what a party you and mary did for the grand unveiling! i read in the nyt, while eating my lemon pie, he is book signing today on his debut, i wish him great success!

  8. I love it all!! I'm so mad that the publisher took nine days to email me back! I just heard from her yesterday and told her it was too late for me to join in :(

  9. What a delightful book and one I know I would relate to coming from a small southern town. Beautiful cinnamon rolls too.

  10. This sounds like a wonderful read, families are indeed complicated, we love everyone yet often want to strangle or change them~and sometimes when you least expect it, they do something utterly wonderful for you...you just have to have a little faith and a lot of patience! Thanks for the tempting insight to was is surely to be a memorable read Michael Lee~ I do not however, thank you for the incredible craving for a thickly iced hot cinnamon roll! Hope you feel better soon,

  11. Hello! I need this book! Loving and caring for aging, failing family members was the focus of my life -- it is always affirming and often enlightening to read someone else's experience. thank you! and tell your son he is REMARKABLE!

  12. You have made me want to read this book..
    I checked..n/a at my library..but one day I will.
    I know I would love the story.
    I don't have elderly parents to care for..but I do have an elderly friend..

  13. Your vignettes are wonderful, and the rolls are making my stomach growl with hunger and want!
    Thanks for sharing this book. It sounds like a good story.

  14. What a beautiful review, Michael! I'm craving cinnamon rolls now though.... thanks :p


  15. Hi Michael Lee, I am now caring for a 91 year old mother who thinks she is more independent than she is, and we are both trying to face her new issues but are overwhelmed by fear and frustration. I think this book would be difficult but at the same time very insightful for me. Your pictures are beautiful and the cinnamon rolls look delicious! Thanks for letting us know about this book. Linda

  16. Looks just delicious!! Great review. Thanks for joining Home Sweet Home!