All Over the Paperback

All Over the Map is out in paperback! Even though I love the hardback as an object–the cover is beautiful–it’s probably best as a paperback, a great read to take along on a summer trip to the beach (or to the couch).

I’ve been delighted and humbled by all of the responses I’ve gotten from readers. One recently told me that the book has a quality of euphoria that is hard to find in life–and that it swept him away.

Another fan wrote: “I stayed up later than I should have night after night, eating each chapter like a chocolate truffle. I loved the way you expressed, in words I’ve never been able to formulate, why I travel (to discover something that I didn’t even know I was looking for). And the reason that I love learning languages (because to speak Spanish, I have to be a little bit Mexican, or Castillian, or Argentine…). Your book was everything I love in a memoir: brave, honest, insightful.”

A doctor from Florida wrote: Finished your latest book this morning and it was a wonderful experience. I probably should say right off the bat that I haven’t read any of your work before. The other day I was in the library with my children, while they were looking for books I was glancing through the new arrivals section. Your book “All Over the Map” caught my eye and I checked it out (I promise I will buy “An Italian Affair”). Reading the jacket sleeve I was hooked by the words romance and adventure. You see my wife and I have travelled to Mexico and climbed Iztaccihuatl and exchanged wedding vows on the top of Temple 2 in Tikal Guatemala. We love those countries as well as Portugal and Greece. We have been toying with the idea of taking our children this summer to a Spanish language immersion program. What better way to instill a passion for travel and a tolerance and understanding for other peoples cultures then to travel to foreign lands. Once again I want to say how much I enjoyed your book and thank you for sharing your experiences. It reinvigorated and reenergized me in my determination to open different paths to different cultures for my kids.”

From a reader in Maryland: “I just finished All Over the Map and I was sorry to reach the end of the book.  Another 100 pages, and I would have been your house guest in San Miguel de Allende, say maybe tomorrow?  My life has taken a different course but I’ve arrived at an age and a time where I could see myself standing where you are. I was inspired.  Thank you.”

I love it when people take the time to drop me a note, like this one: “Hi Laura, I am reading All Over the Map and I love it.  I hope it never ends.”

And I’m so touched when people send notes like this: “I’ve loved many books but never taken time to send the author a fan letter in gratitude for
the lovely experience. All Over The Map was so delicious that I had to get An Italian Affair because I needed to know how your  story began…Your books woke me up from a two year funk after hubby died.  All my pleasures kind of
froze and then while in my favorite book store [ Capitola book cafe ] I  was drawn to Map because of the graphics . What an absolute treat ! I was so taken away  . . . . . thank you for your story, dear lady. Just what my shrink should have ordered !”

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write to me! Please recommend All Over the Map to your book group. There’s a reading guide here from O, the Oprah Magazine.

I am also available to chat with book groups via Skype or phone.


Savoring Sicily

My friend Fabrizia Lanza, the director of the Anna Tasca Lanza Sicilian Cooking Courses, will be here February 13th, and I’m throwing a reception with her at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, where we’ll taste some Sicilian wine and foccaccia, talk about Sicilian cuisine (Fabrizia is one of the world’s experts on the topic), and introduce people to the Savoring Sicily workshop Fabrizia and I are teaching in Sicily in June.

I’m excited to be teaching with Fabrizia in Regaleali, her family’s wine estate about an hour outside of Palermo, because the place and the people in it represent what authentic Sicilian cooking–and lifestyle–are all about.

Three years ago, my Italian friend Giovanna and I drove to Regaleali after visiting the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, and picnicking in its heirloom gardens. Another Italian friend, who is a food expert, insisted that I meet Fabrizia and take a course at her school, and I couldn’t wait. We stopped in a bar in a small town to ask directions and finally found our way on roads that wound through grape and wheat fields to a set of stone houses, impeccably kept, painted with blue trim: Le Case Vecchie at Regaleali.

Case Vecchie

Le Case Vecchie, and Regaleali, are the kind of places you dream about when you think about an ideal of Italy–a place that is historic, where people grow their own grapes and olives, make their own cheese and wine, and tend a garden filled with heirloom vegetables. At this time of year, May, the iris were in full bloom, and the vast rolling fields of grapes were green.

Fabrizia welcomed us warmly, and introduced us to her parents, Anna Tasca Lanza and her father, the Count Lanza. Anna, who, sadly, died last year, introduced Sicilian country cuisine to the United States through her cookbooks and her classes, as well as her cooking school. I am so happy, and feel so honored, that I had the opportunity to meet this incredible woman, and to share some meals with her at her table. Fabrizia’s father is a consummate storyteller, which made the meals all the richer. It was a pleasure to sit outside with the family under a shady tree, having a glass of Regaleali white wine before commencing dinner.

Anna Tasca Lanza and Giovanna debone sardines

Giovanna and I stayed for two days. Every meal, including those we helped prepare during a cooking class, was memorable, but simple. The cuisine is what makes places like Chez Panisse famous, though the Sicilians have been doing it for centuries: high quality ingredients, simply prepared. One morning Anna and Giovanna deboned what seemed like hundreds of sardines to make my favorite dish, paste con le sarde, which has fennel, and always tastes like the sea breeze over the country landscape.

Pasta con le sarde

For lunch one day, Fabrizia made a cassata, which is a very sweet ricotta cake, once eaten only at Easter. “Sicilians have terrible sweet teeth,” Fabrizia told me. This is due to the influence of the Arabs on the island (who also brought pasta here in 1154).

Sicilian cassata

Fabrizia took us on a tour of the Regaleali estate, showing us the winery, the dining room where the Queen of England ate when she was here, and the place where they make cheese. There isn’t much in the world I love more than pecorino cheese, after pasta con le sarde.

Making cheese at Regaleali

After a morning walk around the vineyards, Fabrizia gave us a cooking lesson. Fabrizia, who has a background in art history, approaches cooking not only through her palate, stomach, and knife, but through her considerable intellect. She has made documentary films about some of Sicily’s food rituals, such as baking incredible varieties of bread before the feast of San Giuseppe. She not only knows the technique of how to cook traditional Sicilian dishes, but she knows the history and culture from which those dishes were derived. It was such a pleasure to be with her in her kitchen. Now, Fabrizia has taken over as the director of the cooking school, and is dedicated to preserving Sicilian foodways, as well as ancient varieties of Sicilian fruits and vegetables in her lovely garden.

Fabrizia Lanza, director of the Anna Tasca Lanza Sicilian Cooking Courses

Fabrizia and I have become friends; I even cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for her in San Francisco. I was delighted to visit her in Palermo last year, even though it was a sad time for her, because she took the time to take me on a tour of Palermo’s incredible food markets. There, people sell gorgeous vegetables, fruits, and fish in stalls–perhaps one person sells only eggs, another only snails. Fabrizia knows the history of all the dishes in the market, and is eager to try bites of anything that looks good, including the spleen sandwiches. (You can read about our time in Palermo in Afar magazine.)

Palermo market
Palermo market

I’m so excited to be doing a writing and cooking course with Fabrizia. The course is about food writing, and writing from the senses. It’s for published writers or novices. The setting and meals at Regaleali will liven your senses and inspire your writing. The cooking classes will teach  you about traditional Sicilian recipes, and will offer plenty of material to write about in the afternoons. The setting is gorgeous, and the workshop will be limited to ten people, so sign up soon! The workshop will be from June 12-18, when everything is blooming in the Sicilian countryside, and there are plenty of berries and vegetables in season. the workshop includes all meals, wine, lodging, and a trip with a private guide to the Valley of the Temples. More information is here.

You can also register through Fabrizia’s website, or email

Q&A with Packing for Mars author Mary Roach

I’m so excited about the success of my friend Mary Roach’s new book, Packing for Mars, a hilarious look at life at zero-gravity.

Here’s a Q&A she did with me about All Over the Map:

Q&A with Mary Roach

MR: I loved your new book, Laura. I found it to be really wise. There were some lines that really stayed with me, like, “Whatever happens, in spring there will always be rhubarb.” I also loved, “It’s not that the grass is greener, it’s that you can never be on both sides of the lawn.” Amen.

LF: Thanks, Mary. I’m wiser, I hope, than when we first met in our twenties!

MR: With this book, there’s something about the fact that you’re writing it in “middle age”–there’s a wisdom to it, and your perspectives on yourself, relationships and marriage had a lot of depth. An Italian Affair was a wonderful, sweeping romance, but this one has more depth and lessons for so many people who are in similar situations.

LF: I guess there are a few advantages to being middle-aged. You’re not as much of an idiot.

MR: I was wondering why there was such a big gap in time between An Italian Affair and this book? I mean, I know, book ideas are not easy to come up with, particularly when you’re writing from your own life—and there’s that sense that you have do always be doing something book-worthy.

LF: That’s right. An Italian Affair was successful enough that it was hard to come up with an idea that people in the book world thought would be as successful. I went to see a mentor, William Zinsser, who wrote On Writing Well, who’s an old-school journalist, with an office in New York City that’s like an oasis of craft where agents and publishers dare not enter. When I told him I felt like I couldn’t write anything because I didn’t think anything would be as successful as my last book, he said that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. He told me to just get back to writing about what moves me most.

MR: Good advice.

LF: Absolutely. And the funny thing about this book is that it ended up being quite different from what I set out to write, and I like it better. Everything happens in the process of writing. You can’t plan it all out. The book is a little hodge-podge—“All Over the Map” is kind of the theme as well.

MR: You’re giving your critics a big, fat target. Here’s your headline! Run with it! (Both laugh). But life is all over the map, and maybe because you travel so much, you’re skilled at finding the angle in covering the things you report that fit a larger narrative—you did a really good job of thematically weaving in issues about women and the struggles they have all over the world and the ways they find of dealing with what society expects of them. The book is really not all over the map at all.

LF: I in no way wanted to compare the issues I’m dealing with to those of the women I interviewed—prostitutes in Naples, genocide survivors in Rwanda.

MR: I feel your pain, honey. Just try being me! You can’t believe some of the dates I’ve had on! You think your Saturday night is rough! (Laughs) No, I don’t think you in any way belittled their experiences, because the stories of those women are very compassionately told.

LF: Good. I just wanted to get across that we’re at a funny time in history when women all over the world are in a double bind about what’s expected of them.

MR: So, did you think about writing this book in the second person like An Italian Affair? I remember you went back and forth when you wrote that, deciding between first person or second.

LF: Or the royal “we.” With this book, it’s part of that sense of being older and wiser–I felt I could land on the first person. I’ve got something to say, I have more confidence about my voice.  With An Italian Affair, the second person worked, partly because it gave it a dreamy quality, like a fable. But this is a different book.

MR: This is such an honest book, I don’t think the “you” would work. You can say about yourself, “You’re the most impulsive person, always blurting things out,” but the reader might take offense at the “you.”

LF: I’m not sure men who read An Italian Affair appreciated the “you,” either. “You’re having an affair with a sexy French professor.” Wait! No I’m not! It just doesn’t work for everyone.

MR: My publisher did an audio book for my last book, Bonk, and they found a male reader. I asked, “What about that chapter where I have sex with Ed in the ultrasound lab?” That’s going to be a little problem, since it’s in the first person. They hired a woman.

LF: That’s hilarious. Since An Italian Affair was about my thirties, and All Over the Map is about my forties, that means there’s less sex in it, sadly. But it’s harder to write about sex in the first person, so it’s just as well.

MR: One of the things I like about this book, in an age where there’s a blurry line between fact and fiction in a lot of memoirs, is that this one is absolutely true. You didn’t exaggerate anything, or change things around to make them fit. It’s a really real story about coming to grips with who you are, and what you thought you’d be.

LF: I guess the journalist in me believes that memoirs should be true. I mean, dialogue is never word for word, and memory is always faulty—memoir is about the truth to the best of your ability to remember it– but I don’t believe in embellishing anything. If you want to do that, just call it “fiction.”

MR: I was especially touched by your portrait of your mom, and just a generation back, how hard it was for her to balance an adventurous spirit with family life and pretty rigid social expectations of women. I liked your exploration of whether women can have it all. When you talked to women at your reunion who seemed to have great jobs and family lives, you scratched the surface and saw a lot of stress, and they envied your life. Like you said, it’s not that the grass is always greener, it’s that you can’t be on both sides of the lawn.

LF: The whole dating thing in your forties is brutal. Thank God you vetted a lot of my Internet dating matches over the years, or I would’ve gotten into bigger trouble. Or maybe I would’ve had more to write about. But you had an unerring sense with the “delete” button.

MR: Yeah, I remember the guy who took you to Muslim Malaysia where Americans weren’t very welcome, in the middle of monsoon season.

LF: No cocktails on the beach.

MR: You didn’t run him by me!

LF: My mistake. Older and wiser.

MR: Let’s go have a cocktail.