A very quick note of thanks and appreciation goes out this morning to the National MS Society, Publisher’s Weekly and all the other folks who make the Books for a Better Life Awards Happen. I would have been happy to walk out of last night’s event with my free wine, snacks and talking to good people — and it’s a surprise and honor to have actually won the “Green” category.
When I first heard about the Books for a Better Life Award, I confess that — as an investigative journalist — I was a little leery; they sounded a bit fluffy. But when I really thought about it, I realized that I’m pretty fully on-board.
Most of my work is about looking at how power and class and politics determine people’s lives. In the best scenario, my work helps to improve their lives—make them better. And that’s what Books for a Better Life recognizes: a book’s potential to improve people’s lives. That they picked an investigative book aimed at policy as much as at individual self-improvement is a vote of confidence that I never would have expected, but am certainly happy to have.
There’s also a very personal reason that I was honored to receive the award. In The American Way of Eating, I describe quickly and with little detail that my mother was ill for most of my childhood. I don’t mention it, but her primary affliction was Multiple Sclerosis. I know very well how debilitating that disease can be, and how vital treatment and a cure are for the millions of patients and their families can be. And I also know how important hope and empathy are until that cure arrives.
At the same time, that was such a formative experience for me that I can’t fathom being who I am today without it. And much of what people have appreciated about The American Way of Eating—particularly whatever empathy I show to the people about whom I write, any capacity I have to connect with people, even my semi-self-defeating compulsion to try and fix the world however I can—can all be traced back to having grown up with, and sometimes caring for, a sick parent. As Meredith Vieira said last night at the awards, this isn’t a club I would have volunteered to join. But it is one that has given me a strangely useful skill set in my chosen trade.
So to have an institution that was founded to cure the disease my mother fought for so long publicly recognize that my book might, in some way, make lives better— well, that’s an interesting bit of life coming full-circle.
Also, I do have to thank Susan Molodow and Nan Graham at Scribner, as well as my graceful editor Alexis Gargagliano and tireless publicist Lauren Lavelle, for their support and faith in my work; Rebecca Friedman, my agent, at Hill-Nadel Agency; and a few key supporters, particularly Annia Ciezadlo and Mohamad Bazzi; Oscar Owens and Elissa Berger; Mike Rabinowitz and Elana Karopkin; Camille and Larry Owens; Jessie Doan, and the USDA Food Stamp/SNAP program, all of whom made my work possible in very concrete ways.