More often than not, self-published books are little more than egotistical exercises, but not so Bea Gold's coffee table collection of 36 single-page stories about a young girl growing up in New York City in the '30s and '40s, Tell Me a Story: Stories From a Childhood in Old New York. Each of the short pieces is accompanied by one of the author's own paintings by way of illustration. The stories, Gold insists, are fictional, but they clearly have an anchor in real life experience. They may be fiction, but they have the feel of memoir, and there is nothing wrong with that.
The stories themselves, while not perfect, are packed with the truth of the Jewish experience in the New York of the period approaching the middle of the last century. If, like me, you remember catching the local at Ave. U and changing at Kings Highway for the express train into the City, if you remember Lindy's in Sheepshead Bay, if you remember visiting rich relatives on Ocean Parkway, any imperfections in the telling will melt away in your own fond memories. On the other hand, if you haven't eaten "gribenes," watched your grandfather sip hot tea through a sugar cube, or spent a summer in the "mountains," you may be inclined to be less forgiving.
The problems, such as they are, are in some sense endemic to the genre. Gold's choice to treat each story as complete in and of itself leads her to a lot of repetition. In three different stories we are told about the narrator's mother's decision to discontinue her studies at the High School of Music and Art, and we are told in what seem like almost the same exact words. Parenthetical explanations of Yiddish terms are repeated, as are identifications of relatives and friends. Of course, if the book is intended for coffee tables, and not meant to be read as a whole, these kinds of repetitions more than likely won't be noticed. On the other hand if you read the stories consecutively, the repetitions can be annoying.