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In Kids & Family

"Sister Salty, Sister Sweet" spices up the memoir genre


Anyone with a sibling knows that even if the same parent or parents raise you, you'll probably have completely different experiences and perceptions of childhood.

Such is the case with sisters Natalie Kring and Shannon Kring Biró. The two grew up in a small Wisconsin town and recently published "Sister Salty, Sister Sweet: A Memoir of Sibling Rivalry." The book is written in the sisters' alternating voices, and reveals lessons learned by each of the two young women.

Biró is executive producer and co-star of the Emmy Award-winning PBS reality-cooking series "The Kitchens of Biró" and co-author of the Benjamin Franklin Award-winning "Biró: European-Inspired Cuisine," "Johnsonville Big Taste of Sausage Cookbook: More Than 125 Recipes for On and Off the Grill from America's #1 Sausage Maker," and "The Kitchens of Biró: Simple SpanAsian Cuisine."

She appeared on NPR and The Rachael Ray Show, and in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney Magazine, TV Guide, Redbook, Woman's World, Nation's Restaurant News, Chicago Tribune and more.

Kring graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside with a BA in English. She is a former independent bookstore manager and a poet whose work has been featured in the online literary journal Eclectica. She lives in Kenosha.

The witty and intelligent sisters will read together at Schwartz Bookshop in Mequon, 10976 N. Port Washington Rd., on Wednesday, April 25, at 7 p.m.

OnMilwaukee.com: Why did you choose to use your real-life identity, when so many experiences may be difficult or embarrassing to share with the public?

Natalie Kring: My initial vision of the book was as fiction. I thought writing it as such would allow us more creative freedom, and I was afraid a memoir might offend too many people. The idea of writing about my difficult or embarrassing experiences didn't bother me so much as writing about those of others. That has been my greatest challenge: writing with sensitivity, but in such a way that doesn't sacrifice my integrity as a writer.

Shannon Kring Biro: In September 2004, I began writing-as fiction-what ended up being the second chapter of our book. About 15 pages into it, I decided to scrap it. Here I was, trying to come up with ways to fictionalize myself. I spent 18 years of my life doing that! It became more important to me than ever that my first non-cuisine book be something "real," something from the heart. I wasn't ready at that time, but I knew that one day, I'd be courageous enough to tell my story-all of it-without having to hide behind a character who just happened to be just like me.

OMC: Why was it important to write about topics such as an eating disorder, a sexual assault and issues with self-esteem?

SKB: For more than 20 years, I battled eating disorders -- which really meant that I was fighting myself on a level that goes far deeper than my always-perceived-as-a-bit-too-jiggly flesh. There was a time that I could not eat in front of my own family, much less cook and eat on national TV like I do now.

I want readers to know two things: 1. That people ABSOLUTELY CAN overcome eating disorders, and 2. That there needn't be any shame associated with suffering from them. It's shame that feeds eating disorders, and secrets that feed shame. Along those same lines, I want females -- and males -- of all ages to know that the shame all too many of us carry as a result of having been molested, assaulted, raped or violated in any other way is not ours to bear. I am guessing that a lot of people who know me today will be shocked to learn about my eating disorders and sexual assault. Today, I am strong enough to say, good! Writing about this period of my life was extremely difficult, but also liberating. I hope that my disclosure -- particularly regarding the psychological causes and effects of eating disorders and sexual assault -- inspires others to liberate themselves.

NK: For me, it was important to show the secondary effects that eating disorders and sexual assault can have on the loved ones of their survivors. While I didn't know enough about Shannon's situation to understand what she was going through, I saw how it changed the entire family dynamic. The effect on me personally was that I became invisible; as Shannon was starving herself, I was starving for attention. I understand now that Shannon got most of the attention because she needed it, not because my parents cared about her more. Nonetheless, my self-esteem suffered for it, at a time when self-esteem, for most girls, is already lacking.

OMC: What were some of the thoughts you had while reading the other's perspective on growing up?

NK: At first, I thought Shannon's chapters were a little too far-fetched and grandiose. I didn't think she was lying, but Shannon has always had a tendency to think big and do big, and that definitely comes across in her writing style. My style is more understated and concise. And of course, I didn't always agree with her perception of the way things happened. I soon realized that both of these perceived "flaws" greatly enhanced the telling of our story, and that neither of us was right or wrong. Our writings are simply our perceptions, and an objective onlooker would probably say the reality was somewhere in between.

SKB: I was shocked to learn that the things that I had felt guiltiest about -- such as cracking Natalie in the jaw with one of Dad's 9 irons, then stuffing her in the coat closet so she wouldn't tattle -- were either things she didn't remember at all, or things that were pretty far down on her list of grievances.

OMC: Most memoirs aren't penned until later in life. You are both under 35 years old. Why did you feel now was an appropriate time to write a memoir?

SKB: I have lots of stories to tell, and I have never been an advocate for waiting for things.

NK: Without Shannon's nudging, I probably would have put it off for quite some time, or never finished it at all. Now, after having completed the book, I realize how important it was for me to do it now. I will always look back fondly on many of these memories, but others have been holding me back for years. Putting the book in other peoples' hands has allowed me to let go of my past and concentrate on the future. I am approaching my thirtieth birthday; it's time for me to grow up.


Talkbacks

EatWisconsin | April 26, 2007 at 3:55 p.m. (report)

Ok, now I understand. I just read that 80 million number and it jumped out at me. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I can't wait for the SpanAsian book to come out. I have the Kitchen's of Biro Cookbook and it is excellent! Keep up the great work.

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ShanIAm | April 26, 2007 at 12:28 p.m. (report)

Molly, thank you for the article! H.W. Schwartz created yet another entertaining, well-organized author event for the Milwaukee area, and it was, in fact, an event attendee that told me about your piece. EatWiconsin, thank you for your coverage of my cuisine-related work and for your exactitude! I think perhaps you're referring to another interview I did, but to clarify, the first season of my cooking show was distributed to more than 80 million US households, and ran weekly (several times per week in some markets). I was not commenting about ratings at allwhich is different from carriageor about single-episode viewers. That being said, if ours or any cooking show had ratings such as MASH's final episode or the Superbowl, life would be far sweeter and less salty for this sister. Cheers!

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EatWisconsin | April 25, 2007 at 10:55 a.m. (report)

I really admire all that Shannon has done with her books, restaurants, and TV shows and I even profiled her husband Marcel on my website Eatwisconsin.com however her comment that she cooks and eats on national TV in more than 80 million US households per week is a complete lie and I cannot believe OMC didn't catch this. The series finale of MASH was the highest rated ever and it was only in 50.15 million households. Most Superbowls are around 40 million households (with around 90 million viewers). Sesame Street, which is liikely PBS's highest rated show only gets 8 million viewers a day.

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