Peek into a point of view

Nicky Pellegrino checks out a pithy perspective on self-improvement.

Author, cook and raconteur Peta Mathias. Photo / Emma Bass
Author, cook and raconteur Peta Mathias. Photo / Emma Bass

It's fast approaching that point at the beginning of a new year when we make resolutions - to be thinner, healthier, financially savvier; to transform ourselves for the better. And so it seems appropriate to read Peta Mathias' new treatise on transformation, Beat Till Stiff (Penguin, $36). The rather saucy title is a culinary term (of course it is), referring to egg whites and the way they're changed by javascript:%20void(0);the simple act of whisking them.

This is a mix of wisdom and anecdotes stitched together with interesting scraps of history and fact. Mathias tackles transformation in 10 unrelated essays, all of which lean towards the autobiographical. From dyeing her hair red to getting a tattoo; from working as a drug counsellor to a wild love affair in France, from healing her relationship with her mother to being orgasmic, she is extraordinarily open yet somehow not open enough.

We find out the details of how much she spends on her appearance, for example, but not what happened to the lover she made music and ate truffles with in Perigueux.

Nor do we ever really discover how she went about transforming herself from nurse to chef to star.

Entertaining though each and every story is, I guess what I'd really like to read is Mathias' autobiography, no-holds-barred and straight up, rather than these tantalising glimpses of her life.

The subtitle of this book is A Woman's Recipe For Living, but for it to be truly that she needed to join the dots more fully between the chapter where she's written a Letter To My Much Younger Self and the older, more fabulous self she became: she who winters in Morocco, runs culinary tours, makes TV shows, refuses to be defined by her age and throws parties everywhere she goes.

Beat Till Stiff is funny, thought-provoking, confessional and, as you read it, you hear Mathias' distinctive voice. It has an appealing vintage look and charming illustrations.

Still, you might think twice before snapping it up as a last-minute Christmas gift for Nana unless you're certain she's open-minded. As Mathias' parents (in their 90s and still married) would surely warn, there's always a sex chapter. Plus there's drug-taking, a near fatal encounter with a bottle of whisky and a great deal of startling honesty. If Nana can take all that then she's going to have a good time with this book. Mathias is entertaining to her very bones, she just can't help it. She's the sort of person who is described as "colourful" and "irrepressible" and while not all of us can be those things, nor might we want to, the philosophy underpinning this collection seems pretty universal - that all of us can change ourselves for the better, whether that involves putting on a brighter lipstick or extricating ourselves from a bad situation.

Having said that ... can you write us a proper autobiography next time Peta, please?

- Herald on Sunday

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