Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story

by Bess Kalb


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"When I stop crying, I'm calling my mother immediately and making her read it." —Jodi Picoult

"Comic lines as good as in any movie, and pathos as deep as in any novel" —Mike Birbiglia

Bess Kalb, Emmy-nominated TV writer and New Yorker contributor, saved every voicemail her grandmother Bobby Bell ever left her. Bobby was a force—irrepressible, glamorous, unapologetically opinionated. Bobby doted on Bess; Bess adored Bobby. Then, at ninety, Bobby died. But in this debut memoir, Bobby is speaking to Bess once more, in a voice as passionate as it ever was in life.

Recounting both family lore and family secrets, Bobby brings us four generations of indomitable women and the men who loved them. There's Bobby's mother, who traveled solo from Belarus to America in the 1880s to escape the pogroms, and Bess's mother, a 1970s rebel who always fought against convention. Then there's Bess, who grew up in New York and entered the rough-and-tumble world of L.A. television. Her grandma Bobby was with her all the way—she was the light of Bess's childhood and her fiercest supporter, giving Bess unequivocal love, even if sometimes of the toughest kind.

In Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bobby reminds Bess of the experiences they shared, and she delivers—in phone calls, texts, and unforgettable heart-to-hearts brought vividly to the page—her signature wisdom:

If the earth is cracking behind you, you put one foot in front of the other.
Never. Buy. Fake. Anything.
I swear on your life every word of this is true.

With humor and poignancy, Bess Kalb gives us proof of the special bond that can skip a generation and endure beyond death. This book is a feat of extraordinary ventriloquism and imagination by a remarkably talented writer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525654711
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 5,788
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

BESS KALB is an Emmy-nominated writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live. Her writing for the show earned her a Writer's Guild Award in 2016. She has also written for the Oscars and the Emmys. A regular contributor to The New Yorker's "Daily Shouts," her work has been published in The New Republic, Grantland,, Wired, The Nation, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt


Do you remember what we always did when I took you to the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

I’d bring a yellow legal pad and pencils, and we’d sit in front of the paintings and you’d sketch.

“Bessarabia, what do you see?”


“I didn’t realize I was accompanied by the chief art critic of The New York Times.

“What am I supposed to see?”

“You tell me.”

And you’d get very close to the painting, your nose just a breath away from the varnish—the guards would bark at you and you’d jump back with an electric jolt and straighten your back, and we’d both wince and shrug at each other. And you’d collect yourself and clear your throat and stand there with your arms crossed, solemnly squinting at the paint- ing, rocking from foot to foot like a grand appraiser. Thirty seconds. A minute. Five minutes. You’d occasionally stroke your chin with two fingers like you’d seen Bugs Bunny do in a cartoon. You might as well have wiped your monocle on a handkerchief.

Finally, when there was practically steam coming out of your ears, you’d have your fully prepared remarks: “I think he loved hay and he probably loved painting.”

And I’d turn to the guard and say, “She charges fifty cents for a tour.”

After the art was the main event: the cheese plate. We’d go to the grand old cafeteria where it used to be in the back of the museum in the columned atrium. We’d line up, pick out two plastic containers full of cheese, find a quiet table away from the tourists and talk, and eat our snack very methodically. First the brie, scooping it out from the rind with the water crackers, and then we’d press a sliced strawberry into the soft cheese and eat it just like that. We were very French, you and I.

We’d eat the cheddar, throw away the blue; then on the way out the main entrance you’d buy a postcard of your favorite painting. Always something with flowers.
· · ·

GRANDMOTHER: Bessie, I want you to go around these rooms and take this notepad and tell me how many paintings were done by a woman.

GRANDDAUGHTER: And then we can look at the ballerinas?

A building full of all the greatest masterpieces, and all you want is to see how an old man kept wandering into dance practice. I’d have had him arrested.

I like the ballerinas.

After this we can see as many damned ballerinas as you can stand.


OK! Eight women.



Did you write them down?


Simone Martini, Andrea del Sarto, Camille Corot, Annibale Carracci, Andrea Mantegna, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Camille Pissarro, and Jan Steen.

Oh, honey. Give that here.


Did I miss any? I saw them all.

All of those are men.

They have girls’ names.

They’re just European names.

Did I miss the women?

There aren’t any women.

It was a trick?

It was a lesson.

What’s the lesson?

If you’re born a man and halfway decent at something, everyone will tell you you’re great. There’s only one woman nearby. Right through here in the American wing.


Here she is. Lady at the Tea Table. Mary Cassatt.

I like it.

Yes, you do. You know how you can tell a Mary Cassatt?


She was kind to her subjects. She left out their hips.

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