Book Review: Stepping on the Blender

Raleigh native Katherine Snow Smith’s new book, Stepping on the Blender & Other Times Life Gets Messy, collects essays about coming home again.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre

Raleigh native Katherine Snow Smith — the daughter of beloved The News & Observer columnist and Raleigh Times editor A.C. Snow — has written a second book. Stepping on the Blender & Other Times Life Gets Messy (Lystra Books, 2023) is a collection of first-person essays about her experiences moving back to North Carolina after over two decades out of the state. 

Smith, a longtime journalist, grew up in Raleigh and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She moved to the Tampa, Florida, area in the 1990s for a job, where she married a fellow reporter and raised three children. But once the marriage ended and the kids were out of the house, she moved back to the area to care for her aging parents.

Now in her 50s, Smith shares a collection of relatable essays that follow her as she works to navigate this both familiar and unfamiliar place, as a person who’s both the same and very different than when she left. “My father would say it’s too much navel-gazing, but I found myself with these questions: Have I grown enough, have I changed enough, have I changed too much, who am I now?” Smith says.

The foreward, a story that inspires the title of the book, sets the tone. In a crunch to get out the door for a book signing in Georgia, Smith knocks over her Ninja and lands on the blade. Friends come to the rescue, and despite her injury (and an alarming puddle of blood), soon she’s driving up I-95 with her bandaged foot propped up on the dashboard, arriving just in time to deliver her talk. It’s just another of life’s curveballs that she handles with pluck and humor — and turns into a good story.

I understand that you’re a longtime journalist, tell me about your path.

I graduated form UNC in 1990 and found my first job by looking at the bulletin board in the basement of the journalism school. There would be these typed-up index cards with positions on them. I got a job working for the Greenville, SC News.

I was working in the Greer bureau, long before BMW came, so it was the middle of nowhere. I covered things like the city council, school board and water district for three towns in the county. I worked out of my house decades before remote work was a thing. I didn’t even have a desk when I moved down there, my dad found one at the Raleigh Times that I took.

But it was a great way to learn journalism, I had to crank out so many stories and cover so many things. And my dad helped me figure out ideas, one this he told me is that you’ve got to go out and talk to people every day, that’s how you find stories.

Did that for a year, then went to the Charlotte Business Journal, then to the Tampa Bay Business Journal. My husband, Adam, got a job at the St. Petersburg Times, and I got a job at the Tampa Bay Journal — we weren’t allowed to work together due to a nepotism policy since we were married. But as soon as that was lifted, they hired me.

I started out covering business in a rural county outside of Tampa, then worked my way into the main newsroom covering business. I also wrote a parenting column for about 10 years, until my kids were old enough to realize I was writing about them. 

Then I became the editor of their arts and culture magazine, and did that until newspapers started laying people off. Adam and I divorced but were both still working there, and I got a job at a PR firm, which I did for a few years, then I did it on my own for a while. But I found I really missed writing and reporting so I started out doing more freelance journalism, for the Penny Hoarder and WALTER and Business North Carolina. When my last child left for college two years ago, I came back to North Carolina to be closer to my parents. I moved to Chapel Hill and got a job teaching as an adjunct professor in the journalism school.

Are you still working as a professor? 

Actually, I’m a student now — I’m getting a masters in journalism through their new 1-year degree program. Then I can start applying for faculty positions. It’s definitely more fun to be a student, I’m in there with mostly 25- to 30-year-olds, some of my own kids are older than they are! But it’s very hard and time consuming. And I’m a much different student now, I’ve barely missed a class and spent more time in the library in my first month of grad school than in four years of undergrad. But it’s interesting to be writing not for money, and not on a tight deadline. It’s different than anything I’ve done professionally. 

So how is memoir writing different than reporting?

It’s harder in some ways, there’re more play with language and words and trying to figure out the deeper story or the deeper meaning behind experiences, you can’t do that covering straight stories. I wasn’t planning to write a first book [Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker, which came out in 2020], but my friends kept asking me to tell the same stories. 

And then I wasn’t sure I was going to write a second book, but once I moved back to North Carolina two years ago, I was just in such a different phase of my life again, there was so much to explore. Seeing my parents age, coming home again at age 53, reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in a long time… I just started writing.

My father would say it’s too much navel-gazing, but I found myself with these questions: Have I grown enough, have I changed enough, have I changed too much, who am I now? And then to have my dad die, I just didn’t realized it would be so unsettling. Writing really does help me process… but then I feel anxious like, am I sharing too much? I don’t post a lot of Facebook, but I’m written a whole second book about myself?

Who did you write this book for?

I wrote it for me, as a hobby, but it’s also something my children will have. I just loved writing it. I do name numerous friends, but anybody that’s in there, I let them read anything I put in about them. Nobody asked for major changes or deletions, there wasn’t anything negative. I’m not out to get people, or to say something shocking. Even the one about my ex-husband, there’s a story where, before we were officially divorced, but had decided to start dating, we had a joint credit card and he sent roses to his girlfriend that I have to pay off. But we have a good relationship, he’s a great father and journalist, and he didn’t see any reason not to include it. 

But the book is clearly about navigating middle age, but it’s also about how there are many stages of life. Some have their their ups and downs. But as I’m growing older, it’s interesting to look back and think about embracing and accepting all of life.

Will you be doing a tour for the book?

Yes! I did a reading at Quail Ridge the day it launched, and will be around North Carolina and even in New York City! This is particularly fun because my last book came out during Covid, so I couldn’t do a traditional tour. Friends would have things on their patios or driveways. It’s great to be able to talk to bigger groups.

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A clip of this story originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of WALTER magazine.