Curious about ghost writers? I was, so I looked forward to Pretend I’m Not Here: How I Worked with Three Newspaper Icons, One Powerful First Lady, and Still Managed to Dig Myself Out of the Washington Swamp, from which I learned a lot about the tricky business of, essentially, impersonating someone else, usually someone important and famous. I also enjoyed the author’s description of how she got into the field. That said, she chose to tell her story in a gossipy, star-struck manner that turned me off. She also describes how she shared secrets about one of her clients with a friend who later published them and her defense, that her friend should not have done that, seems stupefyingly self-serving: isn’t the definition of a secret something that we do not share?
The author of Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front was a helicopter pilot for the National Guard who flew search-and-rescue missions in Afghanistan and undertakes to share her training, her combat experience, and her fight to eliminate the military’s rules that exclude women from serving in combat roles. It’s quite a ride! Sadly the writing is only serviceable, replete with sometimes impenetrable military acronyms, and often boringly detailed when she recounts her (otherwise thrilling) missions. Still, I enjoyed the peek into what life is like for women military pilots.
In Down City: A Daughter’s Story of Love, Memory, and Murder, the author explores the death of her mother, murdered by Mafia drug dealers and that of her father, a brilliant alcoholic who gave her much love but could not recover from a lost job. What could be a melodramatic quagmire is told soberly, through the eyes of a growing child who is neither an angel nor the mess one could imagine of someone growing in a dysfunctional family. It’s amazing how children can endure when there are a couple of truly helpful adults around them.
The Temporary Bride made me feel acutely uncomfortable. It is a memoir of a daring Canadian woman who loves to cook and discover new food cultures and has travelled to unlikely locales, alone. (Think Sana’a, Yemen). In this book, she travels to Iran and learns cooking from a homemaker she finds through her son, and the stories of her relationship with this woman living in a world so different from hers are wonderful, as is her avid interest in restaurants, street vendors, and even a camel slaughterhouse.
And then she starts a relationship with the son, one that begins with ambiguous violence and then continues with, to me, unhealthy cultural undertones, as she seems to think of him as slightly inferior, untrained, uncouth. Although she proclaims her love of him, the revelation of so many personal details seemed exploitative and inappropriate.
It’s hard to read This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression and not feel deeply sad for the author, whose euphemistically tagged “treatment-resistant” depression has followed her since childhood, with multiple severe episodes following stressful life events. But she seems to attribute most of her problems to her upbringing, which was clearly cold, even neglectful but not out-of-bounds cruel — just clueless. It made me wonder whether holding on to the notion that she deserved a better childhood may not have made it even more difficult for her to live with her illness. It also made me wonder why she clung to a mother whom she describes as indifferent and callous well into adulthood. Wouldn’t she be better off to put some physical and mental space between her and her mother? In any case, the book is a reminder of the great travails of depression, and the gap still to be bridged by medicine when it comes to treating it.
After a very traditional upbringing and young motherhood, the author’s mother left her old life behind, abducted her youngest child (really!), and started a hectic life of travels through California, several South American countries, and eventually Colorado, leading a bohemian lifestyle and for long periods of time leaving her two older children, young teenagers, to fend for themselves. The book, Rebel Mother: My Childhood Chasing the Revolution, manages to both depict the unhinged and destructive aspects of the mother’s choices while hanging on to a deep love and concern for her. It’s heartbreaking to read that the author as a young child feels he needs to tell a family judge that he wants to live with his mother because she’s the one who needs the most help. He does not tell the judge about his rationale, and the judge does not listen to him…
Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life shines because of its subject, a woman with a pampered, conservative childhood who became an outspoken journalist with an irrepressible energy to shake things up. The book seems to be written by admirers, who come back again and again to her most endearing qualities, generosity to her friends and an utter lack of fear or conformity. One would want to see a more balanced view, perhaps exploring how her private life matched the public persona. But what a tornado of a person!