Crossing the River Ohio

Harrison (Conversations with Love: Poetically Speaking, 2014, etc.), in an atmospheric memoir, contrasts segregated life in the South in the 1950s with new opportunities for African-Americans in the North in the ’60s and ’70s.
With this personal story, Harrison sees herself adding “to the body of literature by and about African American women.” The memoir opens in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1980, with the author’s mother lying in a coma; the present-tense narration and African-American dialect lend immediacy and authenticity to the scene. After this bittersweet prologue, the book looks back to 1950s Georgia. Harrison’s apt metaphors complement the sights and smells of the South: She describes her mother’s skin as being “as smooth and creamy as peach ice cream” and her Aunt Josephine as “meaner and crustier than an old alligator in a swamp.” Church services, folk tales and family stories also add color to this section. A chapter on “Soul Food” is a particular highlight, as are family photographs and transcribed letters. Harrison was just 2 years old when her family moved north “to escape boll weevils and Jim Crow.” Practicality and ideology intertwine as Harrison goes on to balance her education with life as a single mother. After early, violent sexual experiences, she obtained a scholarship that helped her attend Kent State, where she witnessed the Black Power movement and the infamous campus riots of 1970. Moving to Atlanta with daughter Angela, the author again experienced persecution. Her lyrical language sets the scene while also revealing racial tension: “Confederate flags waved from atop stately buildings. Pilloried plantations rose from hilltops.” However, the book’s punctuation and spelling errors (the musical group “the Beetles,” “Jeckle and Hyde”) are distracting, and some of the erotic vocabulary may sometimes make readers cringe (“[H]is hammer tore down the walls of my secret garden”). The memoir’s habit of identifying years by their music and television shows also lacks subtlety. After chronicling multiple moves and marital trouble, Harrison ends abruptly with her mother’s funeral in 1980—a hint that a sequel may be forthcoming.

An often inspirational, if uneven, memoir about overcoming racism and personal trauma.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: JAH Light Communicattions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2014

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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