Next for Your Reading List: 'Mother Daughter Me'

A difficult saga, told in elegant and upbeat style.
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HafnerBook.jpgThe reading public knows Katie Hafner for the technology-and-society stories she has written through the years in the New York Times and elsewhere -- or for her books, the previous one of which was A Romance on Three Legs, an elegant examination of Glenn Gould through the tale of his search for the perfect piano. I have been fortunate also to know her as a friend. A dozen years ago, when my wife and I were living in Berkeley, Katie and I co-taught a course on article-writing at the UC Berkeley Journalism School, which was having a great run under the deanship of Orville Schell. Our families have stayed in touch since then. (And, you're right, it was just a week ago that I was recommending a book by Orville Schell and John Delury.)

I say all this to acknowledge that I started reading Mother Daughter Me out of comradely solidarity but sped through to the end with an increasing sense of fascination, admiration, and engrossed wonder at tale she has laid out. If reduced to a plain list of facts, Katie Hafner's experiences might seem unendurably traumatic and harsh. As a child she was bounced from home to home and school to school, mainly because of her mother's alcoholism. As an adult daughter, wife, sister, and mother she withstood a long series of shocks any one of which on its own would tempt most people to self-pity. Yet her tone as memoirist is not quite chipper, which would imply self-delusion, but resolutely upbeat and hopeful, plus beautifully observed. Through all the tragedies and challenges she remained fully functional in her journalistic life and as sole parent for her now-college-aged daughter. 

For more on the details of the book and Katie Hafner's adventures, I refer you to this NY Times  article about the book, under the headline "The Best Memoir I've Read This Year." Below, in a video from her site, she answers some questions about the book. I think you will find it a memorable read. 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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