The 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 staff writer 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. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.