02 May 2011

Post 378: Extraordinary, Ordinary People

Extraordinary, Ordinary People by Condeleezza Rice. ISBN: 9780307719607 (eBook).

I'm going to reflect on the memoir genre a little bit here, because I think Rice's memoir is actually pretty good. A lot of people were disappointed that it wasn't a tell all. There were a lot of reviews complaining that it didn't reveal who she was as a person, as if she is somehow obligated to bare her very soul to us just because she's actually written a book about her life.

Instead, what we have here is a very good example of a traditional memoir, one in which there is little, if anything at all, that might upset a family member or close friend if they were to stumble upon this collection of writing. Indeed, it is the kind of thing you want your friends and family to find when you die so that they have some pleasant vignettes to read at your funeral or at the very least brief remembrances of you that don't involve a fifth of Jack Daniels, an existential meltdown, and a subsequent trip to see a midnight Rocky Horror showing. Uh, yeah, that totally never happened to me.

It seems that now memoir is expected to be totally sensationalized. We want to know all of the gory details, and by god if there isn't at the very least a skeleton somewhere we aren't happy. But what person in their right mind would willingly publish that kind of account about his or her life, especially someone in politics? I don't know what she's up to nowadays, but I'm sure she knows better than to flash her metaphorical panties (or lack thereof) at the not so metaphorical paparazzi. I mean really. If you want tell-alls, read the memoirs by 20 year olds, they're the ones who will tell you all about the sexcapades and how they stole a bronze bulldog from their rival high school because that's all they've done.

Meanwhile, the kind of memoir that Rice has written is one that we can all easily accept and digest as an account of her accomplishments and the people who helped her get there. She does recognize some of her faults, but like anyone who's good at interviewing, she turns them into positive experiences. But that's not the only thing I like about the throwback memoir. It is a form that all of us can use.

We may not have had all of the middle class opportunities that Rice had, and she had quite a few despite her upbringing in segregated Alabama in the 1950's and -60's, but we do all have people and moments and things that have influenced who we have become as people. Perhaps it is a bit self-serving and not a little narcissistic, but in the end we all want to be remembered for the good things we did in our lives and attribute those who have helped us along the way. And why not? We all receive enough abuse during our lives, that it would be a great kindness to be remembered well when we're gone, even if we have to write the propaganda ourselves.

I feel that Marcus Miller's review on Goodreads is fairly accurate and non-politicized.
LibsNote: Library eBook via Overdrive Media.


  1. This sounds great and I actually really like that it's not the "tell-all" style. I think I have more respect for (auto)biographers that take a more reserved approach, stories don't need to be sensational to be great.

  2. It's actually a pretty good read, particularly the first half of the book. After she gets to college it drops off a bit and seems a bit showy, but rightfully so since she's a very accomplished person. I happen to like both kinds of memoir, but definitely for someone who is a professional I think this kind of memoir was the way to go.

    Thanks for commenting, Lisa.


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