Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All That is Bitter & Sweet

All that is Bitter & Sweet / Ashley Judd; with Maryanne Vollers.
New York: Ballantine, c2011.
406 p.

I'm not usually a huge fan of the 'celebrity memoir'. I find them indulgent and usually pretty poorly written. But, this one came across my desk at work and I was intrigued. It is something more that a simple 'how I became famous' memoir.

Ashley Judd reveals her damaging childhood in this book; sometimes a bit too much personal information for my liking, as it made for uncomfortable reading. But then we get to the heart of her story: her activist work for Population Services International, and it gets WAY more uncomfortable. She goes to India, Thailand, Africa (Rwanda &Congo) and in each place looks at the conditions of women who suffer rape, violence, AIDS, uncontrollable pregnancies and more.

The book is a blend of her own life experience and her activism. She details candidly how she is dealing with her life trauma, through intensive therapy and growing self-knowledge, and how she got involved as an advocate for women worldwide. She draws a clear line between the two, showing how her own life has inspired her to get involved with these causes. The writing itself is sometimes weak; she isn't creating literature with an eye on style. But the places she goes and the things she sees and experiences are riveting. She provides plenty of notes and things to look up later if you want to get involved once you've read the book (and you will). The foreword is by Nick Kristof, and their dual concern for women and girls worldwide infuses the entire book.

It gives us a picture of her life: how she interacts with her family currently and has been able to mend relationships through hard work; her own marriage to racecar driver Dario Franchitti; the friends she's made through her advocacy; and the yearlong intensive degree she studied for at Harvard. It makes for a celebrity memoir that is full of solid content. She's a woman with many facets and this was an honest, heartbreaking book.


  1. "I'm not usually a huge fan of the 'celebrity memoir'."

    Makes sense, I suppose, that every genre should contain exceptions to our personal "reading rules", although I haven't had a lot of luck with celebrity memoirs either. Still, I know I've spent a lot of my reading years dismissing whole categories of books, only to find later that I'd overlooked worthwhile reads in those mixes, and this does sound like a terrific exception: thanks for making me re-think!

  2. BIP - It's true, overlooking a whole genre does limit one's reading discoveries. Glad I took a chance on this one, though -- there was a lot to learn.


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