Saturday, December 10, 2016

Modern Memoirs of Canadian Women

Now here are some flash reviews of two books I read this year that also have strange connections. They are both memoirs by young Canadian women, famous for excelling in their respective areas of sport and music, with connections to both Manitoba & mental health.

Open Heart, Open Mind / Clara Hughes
New York: Simon & Schuster Canada, c2015.
227 p.

Clara Hughes became the first and only athlete ever to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games, in cycling and speed skating. Her high achieving sports life hid many personal issues though, primarily her long experience with depression.

The book shares her difficult childhood, growing up in Manitoba with a trouble family. She was  a typical teenager, getting into all sorts of bad situations, until she found sport -- it was a conduit for all her high energy and restlessness. But she found herself focused and obsessive about sport, driving herself to peaks of Olympic glory. She shares the toll this took on her personal life, with an abusive coach, the physical demands she set on herself, and the lack of any kind of "downtime". In essence, she traded her abuse of drugs and alcohol for an approved system of abuse of her body and eating habits as an elite athlete -- just another way to drown her emotional pain.

The second part of the book delves into her understanding and management of her depression, and to her role in mental health promotion, primarily through Bell Canada's Let's Talk program. And she also shares a lot about her involvement in Right to Play, a children's charity that uses sport in a positive manner.  

This was an interesting glimpse into the "golden" life of an admired athlete, good to share in an Olympic year, for sure. I found it an okay read but a little repetitive, and it's clear that she's not a professional writer, but of course language not the point to this story. She does use some cursing, and peppers in the word "crazy" frequently, which may be offputting for some.

I, Bificus / Bif Naked
New York: Harper, c2016.
320 p.

Bif Naked is well known in the music world, but all I knew about her was her name. In this memoir, she explores her childhood -- she was adopted by missionaries after being born to a Canadian woman and British man in India and given away. She has some issues; though her mother is a wonderful & supportive woman, she still acts out as a teenager, getting involved in gangs, drugs and more. She finds punk music as her way out, starting to tour at age 15. She forces herself to make it in a "man's world", overlooking the sexism, abuse, and drugs she's exposed to until she realizes she's hit bottom,in a drug den in Vancouver. 

She claws her way back up, and then at age 37 she is diagnosed with breast cancer. She becomes a survivor in a new way, finding herself in a circle of other women facing the same situation. Throughout her story, she never complains about being hard done by, she never takes a victim stance, despite all that she faces. She has a strong, creative personality that helps her through her struggles with mental health and difficult situations.

This story has a real focus on her struggles and triumphs; it features her sexuality, mental health, and creative achievements. Unfortunately, there isn't much of a flow in this book. I found it was made up of a lot of anecdote and unconnected narrative, and it's a bit repetitive, with some content that feels included just for its shock value. Overall I didn't find enough depth to it to make it worth reading unless you're a big fan of Bif Naked or of Canadian music history in general. 


  1. Open Heart, Open Mind sounds like an interesting read. The work and determination that this young lady must have put forth makes for a promising story. I have been drawn to reading memoirs as of late. Thank you for the review.

    1. She is definitely a determined woman! It is a good read, especially if you love sport.


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