Tag Archives: Memoir

Book Review: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco [Audiobook]

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Twelve (Hachette Book Group) 2017

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler (Twelve, 2017).

Brilliantly narrated by the author, this political memoir come ‘help guide’ was perfect to listen to when walking to work each morning. At only five hours and 53 minutes this audiobook is shorter than most biographies I have listened to before (I tend to prefer listening to autobiographies, particularly when they are author narrated) but nevertheless it was packed with anecdotes and lessons from Mastromonaco’s life and political career. As someone who is only vaguely familiar with the US political system it also helped to answer some questions which, no matter how many times I re-watch The West Wing, still remained unanswered.

Alyssa Mastromonaco is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Vice Media, but the book focuses on her position as the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama and how she came to into that role, becoming the youngest women to do so in the process. The narrative is not chronological but anecdotal, jumping from working for Obama, to her time at college and her first experience of politics interning for Bernie Sanders, and campaign scheduling for John Kerry. Nothing is off limits, but Mastromonaco’s aim is not to cement her legacy of her time in the White House (apart from the tampon machine in the ladies toilet – she’s taking credit for that) but to be the wiser and more experienced older sister of the reader, offering advice and guidance to women who want to be successful in their chosen field. This is evident in the subjects covered in the book, or rather what it doesn’t shy away from – periods, IBS are just two topics that spring to mind. The more glamorous side of politics is covered (dinner parties with high profile guests), as is the less glamorous side of a sector that is still predominantly male (bleeding through your trousers at said dinner party, because of the lack of tampon dispensers).

The anecdotes are hilarious and sometimes cringe inducing, but these asides give Mastromonaco a solid grounding as someone you should probably listen to. The relaxed narrating style makes the book easy to listen to, and adds to the big sister/best friend feel that at many times had me smiling to myself as I was listening. What comes across most often however, was just how ‘normal’ Mastromonaco appears in this book. She didn’t have a route to politics mapped out for her from birth, but threw herself into anything and everything she was required to do, learning from her mistakes along the way. The honesty and humanity included in each story and anecdote makes it stand out from any other political memoir I have read, and in my opinion is where the book really comes into its own.

As a (fairly) recent university graduate, listening to this audiobook made me feel like I can take on anything and be ready for any professional situation, political or otherwise. I’m compiling a small talk list of fail safe t.v shows and films, working towards a ‘fuck you fund’ for those times when I just have to get out or move on, and keeping in mind that forward motion is better than standing still – even if it’s not immediately obvious that I’m going in the right direction.

 

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Book Review: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

 

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Call the Midwife is the first book in a series of memoirs by Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in London’s East End in the 1950s. The book has been adapted into a T.V programme by Heidi Thomas (currently filming its sixth season) which airs on the BBC.

 

Jennifer Worth was in her early twenties when she began working with Nonnatus House, a convent in Poplar, East London, to complete her training as a midwife. In her memoirs Jennifer details the stories of the people worked with and treated in her early career, covering tales of breeched births, eclampsia, prostitution, big families and language barriers (both Cockney and Spanish!)

I love the T.V series and thought it was finally time to give the source material a read. The book itself is well paced and easy to read, and although there is not much of a focus on ‘developing characters’, there are glimpses into the personality of each midwife, Nun, and patient. I’m unable to account for how much of my enjoyment of the book came from my engagement with the T.V programme, and the world and characters developed by the cast and the excellent writing of Heidi Thomas. However I can say that prior knowledge of the series did not detract from the book in anyway. The stories in the book mirror season one of the programme, which allowed me to feel some familiarity with the characters, and may have also contributed to the how quickly I was able to read the book.

By far the best thing about Call the Midwife is its insight into an infant NHS and the female perspective of poverty and social conditions of the 1950s. The National Health Service was rolled out in 1948, giving people access to aspects of health care that they previously were unable to afford. The women of Nonnatus House were at the forefront of caring for the community by working hard to treat everyone through both midwifery and district nursing. In particular, some of the more intrinsic challenges which the nurses face can be summed up in Jennifer’s encounter with an elderly patient who fears medical practitioners due to their pre-war experience of the workhouse and New Poor Law system.

The memoirs of Jennifer Worth show the merging of a new medical frontier with the practicalities of slum conditions and poverty through personal stories. Her writing portrays the anxieties and fears that I suspect are not so distance from those of expecting mothers today, and yet her descriptions of squalor, bomb sites, and condemned tenement buildings creates a world that is strikingly different to our own. The use of personal stories with elements that transcend history make this memoir an excellent read not only for those who love the T.V series, but also for those interested in the post-war period, the beginnings of the NHS, or the power of female relationships.

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Favourite Character: Sister Evangelina
This was difficult, because not only are the characters in Worth’s memoir depictions of real people, I also had to distance myself from the characters in the T.V series. Sister Evangelina is a perfect example of the ‘people are complex’ mantra. She has many sides to her personality, and we learn that although the midwives feel that she has no sense of humour, that doesn’t mean that her patients don’t find her hilarious. She is the character that represents class differences, a working class Nun contrasted against her middle class Sisters, but allied with the hardships of those in the community she cares for.

Favourite Line: ‘Like most women of her generation, Flo was an experienced amateur midwife.’

Anything else?
The Cockney Dialect appendix is a great insight into the mechanics of 1950s cockney slang and speech patterns, as well as the origins of the speech. According to this appendix, certain elements of cockney syntax and grammar can be traced back to the Tudors!