Monday, January 7, 2013

Gabby by Mark Kelly & Gabrielle Giffords

So, I felt like a total grinch when rating this on Goodreads/Amazon. The vast majority of the reviews are four and five stars, and then I come along with my two star review and crap all over it. Figuratively speaking. The issue is definitely not the woman herself or her story. Even before the shooting (and isn't it kind of torture/misery porn how we like to define people by their tragedies?), she was a remarkable woman. A young democrat representative elected in Arizona, one of the most conservative states in the U.S.; a woman who moved to elect John Lewis as Speaker of the House (and if you don't know who John Lewis is,, he's a national treasure and even though she was the only one to vote for him, it was a beautiful way to show him honor and respect); who was passionate about helping her state/district and making a difference in Washington. So what's the issue?

Well, it's the book itself. And the writing. And her husband's involvement, or perhaps over-involvement. The book bills itself as the biography of Gabrielle Giffords...but that's not really true. It's the biography of Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly. And while most biographies will devote portions to a spouse, this one devoted a good half of the entire book, at least, possibly even more than that, to Mark Kelly. And you know what, I'm sure he's an interesting guy. Astronaut, first astronaut to have a brother as an astronaut, his biography would be interesting. But this isn't his biography. Or at least, it claims otherwise. So it's misleading. And there are tangents that I find kind of inappropriate, like Kelly complaining about NASA and the way things are run--again, I might find that interesting in a book about Mark Kelly, or a book about NASA, and I have no doubt that things aren't perfect at NASA...but to complain, in more than one place about your employer/former employer, in a book supposedly about your wife. Yea, really not the time or the place. Same with how Kelly takes us through his whole career and various jobs he had before NASA...again, not about you dude.
And the setup of the book was odd--each chapter usually starts with the day of the shooting, generally something about how Kelly heard about it, or where they were taking Giffords, her in surgery, etc. And then it will do a flashback to either of their childhoods, or their marriage or either of their careers. But it doesn't actually get to the shooting itself until over 170 pages into the book. If it were a straight chronological story, it would make perfect sense; but where every single chapter starts out on the day of the shooting, it just seems really odd to take that long to get to the event itself. Like this poor attempt to prolong it or create tension where none is needed.
But finally my issue is the title. And I know this may just be me being a overly sensitive feminist, but I don't think so. So Gabby is Gabrielle Giffords' childhood nickname. However, she was always very adamant that it was a nickname only to be used by her family. In any professional setting, or with anyone outside of the family, she always corrected them if they tried to call her Gabby. She felt it infantilized or patronized her for others to use that diminutive. Which is why it's really baffling to me that Mark Kelly would choose to title her biography that way. Especially because this is a woman with a brain injury, who at the time the book was written could barely speak more than a few words, who was having to relearn everything she had once known. So she's already in a sense infantilized, and then you choose a title which only reinforces that? I don't know, it feels kind of wrong.

2 stars out of 5

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