In the interest of augmenting today’s fresh content about Mother’s Day, here’s a repost of a book review I wrote in December 2014 about Brooke Shields’ famously complex relationship with her mom, Teri.
This morning, I finished Brooke Shields’ latest book, There Was A Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me. Having grown up when I did, I well remember Brooke’s movies and her famously enmeshed relationship with her mother, Teri. All I remembered about Teri Shields, who died at age 79 on Halloween in 2012, was that she was often called a notorious stage mom. She raised Brooke as a single woman, since her marriage to Frank Shields didn’t last, and she was very involved in Brooke’s acting and modeling career.
Though she was well-known for being controlling and domineering, Teri Shields had a fun and flamboyant side to her, which Brooke Shields writes a lot about. She also writes of her mother’s love of booze and how her mother’s drinking affected her as she came of age. In her reflective memoir, Brooke reveals how co-dependent growing up with her mother made her. As a young girl, Brooke declared to her mother, “If you die; I will die.” She grew up thinking her mother was always right.
I was happy to read that Brooke enjoyed a good relationship with her father, his wife Didi, and her step and half siblings. Her upbringing was mostly in New York, Newark, and New Jersey, but she was also exposed to her father’s wealthier side of the family in the Hamptons. Brooke’s father, Frank Shields, would never watch Brooke’s films, but he did enjoy her show, Suddenly Susan, a sitcom I never got into but am now somewhat curious about. And he no doubt remembers her infamous Calvin Klein ads, too.
Some years ago, I read and reviewed Brooke’s book Down Came the Rain, which was about her experiences with postpartum depression. She does touch a bit on that in There Was A Little Girl, since she outlines what it was like having her two daughters, Rowan and Grier. She writes a little about being married to Andre Agassi and her current husband, Chris Henchy. But really, this book is all about Brooke and her mom and their very complicated relationship.
I related a bit to Brooke’s story, since I also grew up with an alcoholic. My parents were not divorced, but my mother was very co-dependent and put up with abuse because she either didn’t want to be raising her kids alone or didn’t think she’d be able to. I also know she loved my dad very much, even though he could be infuriating and insufferable at times. I get the sense that Brooke Shields also loved her mother very much and she even spells out how she felt like she wouldn’t be able to live without her. And yet, she spent a lot of her youth taking care of her mother, even to the point of giving her a livelihood. There is some bitterness that comes out in Brooke’s writing that indicates that it wasn’t easy to be Teri’s daughter.
I do think There Was A Little Girl probably could have been edited a bit. It seemed to take forever to finish this book, despite several concentrated sessions. On the other hand, I liked that Brooke seemed to come across as so normal and human. Here she is, this famous, beautiful, wealthy woman who seems like she could be a next door neighbor. And yet, she’s been in many movies, including The Blue Lagoon and Pretty Baby, movies that were controversial because of her age when she did them and the amount of nudity in them (she used body doubles). There is a photo section at the end of the book that really show how much Brooke looks like her mother.
I see on Amazon.com that There Was A Little Girl gets mixed reviews. Some people seemed to love it, while others are quick to pan it. I thought it was a decent effort and would probably give it about 3.5 stars. I think I would have given it four stars if it hadn’t rambled on so much.
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I often think of my husband’s dealings with his abusive ex wife as being akin to being trapped in a can of soda that is being shaken. You know what happens when you shake a can of soda. The bubbles get agitated and pressure builds. If someone happens to open the can while it’s agitated, the liquid spews out all over the place, making a huge mess. As we were talking about the most recent situation last night, I was reminded once again. It’s like dealing with a can of soda that has been shaken. Once you’ve been exposed to such a situation, it can replicate in similar situations. You learn habits that might not be the best for dealing with problems. Instead of taking a deep, cleansing breath and being mindful, maybe you’ll explode, like a can of Coke that was just used as a maraca.
This morning, I read about Will Smith’s decision to resign from the Academy in the wake of his decision to hit Chris Rock during his performance last week. I’m sure that this decision wasn’t an easy one for Smith to make. In fact, I’ll bet he’s had a difficult week. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong to step down, in spite of his Oscar win. What he did was very seriously fucked up, although many people are still saying that Smith was only standing up for his wife. But, as I read about the decision Will made, and remembered what happened at the Oscar Awards ceremony last week, I was suddenly a little bit “triggered” by an old memory. Seeing Chris Rock being hit on live television reminded me of something that happened to me in 1993.
It was June, and my family decided, for some strange reason, to rent a beach house in Corolla, North Carolina. My parents, my three sisters, my brother in law, my baby niece, my brother in law’s brother, Mike, and my ex friend and my sister’s ex friend, Peggy, were all there. The house was very full, with many different personalities in attendance and a lot of alcohol flowing. I was twenty years old, and would be turning twenty-one in a matter of a couple of weeks.
I remember that at that time in my life, I wasn’t getting along with my dad. Actually, for most of the time he was alive when I was an adult, I didn’t get along with my dad. He was often abusive to me, although I’m not sure I recognized it at the time. Add in my sisters and their strong personalities, my brother-in-law, who loves watching us fight, my former friend and Peggy, as well as a baby, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, I had PMS and was about to start my period.
One night several days into the “vacation”, we all went out to dinner, and my dad was really getting on my nerves. I made some snarky comment that was directed at my dad. I don’t remember what I said, but my sister’s friend, Peggy, heard it and apparently thought I was talking to her. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. The next day, my sister’s friend suddenly decided to leave. I remember she had given me $10 because I had planned to make dinner the next night and she asked for the money back. At the time, I didn’t understand why she was leaving. I had no beef with her.
All that day, my sister was being shitty to me. She wouldn’t tell me what her problem was. I finally lost my temper and confronted her. She said she was mad at me. My dad, who had been drinking, decided to break us up. He stormed over to us and took me into a room, where he proceeded to berate me for two or three hours. At one point, he hit me in the face, HARD. I was shocked and told him that if he had been someone on the street, I could have him arrested for assault and battery. And then I told him that if he ever raised a hand to me again, I would have him arrested.
He exploded. His face turned beet red and he said, “You go right ahead! Call the police!” Then he made some comment about how I lived in his house and I could just pack up and leave. At some point, I hit my arm on something and developed a really nasty bruise.
I remember that no one helped me during that confrontation, which left me really upset and feeling completely worthless and stepped on. And then, by that point, I’d started my period, which is probably why I was so irritable and made that rude comment in the first place.
My sisters later came in to talk to me. The one who had been mad at me explained what had upset her so much that this huge blowup happened. I told her that I hadn’t been talking to or about her friend, and if she had just asked me, we could have avoided this whole thing. The scene was embarrassing and traumatic, especially since there were a couple of people there who weren’t family members and had witnessed this Mommie Dearest moment between my dad and me. The worst part of it, though, was that the next day, my dad acted as if nothing had ever happened. My sister ended up losing contact with her “friend”, who turned out to be not such a good friend after all.
Five years later, my dad lost his temper again and threatened to hit me. I reminded him of the last time he hit me and what I said to him. He backed off and then started screaming at me. I ended up leaving. Unfortunately, at that time, I was kind of paralyzed. Though I was 26 years old at the time, I was living with my parents and had nowhere to go for more than a night or two. Not long after that, I got on the right depression meds and finally managed to start making plans to get out of my parents’ home. I needed to for their sake, but especially for mine.
Every once in awhile, those old memories resurface. I get “triggered” by certain things. I think watching Chris Rock being slapped by Will Smith was very triggering for me. And the more I think about what happened, the more I realize how wrong Will Smith’s actions were. I think it’s right for him to resign from the Academy. I hope he gets some help for his issues.
Then I started thinking about Chris Rock’s actual joke. Yes, it was tasteless. I don’t really find jokes about other people’s looks funny, as a general rule. But then I think of all of the jokes my favorite comedian, George Carlin, told over the years. I remember when he described former second lady Marilyn Quayle as looking like Prince Charles. I remember jokes Joan Rivers used to make about celebrities and their looks. Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Don Rickles! I’m not saying it’s “PC” to make fun of how people look, but comedians have always done it. Kids do it on playgrounds. It’s almost like it’s instinct.
And while I think it would be good if Chris Rock and his fellow humorists came up with other jokes, I also realize that when it comes down to it, Rock was comparing Jada Pinkett Smith to a beautiful woman. Demi Moore, who was the lead in G.I. Jane, was in her prime at the time. She was strong, badass, and gorgeous. Yes, she shaved her head for the role, but she was still amazing looking, even if the film itself was kind of stupid.
Jada, herself, even said that she didn’t give “two craps” about what people thought of her bald head. So why was Will Smith so enraged? His profane tirade after slapping Rock also brought back terrible memories. I wouldn’t want to see that again. I think if there’s any chance that Will Smith would ever feel so entitled to walk up on a stage and hit someone like that, he should not be part of the show. This isn’t to mean I think he should be canceled, per se… If he gets some help and learns to control himself, okay. But that was traumatizing for me to watch on video. I actually chose to watch it, knowing what happened beforehand. I’m glad it didn’t take me by surprise.
In any case, watching that event unfold– a triangle involving Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock– reminded me of that “shaken can of soda” sense I get sometimes when we talk about Ex… or I’m reminded of that time in my past, when I was regularly having to deal with my dad and his tendency to be violent when the mood struck. Maybe it’s a mild form of PTSD I have, because I realize now that I am no longer able to tolerate abuse. I react badly, as if I’m “saturated”, when there’s abuse afoot. What Will Smith did was definitely abusive and traumatic, not just for Chris Rock, but for everyone who watched it unfold. He reminded me of my dad… and that is not a good thing.
I wasn’t going to put up another repost today, but I just realized that I never got around to reposting my review of the late actress, Charlotte Rae’s, book about her life. And since I’ve been binge watching The Facts of Life, I figure now is a good time to repost this review, dated December 15, 2015.
Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I watched a lot of TV. One of my favorite shows was Diff’rent Strokes. I also loved The Facts of Life. Both shows starred Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Edna Garrett, a maternal, wise, loving woman who first served as a live in housekeeper, then became the cook/dietician/house mother at Eastland School for Girls.
What I didn’t know was that Charlotte Rae’s career encompassed so much more than just 80s era sitcoms. I learned much more about her life when I read her book, The Facts of My Life, which she co-wrote with her son, Larry Strauss.
Charlotte Rae Lubotsky was born the middle of three daughters to Russian Jewish parents. She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Born in 1926, Charlotte Rae was around to see the Great Depression and watch her parents and everyone else around her struggle to make ends meet. Nevertheless, Rae and her sisters were musically talented and felt a pull toward show business. After studying at Northwestern University among several other future stars, Rae moved to New York City and became active in the theater.
Having married John Strauss, Rae bore two sons. Her older son, Andy, was severely autistic and spent most of his life institutionalized. After a lifetime of health struggles, Andy passed away in 1999. Her younger son, Larry, is a writer and teacher. Rae writes about what it was like to work in the theater and later, Hollywood. She and her husband battled alcoholism and later, Rae dealt with the fact that her husband preferred the company of males. They managed to stay friends after their divorce.
Rae writes quite a lot about her family of origin and her career. Her attitude is upbeat, even as she describes having to deal with sibling rivalry with her older sister, Beverly, who was an opera diva. Younger sister, Mimi, was a great pianist. Rae describes her voice as “bluesy”, which is kind of hard for me to imagine, having seen her be Mrs. Garrett for so many years. Apparently, she is quite an accomplished singer, besides a great actress.
Sister Beverly Ann became an opera singer, then married a wealthy doctor and became a socialite. Sadly, she succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer has since become a cause near and dear to Rae’s heart.
I never knew that Charlotte Rae struggled with alcoholism. Apparently, she’s been sober for about forty years. She praises Alcoholics Anonymous and her AA buddies for helping her stay ahead of her addiction to booze. I also didn’t know that Rae was Jewish. She shares some interesting anecdotes about what it was life to grow up Jewish in the United States.
Parts of this book were very witty. Other parts were kind of sad. Those who are looking for anecdotes about Diff’rent Strokes or The Facts of Life may come away somewhat disappointed; after all, this book is not just about those two shows, even if they did make her much more visible to the world. But what she does share is enlightening and heartwarming. We are reminded that Mrs. Garrett and Charlotte Rae are two different entities, as are the people who portrayed the characters with whom Rae starred.
I think this book will appeal most to people like me, who have enjoyed Charlotte Rae’s talents. As celebrity life stories go, it’s pretty interesting. I’d give it four stars.
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If you were growing up in the 70s and 80s, it’s a fair bet that you might know who Karen Grassle is. For eight years, she played Caroline Ingalls– Ma– on the hit NBC show, Little House on the Prairie. I was born in 1972, so I was a child when that show was airing on prime time. I remember watching it on Monday nights, probably starting at the time I was about eight years old or so. By then, the show had been airing for some time, and was starting to jump the shark a bit. It wasn’t until I started watching reruns on TBS during my college years that I really became a fan.
Although I loved Little House, I wasn’t necessarily a fan of Michael Landon’s. I always thought he was kind of weird. One time, I saw a comedian do a hilarious imitation of the way he smiled, screwing his eyes a bit and twitching his jaw, as if he was trying to keep from crying. The comedian had him down perfectly, and every time I see Landon on screen, I’m reminded of it, as well as why he never came across as particularly handsome to me. Edited to add: I think the comedian might have been Jim Carrey. Here’s a clip.
When I got older, I started to understand why people found Michael Landon so charismatic. He had this “saint like” image that he tried to project in his projects. A lot of people were fooled by him, thinking that he was much like his saintly characters, especially Charles Ingalls– which was probably his most famous role. He was well-known for being generous and he certainly had a gift for making television programs that appealed to the masses. A lot of women thought he was “hot”, too, although it’s clear to me that he knew it, which I find kind of repellant.
As Karen Grassle points out in her recently published memoir, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma, there was a lot more to Michael Landon than met the eye. And he was no saint. But then, neither is she. I just finished her eye opening memoir last night, somewhat surprised by her story.
Karen Grassle’s life started off normally enough. She was born February 25, 1942 in Berkeley, California. She grew up in Ventura, the daughter of a real estate agent and a teacher. She also has a younger sister named Janey and an adopted son named Zach. When she was very young, Grassle was captivated by her Baptist faith. She studied ballet, acted in school plays, and was popular among her peers.
Her first year of college was spent in New Orleans, Louisiana at H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, which was the women’s branch of Tulane University. Grassle couldn’t hang in New Orleans. She found the atmosphere too offensive with the rampant racism in the South during the early 1960s. With help from her mother, Grassle went back to California and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, from which she graduated in 1965, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Dramatic Art.
After college, Grassle won a Fulbright Scholarship and moved to London for a year. Living in London gave Grassle the chance to travel around Europe, and she writes a bit about her experiences seeing the continent. She even includes a passage about riding on a train with a young Italian man and his father and having sex with the Italian guy while his father snored beneath them. I could relate to the train experience to Italy, minus the sex part. I once rode in a sleeper car with an Asian family on my way from Vienna to Venice and listened to the dad of the family snore all night. A little sex might have done me some good.
Grassle later moved to New York City, where she struggled financially, and picked up roles at the many theaters there. She drank a lot and smoked too much, and picked up interesting odd jobs to make ends meet, including a stint working as a size eight model for garment makers. Although she worked steadily, she didn’t really become financially successful in any sense until she moved back to California and auditioned for the role of Caroline Ingalls. The rest is history.
Yesterday, I wrote about Betty White, and how I think sometimes people mistook Betty White for her characters. I think the same may be true for Karen Grassle. On Little House on the Prairie, Grassle portrayed a beautiful, God-fearing, kind, gentle woman. Michael Landon portrayed a male version of that same ideal. But, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, actors are often not at all like the roles they play. That is apparently very true of Karen Grassle and Michael Landon. Grassle writes that the two of them didn’t get along very well after the first year of the show’s eight season run. Although on screen, they looked like they were deeply in love, they really were just acting…
In Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, Grassle gives readers a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes on Little House, but readers shouldn’t expect an exhaustive tell all about the show. This book is really a book about Karen Grassle. The title is a bit misleading, which is why I think Grassle got some low ratings from Amazon readers. I think a lot of people read Grassle’s book hoping for stories about Little House on the Prairie, and what they got is a book that is pretty much just about Karen Grassle’s life, with only a little bit about the show that made her a star. There’s also quite a bit of throwing Michael Landon under the bus and airing of “dirty laundry”. As someone who also often airs dirty laundry, I can understand why she wrote about these things… but I can also see why other readers found the revelations off-putting.
I mostly enjoyed reading Karen Grassle’s story. I don’t judge her for her life choices or mistakes. We all make them. Karen Grassle admits to being an alcoholic who had many difficult relationships with men, including an unfortunate tryst with actor Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers) that led to a sexually transmitted infection. She’s been married a few times. She’s had a couple of abortions. She turned away from Christianity. She didn’t get along with Michael Landon and, in fact, even judged him for infidelity, even though she had herself been unfaithful to at least one of her partners. I’d say she’s pretty much the antithesis of Caroline Ingalls, a role she played so convincingly.
I’m sure a lot of readers will judge Karen Grassle for not being Caroline Ingalls. I guess I can understand why they might, since the title implies that she’s going to impart wisdom the way “Ma Ingalls” did. But again, I think readers should understand that actors are human, and memoirs are the ultimate project in self-promotion. Of course the book is about Karen Grassle, and Karen Grassle isn’t “Ma Ingalls”. That was just the most famous one of the many roles she’s played over her long career. I, for one, was interested in reading about Grassle’s lesser known work on the world’s stages.
I appreciated reading about Karen Grassle’s work toward promoting women’s rights. She grew up in a time when racism and sexism were rampant, and anyone who wasn’t a white man had less power simply because they weren’t a white male. I think it’s pretty clear that Grassle is politically very liberal, and she feels very strongly about protecting women’s rights, including the right to have an abortion. Grassle had two experiences with abortion. The first one happened when she was 20 years old. She had to go to Mexico, and it was done secretly. The second one was done ten years later, in New York, where in 1972, abortion was legal. She compared the experiences, which I found interesting, and a bit frightening for today’s young women, who may soon lose the right to privacy and bodily autonomy. Some readers may have less sympathy for her, later in the book, when she laments how she eventually wanted a baby of her own. She did eventually adopt a son.
Grassle is also very involved in Jungian therapy, which I found intriguing, since my husband is also into Jungian therapy. She writes a bit about dream analysis, and some of the cool insights she got from some of her therapists. I probably wouldn’t have noticed that part of the book if Bill wasn’t working with a Jungian therapist. If I had read Karen Grassle’s book a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have cared about her revelations regarding Jungian psychology. But I guess it just goes to show you that as one’s life evolves, so do one’s interests.
The one thing I distinctly didn’t like about Karen Grassle’s book was a certain contrived quality it had. It was like she was trying really hard to write in an evocative way that came across as insincere. Her writing wasn’t terrible; it just seemed to lack some authenticity. Like she was trying too hard to turn a phrase or something.
I do think the title of the book is misleading. I’m sure it was purposely given that title to make sales, but plenty of people who bought it for the potential of Grassle’s “spilling the tea” about life on the Little House set will “spill the tea” that the book is only a little bit about the show. There’s very little about the children who played the Ingalls’ children, but she does include a couple of less flattering comments about Victor French (Mr. Edwards), as well as a few more positive comments about Scotty MacGregor (Harriett Oleson) and Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle). I think a lot of people will expect much more about the show. They won’t necessarily get that information in this book, which may disappoint some readers.
The last comment I want to make is that the book ends rather abruptly, just as Karen Grassle has married her second husband of three. I’m not sure why she chose to end the book at that point. Maybe it’s because it was just as the show was ending, in the early 1980s. But the book is clearly not just about Little House on the Prairie. Grassle wrote a lot about her young life, her years as a struggling actress, and what led up to her turn as “Ma Ingalls”. If the book had been more about the show, I might understand why she ended in the early 80s. But it’s clearly NOT just about the show. Again… I think a more accurate title would have served her better.
There are some photos included, though they aren’t so easy to see on my Kindle app.
I’m glad Karen Grassle was able to quit drinking, since it clearly affected her in a negative way and was problematic, particularly regarding her relationships with other people, as well as her image. As a fellow adult child of an alcoholic, I could relate to some of her comments about what it was like to grow up in that particular brand of dysfunction. I respect Karen Grassle’s talent, and some of her insights about working with Michael Landon. A lot of her complaints about Landon were about money, and how he allegedly wouldn’t agree to pay her what she felt she should be earning on a hit show.
This book could have been better, and should be retitled… and maybe even retooled. But overall, I’m not sorry I read it. I would just caution prospective readers not to expect a book that is just about Little House on the Prairie, containing heartwarming, homespun, words of wisdom from Ma Ingalls. Bright Lights, Prairie Dust is definitely not delivering much of that, in spite of its title.
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And here’s a repost that was originally written May 13, 2017. It appears as/is.
I have loved Judy Collins’ beautiful music since I was about 18 years old. She’s recorded so many beautiful songs over the years and inspired others as well. Although I knew she’d had trouble with alcohol and eating disorders, I didn’t know the extent of her problems until I picked up her latest book, Cravings: How I Conquered Food.
Published on February 28, 2017, Cravings offers readers insight into what may have caused Judy Collins’ issues with booze and food. Collins’ theories may also be helpful to other readers. The book is also about Judy Collins’ life, so if you read it, it helps to also be interested in her life story. I suspect a lot of younger people may not be fans of Judy Collins’ music, although I think they should be. I should also mention that this is the first book I’ve read by Judy Collins, so I wasn’t perturbed to read about her life. Others who have read her earlier memoirs might feel like parts of this book are reruns.
Collins writes that when she was growing up, she loved all things made of flour, sugar, wheat, and corn. She was addicted to sugar and would eat sweet things constantly. That sugar obsession later turned to unsightly pounds and a neverending compulsion to eat more. She eventually went on to become bulimic and would binge and purge to the point of developing a vocal cord hemangioma. It almost destroyed her voice.
As she got older, Collins took up drinking and smoking. She became an alcoholic and, for many years, would even drink heavily before and after taking the stage. Although she indulged in self-destructive behavior, Collins somehow knew that what she was doing was dangerous. She sought help from doctors, most of whom told her she didn’t have a problem.
Eventually, Collins realized that there was a link between her cravings for sugar, flour, wheat, and corn and her addiction to alcohol. She eliminated the problem foods from her diet and adopted what looks to me to be a paleo diet. She says now her weight is stable and she know longer has such intense cravings for unhealthy foods or booze. She also credits spending time in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and employing the Grey Sheet Diet Plan for helping her to stop the insanity.
Aside from explaining her secrets to eating and drinking success, Collins writes about her son, Clark Taylor, who sadly died after committing suicide. Collins herself attempted suicide, although she doesn’t delve too much into her experiences with suicidal ideation. Before he passed, Clark fathered Judy Collins’ only grandchild, Hollis, who is now herself a mother. I enjoyed reading about Judy’s family and can tell that she loves them very much. She writes that not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about and miss her son.
I also enjoyed reading about Collins’ musical training. Originally, she was trained as a pianist and she studied great and challenging classical works. I never knew Judy Collins was once being groomed for the classical music world. As she became a teenager, she was lured into folk music. She picked up a guitar, learned how to play, and began to sing. I was astonished to read that she once had a very limited vocal range. Work with an excellent voice teacher eventually stretched her range to about three octaves, quite respectable for a singer. I have always liked her voice for its ethereal quality. I think my own style is kind of like hers.
Anyway… I thought Cravings was well-written and engaging. It didn’t take forever to finish. Because I haven’t read Collins’ other books, the material and new for me. It’s also relevant for me personally on many levels. I liked that she drew in interesting examples from history to backup her theories about diet, drinking, and health. I learned something new in those passages. And, given that Judy was born in 1939 and is still making albums and writing books, I figure she must be doing something right. I recommend her book to those who are thinking about reading it.
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