Navigating Life (★★★★☆)


Margaux Bergen   *   Penguin Press   *   August 2, 2016   *   256 Pages

Advanced Reader Copy provided through Amazon Vine.

Navigating Life isn’t at all what I expected it would be. I thought author Bergen was going to give general, lighthearted life advice to her daughter, advice that would be applicable to just about anyone (kind of like The Last Lecture). But most of the book is actually very personal to the two of them. I would estimate that over half of the book is memoir.

It’s divided into seven sections:

  1. Learning (advice on education)
  2. Conversation (advice on talking to people)
  3. Work (advice on succeeding at a job, plus memoir)
  4. Blood Greed (memoir)
  5. Home (memoir)
  6. My Way (mostly advice on relationships, as well as how to survive and thrive in life–but memoir, too)
  7. Your Way (advice on forming good life habits)

I wouldn’t say that I loved this book. Bergen’s tone is very buttoned up, her writing so precisely and carefully crafted. Bergen is honest and open, yes, but she isn’t very playful. I read the book in one go, and I couldn’t help but feel how tense and SERIOUS it all was. It stressed me out. (Of course, once I read Chapter 4, Blood Greed, I finally understood why. My goodness, Bergen has been through some things…) But yikes, this is definitely not a cheerful read.

Still, even though I wasn’t expecting all the Dark Side, I grew to appreciate the book. There were some shining moments of insight:

“Bury the shit when you can and fess up if you can’t.”

“There is nothing more gracious than genuinely embracing other people’s good fortune. It will work for you when your time comes.”

“Failure is really about unmet expectations: your own, others’, society’s. It is not getting the outcome you wanted.”

And I loved Blood Greed. That was the chapter that finally made me understand (and begin to like) Bergen. The writing is just so beautiful, raw, and refreshingly unfussy. This is what she says about mourning the death of her father:

“Here’s the bitch of it: You can’t mourn a man who didn’t love you. But this is what I will do. I will mourn quietly not being loved–for at least a while. I ought to be too grown up for childish grief and rage at such an elemental lack, but somehow I know I am not. It is the original injury… Publicly there will be no real leave-taking: his friends are dead or long cheated in some scheme. He did not live in a community. He lived on the very edge of society and took pride in that: this was a man who had no possessions, no house, nothing of his own–a fact that he repeated over and over with a real smile. At the end it was cash only. And a trail of family and friends left with worthless IOUs.”

So, yes, even though this book surprised me, and even though it took me some time to get into it, I did end up enjoying it. I just wish I had known it was going to be somewhat of a downer; I would have mentally prepared myself better.

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