Book Review: What I Know Now by Ellyn Spragins (3/5)

15 May

This book has been on my shelf for ages. Well, not ages, but five years. It was one of the earliest books I shelved on Goodreads and I think it came onto my radar because of the suggested reading feature, which I’ve stopped using to keep myself sane. It wasn’t one I ever found at used book sales so I eventually did an inter-library loan and read it. It was a nice, short read and I’m glad I read it but I think I built it up a bit in my mind.

Cover image via Goodreads

What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins

Other books by XX reviewed on this blog:

Summary from Goodreads:

If you could send a letter back through time to your younger self, what would the letter say?

In this moving collection, forty-one famous women write letters to the women they once were, filled with advice and insights they wish they had had when they were younger.

Today show correspondent Ann Curry writes to herself as a rookie reporter in her first job, telling herself not to change so much to fit in, urging her young self, “It is time to be bold about who you really are.” Country music superstar Lee Ann Womack reflects on the stressed-out year spent recording her first album and encourages her younger self to enjoy the moment, not just the end result. “Your hair matters far, far less than you think,” is the wry advice that begins the letter bestselling mystery writer Lisa Scottoline pens to her twenty-year old self. And Maya Angelou, leaving home at seventeen with a newborn baby in her arms, assures herself she will succeed on her own, even if she does return home every now and then.

These remarkable women are joined by Madeleine Albright, Queen Noor of Jordan, Cokie Roberts, Naomi Wolf, Eileen Fisher, Jane Kaczmarek, Olympia Dukakis, Macy Gray, and many others. Their letters contain rare glimpses into the personal lives of extraordinary women and powerful wisdom that readers will treasure.

My first impression was that this book was physically smaller than I thought it would be. I figured that with so many women contributing to it, it would be a lot thicker. I realized that the letters were all quite short. If I were able to write a letter to my younger self, I’d go on for quite a while! Most of these women had about a page, maybe two. I was also a little disappointed by the breadth of the letters. It was clear that these were women Spragins had worked with as their careers seemed to focus on the entertainment industry. If they weren’t in that industry, then they were probably interviewed because of their experience. The women selected also seemed a little dated. The book was published 12 years ago and it showed because of the number of times I had never heard of the writer.

The women who shared their stories were very candid about their lives. Most of them talked about being afraid to make big changes and encouraging themselves to be brave. Many of them talked about their families, too, and spending time with children when they’re young. I was surprised at how many of them discussed staying at home with their children and stepping away from successful careers. I’ll talk more about this later.

One of the letters stuck out to me and that was from singer Macy Gray. She had a very rough time before her career took off and spoke very openly about her relationship with her family. She was trying to be a singer and take care of a child and live with her parents. It’s crazy to think that someone on hard times would continue to push forward in a career where success and even a paycheck aren’t guaranteed. I admired her guts but I probably would have been on her mother’s side and pushed her toward a steady job!

Many of these women were writing to themselves in their 20s, where I am now. I was surprised how little I related to the letters considering my age! I thought it would speak to me more now when I’m at the age they focused and where they made their mistakes. Instead, a lot of the letters focused on children, which I do not have, and big career moves, which I’m not ready to make. Maybe being 28 in 2018 is different than being 28 in the 70s and 80s when most of these women grew up. There were a few who were writing to themselves in the 90s and early 00s, but it wasn’t as many. It did feel a bit outdated which was a slight disappointment.

Ellyn Spragins
Image via Twitter

I got really excited when the letter was from someone I’d heard of, like Vanna White or Nora Roberts. These were women whose success has lasted over time and whose names were still recognizable twelve years after the book was published. White’s story stuck out a lot because she talked about some poor decisions she made early in her career and how they came back to haunt her on Wheel. She was one of the few women who warned their younger self to make a different decision and I thought that was really insightful.

A lot of the women in this book talked about taking time off from their careers to stay home and raise a family and that rubbed me the wrong way a little bit. Now, I have nothing against stay at home moms, please don’t take it that way. My mom stayed home until I was 10. However, the letters made it sound like staying home with a family and then having extraordinary career success after was completely achievable. I think these women are the exception and I think doing so can be very difficult. I’ve seen many women take entry-level roles when returning to the workforce just to get in the door. This means they’re starting the corporate climb all over again which can be a huge disadvantage and is part of why we see such a wage gap between men and women. I felt like the women selected were too exceptional to give a realistic picture of taking time off and returning to the workforce. Most people have an amazing experience raising a family full time and some enjoy working full-time. It’s very rare to have both and this book was full of rare women.

Sometimes, in tough situations, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. These letters were a way for the light to scream, “You’ll get here and you’ll be fine, keep going!” to women struggling to find their way out of a tunnel. I liked that there was a lot of encouragement in these books and it made it easy to see that everyone struggles before they are successful.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book felt like a fun project Spragins wanted to try but not like a book she really put a lot of time into. The introductions were very generic and then focused heavily on the point in the writer’s life she was going to write about. Spragins helped each woman write her letter and I felt they were a bit too vague and short. I would have liked to see more. I also would have liked some more variety in the industries the women worked in. It felt like she asked her friends and then stopped.

There were some good messages in this book, it just fell a bit flat when it had the potential to shine. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
For My Mother’s Birthday: What I Know Now | noubelle
What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self (Pre-52) | Letters to Grandma

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2 Responses to “Book Review: What I Know Now by Ellyn Spragins (3/5)”

  1. jabrush1213 May 15, 2018 at 6:06 PM #

    Thank you for sharing this book with stories about wonderful and successful women.

    Like

    • Sam May 15, 2018 at 6:23 PM #

      You’re welcome! I thought it was great to focus on successful women. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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