A Moralizing Memoir is a Dirty Trick

Back to Megyn Kelly’s memoir, Settle for More. (here’s my first blog on the subject) I’m going to refine my criticism of it in the previous blog, just because I went ahead and read the second third of the book. I can now state unequivocally: a moralizing memoir like this one really annoys me.

The summary on the book flap promised, “never before heard details about the first republican debate of 2016,” which is what attracted me to this book in the first place. Then, the first few pages of the prologue dove right into the good stuff, so I thought we were off and running with a great book.

A memoir about a fascinating era in the history of sexism

I found the 2016 election cycle fascinating from a woman’s perspective, because here we had (conservative) Fox journalist Megyn Kelly asking (conservative) Donald Trump a tough question about his reputation vis a vis women: not a very conservative thing to do at all. Trump responded by basically threatening her and insanely claiming she was “bleeding from her wherever” on national TV. The game was afoot!

That election cycle also saw Trump call Carly Fiorina unpresidential because of her looks. Arch-conservative Fiorina then took his statement and threw it back in his face with an ad praising mature women, their faces, and their value. I found this play fascinating because her pro-life, pro-corporate platform had never really been a particularly feminist one.

2016 saw conservative feminists coming out of the closet and fighting back against their republican male peers: a really interesting phenomenon, I thought. So, when Kelly’s book jacket promised behind-the-scenes info about that world, I wanted to read it. I had no idea I was diving into a moralizing memoir, not a political one.

A moralizing memoir reduces life to platitudes

Then, I read a third of the book, which was about her relatively unremarkable childhood, her first marriage, and her second marriage to her golly-gee dream husband. She talked about having kids, how much she loved them … I got bored.

But then Kelly wrote about her time as a journalist, the debate, the war Trump waged on her, and her conflict with Jon Stewart. The book became nothing less than riveting! But then, it annoyed me once more by reducing her entire life’s experience to a platitude about parenting. The book becomes, once again, a moralizing memoir, not an incisive one.

A memoir’s book jacket shouldn’t lie about its contents

I think the book gives good insight into Kelly’s way of thinking and the profession of journalism itself; however, I feel like it plays a dirty trick on the reader. The prologue hooked me, as it was intended to, but after that, with the fourteen chapters about her childhood, husbands, and kids, I  literally shut the book and put it in my used-bookstore-trade-in pile.

Later, I remembered I wanted to read about that election debate, and picked the book up again, but grudgingly. I kind of resented having been forced to read all that gooey relationship stuff in a moralizing memoir focussed on parenting more than anything.

Granted, as a memoir ghostwriter and person with my own set of kooky parents, you have to hit me with some outlandish stuff if you want to make me interested in your childhood. Kelly’s childhood was pretty unremarkable to me, but it eventually became clear why she put all that info in the book.

Later, when she talks about how she toughed it out through Trump’s post-debate bullying, she references her mom’s non-coddling parenting style to make a point about how that toughened her up for moments like this.

The non-coddling message comes full circle and ties the book up, philosophically, quite neatly, and Settle for More carries the message: don’t coddle your children, or they won’t grow up to be tough, like Megyn Kelly. It’s really a moralizing memoir, not a political one.

This message might be really useful for parents who struggle with this issue, but it annoyed me, because I picked up the book completely unaware that I was about to read a book that, at its core, is about parenting, not politics.

Unmasking conservative feminism in the Trump era … or not

I thought I was going to read a book about a feminist behind the scenes at Fox news, and the crossroads between conservative thought and feminism. Some of that is in the book, granted, but it isn’t the focus. In fact, I think the topic was somewhat whitewashed.

Kelly gave a pass to a whole bunch of men at Fox news. These guys didn’t exactly throw her under the bus, but they didn’t stand up for her against Trump either, so busy were they keeping candidate Trump appeased.

The book made me ask: Why should journalists keep a presidential candidate appeased at all? Yet, that question isn’t addressed.

I also want to ask: “How can a woman so adamant about her right to equality work for Roger Ailes, know him well, and never mention his bad reputation regarding women, until the end of the book? These were the things I wanted to know about, but I got broad strokes, instead.

In the end, the message is that Kelly isn’t a whiner, has proven she isn’t a whiner, and can’t stand other people who are whiners or who nurture whiners. I hate whiners, too, so I don’t disagree, I just think Kelly has a lot more to say than that.

The book skims over a lot of topics and basically sells itself short with the many aphorisms about parenting. I still have a few chapters more to read, but again, I’m ready to put it in the recycle pile, because when memoirs start moralizing, you’ve lost me.

cover of Megyn Kelly's book, Settle for More

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