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Book Review: Growing Up Again

May 21, 2009

I recently read “Growing Up Again” by Mary Tyler Moore, celebrity diabetic and chairperson of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Since this book is of particular interest to so many of my readers, I thought I would post an extended version of my review from Goodreads. As someone else noted on Goodread, this book reads as if it was written in a couple of afternoons and immediately sent off to the publisher. While it stays true to Mary’s personality, Mary’s literary style is more in line with a blog than a memoir. Too many tangents, self-referential comments and irrelevant questions to the reader that has nothing to do with her story made for some very distracting writing.

There were several parts that I thought she did a good job explaining the emotional impact of diabetes, but there were many instances, such as her acting career, her time on Broadway and the chapter on dancing that had almost no connection to diabetes at all, save for one or two hypoglycemia incidents. Of course, Mary doesn’t seem to have a great grasp on what her blood sugar was even like during those times, so it’s actually harder to relate because she was so clueless up until a few years ago when she starting getting complications.

She writes, “When we were settled, he asked when my ast eye examination was. I told him that I couldn’t recall any during the fifteen years that followed the diabetes diagnosis. ‘No one cautioned you about the need for vigilant and frequent updates on your status?’ he barked.”

Imagine where Mary would be if she’d been plugged into the D.O.C. when she was diagnosed…

Her chapter on complications I thought was the best, because as someone who is young and healthy, I don’t know very much about this. So I appreciated her insight into what going through that was like.

I also didn’t mind her references to JDRF, and in fact, her chapter talking about their involvement and what JDRF does was very interesting and gave some backstory I wasn’t aware of. Mary is chairman of the organization, so obviously she would never publicly criticize it and would only urge people to be a part of it. I think that’s in line with other people in similar capacities. Her work with JDRF also fundamentally changed how she viewed her own life with diabetes, as she states, “It took me years and years to get to the point where I could announce to the world, ‘I am Mary Tyler Moore and I have diabetes.’ But announce it I did in 1984, when I agreed to become the international chairman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.” (She’s been the chairman longer than I’ve been alive? Wow!).

She also touched upon how to balance the urgency for a cure with the “I can do anything!” spirit of people with diabetes. She writes, “My mind was clicking with these questions: If I tell the public that I have diabetes, won’t they say to themsleves, ‘Well, it can’t be all that serious a diase. Look at her, she’s energetic, bursting with health, never sick! There are much wrose diseases than diabetes.’ The other end of the seesaw (do they still have those?) was my fear that as the public watched me acting my brains out they would be thinking, ‘Oh, it’s sad she has diabetes and, from what I hear, there is no cure for it.'”

(That excerpt is also an example of Mary’s rhetorical, irrelevant questions – why on earth would you ask about the existence of seesaws in the middle of that otherwise profound statement?)

Although most chapters have some connection to diabetes, she often loses track that that’s the point of her story, and instead deviates into other parts of her background – dancing, her relationship with her father – which, while interesting, are never clearly connected back to her diabetes, such as how diabetes affected her dancing. And connected they are, but I didn’t feel that Mary really did much self-analysis. Either that or she left it up to the reader on purpose.

For the most part, I don’t think this was that great of a book on diabetes. There were some cameos by some JDRF friends, including Mollie and Jackie Singer, so it was a treat to read their words in there. Certainly there are other books that are better and better written. If you’re a Mary Tyler Moore fan, and want to learn more about diabetes, or just want to get a very cursory knowledge of diabetes, I’d read this book. If you’re a diabetic, you will be disappointed, but still worth a read considering it’s Mary Tyler Moore, I think. Just don’t get your hopes up.

  1. Lili permalink
    May 21, 2009 2:29 PM

    Somehow, I’m not surprised, ever since I saw her endorsement of “Diabetes Survival Guide” by Stanley Mirsky, which is hands down the worst diabetes book I’ve read. It says things like:
    “[…] there is just one rule: avoid simple carbohydrates such as sugar, honey,and syrups and eat 40 to 45 grams of complex carbohydrates at every meal.”
    “For diabetics, artificial sweeteners are a much better choice than sugar, and keep you from feeling like a second-class citizen. Children, especially, need to feel they are not being totally deprived of the goodies their friends consume so freely.”
    “If you eat too little, cut back way too much on the carbs, and do not compensate by adjusting your insulin or oral agents, you may find yourself inundated with unexpected insulin reactions. Do not try this kind of diet on your own. Better yet, don’t try it at all.”
    “If you take insulin, then tests must be made at least three times a day – before breakfast, dinner, and bedtime. In times of stress or illness, add a fourth test, before lunch. There’s rarely a need to do it more often than that.”

    He strongly implies that anyone who tests their bg more often than that is crazy.

    • May 21, 2009 2:36 PM

      Well, her information about type 1 diabetes was not wrong at all – she phrases some things kinda oddly, but not wrong. She had a scientific editor, though, so I imagine that person kept things on the straight and narrow. But her actual usage of the English language was very similar to Stanley’s! Just kinda strange, like they were just typing what they were thinking and whatever they ended with was it.

  2. May 21, 2009 8:41 PM

    I wasn’t under the impression that the book was specifically about her life with diabetes. I thought it was just about her life, and while she wrote more about how diabetes fit into her life than she’s previously disclosed, I wouldn’t have expected her to tie diabetes to every aspect. What I expected based on the interviews I saw when it was released and what little I read about it sounds more or less like what you’ve described as far as the content goes.

    All that being said, I had no intention of reading it, so I’m glad to have a friend like you who did read it and can tell me about it 🙂

    • May 22, 2009 8:41 AM

      The introduction of the book is about how the daughter of an book editor wanted a book about what it’s like to live with diabetes – not just how to manage it – and the editor encouraged Mary to share her story. Based on that and the intro of the book – which is all about diabetes – one would imagine that the book is about diabetes. Mary loosely ties in other aspects of her life with diabetes, but there are huge gaps where it does feel like we’re reading an entirely different book with a different purpose. If Mary wanted this to be a “my life – and diabetes is in there sometimes” then that’s what she should have written.

  3. May 21, 2009 9:41 PM

    Gosh, when I finally get around to writing my review it is going to sound very similar to yours. It almost read like it was the transcription of an interview. It would have been interesting to listen to, but it was difficult to read.

    • May 22, 2009 8:41 AM

      “Transcription of an interview” – that’s a perfect way of describing it, yes! 🙂

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