The backstory: I've been curious about Bringing Up Bebe since it first came out, but now that I'm pregnant (the nomadbaby is due August 9th), it seemed like a great time to finally read it. On the recommendation of Jen at Devourer of Books, I opted for the audio version.
The basics: Pamela Druckerman is a journalist and New Yorker who falls in love with a Brit and settles in Paris. Once they have a daughter, Bean, Druckerman begins to notice how different French children are than American children. They don't whine. They're not picky eaters. They sleep through the night earlier. yet when she asks French parents, they don't claim to do anything special or know what they're doing. In fact, compared to her U.S. friends who all espouse a variety of named parenting philosophies, the French parents insist that's just how children are.
My thoughts: One of my biggest fears about motherhood is exhaustion. I've always been a sleeper, and I don't function well on prolonged lack of sleep. Obviously, I'm aware that early motherhood will have me short on sleep, but I'm eager to find out anything that might help that period be as short as possible. In this sense, I enjoyed the first part of Bringing Up Bebe most because it focuses on the youngest children. My not-yet-born child does not yet whine in my fantasies, yet ini my head he does smile adorably in the middle-of-the-night when I wish I were sleeping.
Bringing Up Bebe begins with some background on Druckerman and her husband, which was interesting, but I was glad when she shifts the narrative to pregnancy. I didn't expect this book to include cultural differences about pregnancy, which I've read a lot about already. While I enjoyed her observations about pregnant French women, this section included the first red flags that Druckerman writes as a journalist who is not always willing to examine evidence or her own assumptions. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that stance, but throughout this book she vacillates between journalist and memoirist. This combination frustrated me as a reader at times, particularly because so many of her personal opinions she refuses to examine as a journalist are not ones I share.
Typically what I love about memoirs is having a glimpse into a person's real life. I liked that here, but I also realized for all the parts of this book I really enjoyed, I don't think Pamela Druckerman and I would be friends in real life. In fiction, I don't need my characters to be likeable as long as they're interesting and I understand their motivations. Listening to this book made me realize that preference extends to nonfiction too. Druckerman passes the interesting test--her life is fascinating, but her unwillingness to fully embrace this topic as a journalist frustrated me. For all the good observations (much more than half), there were several missed opportunities.
The verdict: There's a lot of wisdom and interesting observation about French parenting in Bringing Up Bebe. When Druckerman wrote as a journalist, I enjoyed this book much more than when she veered into more of a memoir style. There's a lot of good in this book, but I wished Druckerman would have pushed herself farther.
Audio thoughts: Abby Craden's narration was superb. Her French pronunciation (to my Anglophone ears) was accurate without being over-the-top. She read with emotion, and her voice reminds me of my favorite audiobook narrator, Cassandra Campbell. I'm glad I picked this one up on audio, as I fear Druckerman's opinions would have been more grating in print.
Rating: 4 out of 5 (4.5 out of 5 on audio)
Length: 288 pages (9 hours, 7 minutes)
Publication date: February 7, 2012
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Bringing Up Bebe from Amazon (Kindle edition.)
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