Navigating Life: Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me

Things I WishWith charming candor and insight, Bergen addresses her college-bound daughter, Charlotte, on subjects such as love, friendship, education, and work. The book’s eight essays offer advice on facing “the hidden horrors and private joys of adult life”: conversation tactics gleaned from friends and cab drivers, the importance of dental care (“This is America and teeth matter”), and impulse control (“learn why you drink”). She discusses career moves and handling prickly employers and sudden terminations with grace before meaningfully recounting her experience with depression and the death of her alcoholic father. Her comments on divorce are wise and sensitive, stressing the value of romantic love despite its risk, “the daily glory of understanding and being understood.” Bergen is at her most poignant when describing the fluctuations of intimacy and parental control with a child on the verge of adulthood: “I still watch over you but now you watch me too. I am not used to the scrutiny.” Bergen’s style belongs to the tradition of Michel de Montaigne, providing guidance through an alchemy of personal reminiscence and thoughts on the general human condition. Her story may not be remarkably exciting, but it is well told and piercing in its honesty.

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