Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book: "All That is Bitter & Sweet" by Ashley Judd

Someone once told me they thought I looked like Ashley Judd (!). I don't quite see it (maybe 30 years and 50 pounds ago??) but I took it as a huge compliment. I've always enjoyed Judd in all the movies I've seen her in, and I've always thought she was beautiful. Beyond acting, I also knew she was a strong feminist, an activist, and that she went back to school in her 40s to get her master's degree in public administration -- from Harvard, no less!!  And, of course, she's the younger daughter & sister of country singers Naomi & Wynonna Judd.

Judd is also the author (with Marianne Vollers) of a 2011 memoir, All That is Bitter & Sweet, based on her personal diaries. I thought it might be an interesting read, and picked it up about a year ago. I only just now finished it.

I've mentioned before that I have a fondness/weakness for Hollywood/celebrity memoirs. This was not one of them -- at least, not a typical one. Yes, Judd does discuss her acting career and some of the famous people she's met along the way -- but that is not the focus of this book, or of Judd's life, for that matter. Acting may pay the bills, but Judd's life passion is clearly for her humanitarian work, particularly on behalf of women and girls, and mostly in concert with Population Services International (PSI), which has taken her to slums, brothels and clinics in developing countries such as Cambodia, India, Rwanda and Congo.  The book describes her travels on behalf of PSI and the sometimes horrifying personal stories of the women and children she met in mind-numbing detail.

It's overwhelming for us to read -- and it has been overwhelming for Judd to live through. After a couple of years of such trips, and finding it increasingly difficult to cope emotionally, she realized she needed to resolve the needs of her own neglected inner child. In 2006, she checked herself into an intensive 42-day rehabilitation program at Shades of Hope, a treatment facility in Buffalo Gap, Texas, where she tackled deep-rooted issues of depression and co-dependency. Growing up, Judd was bounced around among various relatives and often left to fend for herself while her mother worked as a nurse and doggedly pursued a career in country music with her older daughter.

At the time she wrote the book, Judd was married to race car driver Dario Franchitti, and she describes how they met and got married in a Scottish castle. He's more absent than present in this book, however, and since its publication, they have divorced.  No doubt their busy careers and the long spells apart that Judd describes in the book had something to do with it.

On the ALI front (you knew there had to be an ALI angle to this, right?? ;) ), Judd is childfree by choice.  In the book, she explains:
The fact is that I have chosen not to have children because I believe the children who are already here are really mine, too. I do not need to go making 'my own' babies when there are so many orphaned or abandoned children who need love, attention, time, and care. I have felt this way since I was at least eighteen and I had an argument about it with a childhood friend…I figured it was selfish for us to pour our resources into making our 'own' babies when those very resources and energy could not only help children already here, but through advocacy and service transform the world into a place where no child ever needs to be born into poverty and abuse again. My belief has not changed. It is a big part of who I am.
I admire Ashley Judd hugely for all she has accomplished, personally and professionally, and overall, this was a thoughtful and absorbing book. It's a worthy read, especially if you are interested in her life & work, or in global feminist/humanitarian causes generally. But it's not an easy book to get through (there's a reason why it took me a full year, on & off...!). The subject matter, while worthy of attention, is difficult (you probably NEED to take a break from it every now & then); the language, while powerful and eloquent, includes a little too much spiritual and 12-step recovery movement jargon for my liking. At 470 pages (!), it probably could have been 100 pages shorter, and still gotten its messages across effectively. 

I'd give it three stars out of five.

This was book #19 that I've read to date in 2015.


  1. I know a little bit about Judd, so reading this review was interesting. It always is interesting to read others outlook on children and raising them. And I admire Judd's ability to look past the biological connection and take an active role in help raising the next generation. After all, a lot of us do this (as a teacher, I know I certainly do) and it's important.

  2. I'm always impressed at the biographies you read. I suspect if I started reading them I might never stop. Might be worth getting this one, and taking my time with it (as you recommend) though.