Monday, June 4, 2018

Review of Lessons from the Prairie: The Surprising Secrets to Happiness, Success, and (Sometimes Just) Survival I Learned on America's Favorite Show

About three years ago, I read a book written by Melissa Francis, current Fox News commentator and former child actress.  The book was entitled Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter: A Memoir.  Melissa Francis dared to write about what it was like to be a child actress with an extremely overbearing mother.  I enjoyed most of her book, although it made me very sad to read about the abuses she and her late sister endured at the hands of what sounds like their very narcissistic mom.

I don't follow Melissa Francis on Fox News.  For one thing, I don't really have access to it here in Germany.  For another, I wouldn't watch Fox News even if I was able.  However, I did like her fist book enough to read her second, 2017's Lessons from the Prairie: The Surprising Secrets to Happiness, Success, and (Sometimes Just) Survival I Learned on America's Favorite Show.  This book is yet another memoir, loosely based on Melissa Francis' experiences on the hit show, Little House on the Prairie.

Melissa and Jason on Little House...  Melissa writes about her ability to cry on demand.  Apparently, that made her a hot commodity as a child actress.

Melissa Francis is a Harvard graduate and is no doubt smart enough to know the connection to Little House would probably be more of a hook than is her Fox News connection.  This book does include some juicy tidbits about what it was like to be on Little House, working with Jason Bateman as her on screen brother, James.  I just recently watched the whole series, so the episodes Francis and Bateman were on are still fresh in my mind.  As a kid, I loved watching Little House on the Prairie.  In those days, TV was a lot more important than it is today... and we also had fewer choices as to what we could watch.  Melissa (then called Missy) and Jason were brought on to inject some new "kid" blood to the cast, since all the other kids who were on the show for years were becoming adults.  Ultimately, neither Missy nor Jason stayed on the series during its final season.

This book is not just about Little House, though.  It also about Melissa Francis' life.  She writes very candidly about how difficult her two pregnancies with her sons were.  Her husband, Wray, wanted one more child, but Melissa has an unusual genetic condition that makes her blood pressure shoot up during pregnancy.  A doctor told her in no uncertain terms that she shouldn't give birth to any more children.  That's how Melissa and Wray turned to a surrogate mother for their third child, a girl named Gemma.  It's very clear from Melissa Francis's book that she and her husband are extremely grateful to the couple who helped make their daughter's life possible.  Although some people might judge them for turning to surrogacy, it sounded to me like the whole experience was very rewarding.  She even includes a picture of the two families at the end of the book, along with a few photos from her days on Little House.

Melissa Francis also writes about how she decided to give up acting in favor of news reporting.  She explains that she didn't enjoy being someone she wasn't.  Acting requires convincingly portraying someone who isn't authentic.  Francis writes that she found that process exhausting and much prefers telling true stories as herself.  As I mentioned previously, I don't watch Fox News, so I don't have an opinion of how good Francis is at her job.  However, she has been working for Fox News for some time now and her career has taken off.  Having been a child star, she was no doubt used to rejection.  Francis did experience a lot of rejection as she entered the field of network journalism.  She had to convince people to give her a chance and then prove herself.  It looks like she's been successful.

There were a few times in her book that Francis hinted at her conservative political leanings.  I would imagine that working for Fox News requires her to at least sympathize with Republicans.  I didn't necessarily agree with a few of the ideas she presented, most notably her thoughts on the Affordable Care Act.  Francis has a degree in economics and, I'm sure, sees healthcare strictly as a business.  She writes about how requiring insurance companies to cover anyone and everyone was bound to be more expensive.

As someone who has a health administration background, I see affordable healthcare as something that should be a priority in any community, especially in a so-called "first world" nation like the United States.  Many countries have affordable healthcare.  It's not just about more coverage being more expensive.  Healthcare does not have to cost as much as it does and it shouldn't.  What needs to happen is that the businesses involved with healthcare delivery need to be reined in and not allowed to charge outrageous fees.  Healthcare should not be about pleasing investors and building stock portfolios.  I think it's morally wrong to force middle income people into insane debt just so they might have the hope of surviving or not having to live in pain.  I don't know exactly how Melissa Francis feels about all of this-- she's clearly well off herself and probably doesn't have to worry about going bankrupt if she gets sick.  But to a lot of Americans, this is a real problem and it shouldn't be.  That's just my view.

Francis offers a few tidbits of advice.  A lot of her insights are pretty obvious.  I was more into her anecdotes than her advice on good living.  Frankly, I don't think too many people are legitimately qualified to offer advice.  Some of Francis' jokes are kind of obnoxious, too.  Sometimes, it seems like she tries a little too hard to be funny or cool and she kind of fails.  I think she was trying to go for a tone that made her seem like a friend, but the reality is, her readers aren't friends and never could be.  This observation kind of flies in the face of Francis' comments about wanting to be "authentic" and not liking acting because it forced her to be fake.  I don't think her writing necessarily comes across as authentic.  Some of it seems trite and kind of overly cutesy.  Also, I thought it was interesting that Francis writes about the absence of God on television, yet uses quite a lot of profanity.  I'm not offended by profanity, but it did seem like maybe she was trying to pander to two different groups of people.

Overall, I didn't hate this book.  I see on Amazon that some readers were really turned off by it.  I can't say I was turned off, per se.  It probably helped that I have just recently seen the episodes of Little House that featured her and could relate to some of the comments she made about how ridiculous some episodes were toward the end of the series.  I didn't mind some of her snarky comments, either.  However, I liked her first book better than this book, which I think probably could have used another run with an editor.  Also, it's pretty clear that the title is sort of "click bait" for readers.  It's a bit misleading, since most of the book isn't really about Little House at all.  I'd probably give it three stars.

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