I’ve been doing surprisingly well reading (audibly) nonfiction this year, but this is still not a post I could have predicted wanting to write. However, when I impulse picked up Open Book by Jessica Simpson on audio and fell madly in love with it, I knew I needed to write an actual review. And then I discovered Alicia Keys was releasing her own memoir called More Myself and by this point, I really knew that I love books about music. And the final piece of the puzzle came when I accidentally requested and was approved for The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton Morgan, aka Peyton from One Tree Hill. So here we are. I’m really excited to talk to you about all three of these memoirs!
Open Book by Jessica Simpson
I know I’ve already talked quite a lot about my absolute love of this book and you’re probably like, yeah, we get it. But I really wanted to take the time to try and actually articulate why this memoir was so great and also such a surprise for me. I watched The Newlyweds when I was a teenager so I knew Jessica Simpson as the kind of ditzy woman with an incredible singing voice, but she wasn’t exactly an important famous person to me. So I picked up this book after Chelsea from chelseadolling reads praised it and I think said something about there being tea. Anyway, that sort of stuck in my brain so I kind of went in expecting this fun and dramatic and messy memoir. I was not prepared for what I actually got.
Open Book really walks us through Simpson’s entire life and her childhood wasn’t really the most stable. She talks so much about her faith (Christianity) and how growing up she could be kind of judgmental because she didn’t yet understand how to express her faith. I found that part very relatable and I’m thrilled for both of us that we experienced some serious growth. She was also sexually abused by someone during her childhood and she talks about how that caused some trauma that wasn’t really dealt with well.
Then we really start to see all of the fits and starts toward fame that her career took and I thought this was really fun. I remember I was walking around the lake when she was talking about trying out for the Mickey Mouse Club and meeting Justin Timberlake and I was giggling out loud. By the end of that walk, I was actively crying because there was a death of someone really important to her and even though this happened when she was a teen, you can tell it still impacts her a lot today. So that was quite the walk.
There is some tea as she and Nick get together and work through their relationship to the point that they get married. But honestly, it was when she starts talking about dating John Mayer that I felt like the real tea was being spilled. I was screaming along to Dear John by Taylor Swift for a bit as a break because WHAT A TOOL. Then we transition closer to where she is now and honestly, just… This entire book was absolutely amazing. And also, I just cried a million times reading this book. Other than the sexual abuse and grief content warnings, I would also warn that there is discussion of pregnancy, strained parental relationships, alcoholism, and body talk. I really, really loved this book and would highly recommend you listen to it if you can!
More Myself by Alicia Keys
I was really wanting more books about music after listening to Open Book and rather than listen to Daisy Jones and The Six for the millionth time, I (eventually) picked up More Myself by Alicia Keys. I would highly recommend this book on audio because the production quality is out of this world and Alicia sings pretty often throughout it. Aside from hearing Alicia’s awesome singing voice, this memoir especially felt like it was all about the music.
In it, Alicia does cover the events of her life, but the focus is really about how certain things influenced her musically and how she fought for creative control of her musical career. There’s also a large emphasis on her philanthropic efforts and her trips to Africa and the importance of those.
I feel like Alicia keeps you at a bit of a distance from her life, which is 100% her prerogative, but there were certain things that I wished she had explored more. That may just be me being selfish though. I do want to content warn that Alicia was in a relationship, which she does not seem to think was problematic, as a like 15 year old with a man who was 20 something. It’s obviously her life and I could understand her perspective on all of it, but it was just really disconcerting to read about and I’m concerned the way it’s presented could be harmful to some people. So just maybe look into that before you read if that could be triggering.
The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton-Morgan
To be fair to The Rural Diaries, it gives you exactly what it says it’s going to. The other part of the title is Love, Livestock, and Life Lessons from Down on Mischief Farm and that is essentially exactly what we get. So it’s unfair of me to be salty that we didn’t get more about Burton-Morgan’s time on One Tree Hill, especially given that I know there was a lot of pain wrapped up in her time there. I completely forgot she was ever a host on TRL though… Anyway, so what to expect when you pick this book up:
Essentially this is the story of how Hilarie Burton met and eventually (a long while later) married Jeffrey Morgan. They had a pretty whirlwind of a relationship and there were some definitely rocky moments after she had their first child, but eventually, they buy this house in the middle of upstate NY and start settling into having a real community. As a person who loves that sense of community, I thought this exploration was the strongest part of the book.
The book also explores some themes of grief and love and fighting for a relationship. Burton-Morgan and her husband eventually decided to try for a second child and there were many miscarriages on that journey. It was heartbreaking to listen to, but also really awesome that Burton-Morgan was so open about it. She also shares how her midwifes taught her to handle contractions (she calls them something else) and I was kind of imagining other people who have been through childbirth giving her the same face when people tell me to just calm down when I’m anxious. Oh, there are also some recipes in here, which is nice. And a small discussion of the #MeToo movement, with some oblique references to what happened on the set of One Tree Hill.
Have you read any of these? It may be obvious that my favorite is Open Book so if you’re trying to decide which one to do, that one is my recommendation!
As a logistics aside, this post is very late and I’m sorry for that. It’s also not the post that was meant to go up today, but here we are! Anyway, I’m feeling very overwhelmed by the entire world, but I want to encourage you to keep an eye on what’s going on in Portland (and apparently Chicago soon???). The world is a scary place and we’ve got to do our best to make it better and safer, not just for the children or whatever we’ll potentially leave behind when we’re gone, but also like, for each other in the here and now. So, stay safe and well and to quote Senator Lewis (may he rest in much deserved peace), make some good trouble.