Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres" by Kathleen Tracy

I’ve always liked Ellen DeGeneres. As a kid, "Finding Nemo" was one of the greatest movies ever in my opinion. And of course, I loved watching her dance around on her talk show. Of course, my first impressions of her stuck with me the most. I never really took the time to know more about her though. The only other things I remembered about her were her public relationship with Anne Heche and her happy marriage to Portia de Rossi. I must say, I’m glad I delved into Kathleen Tracy’s biography about DeGeneres.

It was interesting to hear about DeGeneres’ Southern upbringing and the traditional values her family upheld. She wasn’t allowed to get vaccines as a child because her family members were devout Christian Scientists. She wasn’t even allowed to take science classes at school because of her parents’ religious beliefs. I was also incredibly shocked to hear that Ellen was molested by her stepfather as a teenage girl. Of course, Tracy writes about DeGeneres’ television shows, her adult relationships, and her family life. But I was most shocked to hear about Ellen’s first “real love.” I was only surprised because he was her high school boyfriend. Tracy makes the point to say that Ellen was not one of those lesbians who knew of her sexuality at an early age. She struggled with it quite a lot, and really repressed it until she went to college.

Tracy’s style is typical of any other biographer. She writes the story in order, and she writes with clarity. I have to say though, I was a bit confused about chronology because she would often jump forward in time, and then jump right back to where she was. I found it to be a little off-putting when she decided to explain things that seemed like such common knowledge. It felt almost condescending, as if Tracy was the only one who knew of common sense and that the rest of us readers have much to learn. For example, at one point she mentions that DeGeneres’ older brother Vance treated her like a nuisance, “as typical of older brothers.” Maybe I’m just being nitpicky again, but I think it’s a bit obvious that older brothers don’t quite appreciate their younger sisters like they should. Other than that though, I commend Tracy on the book's being so well researched. She makes sure to point out an error in a 1997 issue of People Magazine, which apparently miscounted the number of spouses Ellen DeGeneres’ mother had. This book is pretty appropriate in terms of subject matter. The details are quite tame, so I think that really anybody above the age of 13 can handle it.

What I liked most about the book is that the introduction very clearly spells out the messages Tracy hopes for the reader to walk away with. She wants the reader to understand how dumb it is to define a person by his or her sexuality. Ellen lost a lot of her audience when the media decided to define her by her sexuality. The world really forgot how talented she was because they became so wrapped up in who she is as a person. Tracy makes sure to include a really meaningful quote from DeGeneres that I think really summarizes the whole essence of the book.

“My whole career has been based on making people feel happy. That’s all I ever wanted to do—was make people laugh and make people happy.”

What’s the point of putting somebody down who spreads such a positive message? Having a positive attitude is really the only way to make sure that the world responds positively to you. A little bit of happiness never hurt anyone.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres" in comments!

1 comment:

maddox said...

Thanks for the review, I didn't know this was out there. If you enjoyed this I highly recommend reading Betty Degeneres' book, it's a little about Ellen's life but also about her mother's, Betty. It's written in a much more personal style, and from the viewpoint of a mother!