I picked Amy Dickinson’s memoir based solely on its title and cover page but realized towards the end I had a vague idea of who she was thanks to her viral response to a homophobic father in 2013. Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things is not a book full of “Ask Amy” advice but rather a book about one woman’s journey through life’s personal hardships written by a woman who just so happens to be renowned for her ability to help people.
Amy isn’t perfect. To be perfectly honest she is a little annoying at times- for example, I don’t think the quip of owning as many shoes as she has houses (4) was as charming as she though it was. She has had some challenges in her personal life that I’m sure many people find relateable and she obviously has a loyal fan base for her advice column.
Amy talks about the town she grew up in, and eventually moved back to, like it is another character in the story (think New York in Sex and the City) but it falls a bit flat. Also she posits she is the only person to leave Freeville, New York and come back but then mentions several relations who have done the same so that kind of falls apart.
“There are a lot of ways to be in a family. But here is how to BE a family: You have to spend time together. You have to try to be honest so that people trust you. You have to forgive others their failings and disappointments and ask for forgiveness for your own. You have to let things happen, to surrender to events, and accept that no matter what you do, life unspools anyway—whether you are alone and crying in your car, or holding hands with your beloved. You have to embrace those fleeting moments when everyone is healthy and happy. And sometimes, you have to make a spectacular celebration, just because you can.”
Amy had a bumpy childhood; her father was a bit of a conman who abandoned his family when Amy was young. Amy had a failed marriage herself in her twenties and ended up raising her daughter as a single mother in Chicago. After a somewhat strange courtship Amy eventually got remarried to a man she knew in high school and their blended family now includes 5 daughters and 2 grandchildren. The most important relationship in Amy’s life was the one she had with her mother, Jane, and a large portion of Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things revolves around Amy’s struggles following Jane’s death. Despite the heartbreaking subject matter these were the best chapters in the book and salvaged my opinion of Amy after some of the more irritating, self involved chapters.