Battle of the Books – Memoirs

Power Forward

by Reggie Love
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Published on February 3rd 2015
Pages: 224
Format: Hardcover Source: Library

Reggie Love is a unique witness to history, whose introduction to Washington was working in Junior Senator Barack Obama’s mailroom. As “body man” to Obama during his first presidential campaign, Love’s job was to stay one step behind the candidate, but think and act three steps ahead during a typical eighteen-hour workday. As President Obama’s personal aide during that momentous first term, Love sat yards from the Oval Office and often spent more time with the President than anyone else. While his experiences were unique, the lessons he learned during his tenure with the President are universal. Persistence. Responsibility. Passion for a cause greater than yourself. In short, maturity. Love has been singularly lucky in his mentors. At Duke University, where he was a walk-on and a captain of its fabled basketball team, Love learned from Coach Krzyzewski that sports builds character—from President Obama, Love learned that how you conduct your life defines your character. Accountability and serving with honor were learned during unsought moments: co-coaching with Malia Obama’s and Sasha Obama’s basketball team with the President; lending Obama his tie ahead of a presidential debate; managing a personal life when no hour is truly your own. From his first interview with Senator Obama, to his near-decision not to follow the President-elect to the White House, Love drew on Coach K’s teachings as he learned to navigate Washington. But it was while owning up to (temporarily) losing the President’s briefcase, playing pick-up games in New Hampshire to secure votes, babysitting the children of visiting heads of state, and keeping the President company at every major turning point of his historic first campaign and administration, that Love learned how persistence and passion can lead not only to success, but to a broader concept of adulthood. Power Foward is a professional coming of age story like no other.

It took me a few days after reading this book to figure out where it went wrong for me. At first I thought it was the overall “sports is a metaphor for everything” vibe but that wasn’t it. Then I thought that it was that he just tells anecdotes and not a chronological story that was bothering me.

I think the real problem is that he never tells the reader something real.

There are stories about campaign events and mistakes and visiting dignitaries but they are relayed in the matter of fact manner of well-rehearsed stories you pull out when you need to entertain. A memoir needs more. It needs to have heart, which is a term I totally hate but is applicable here. This book reads like, “I was in college and played sports and then I lucked into a job, and then I worked for the President and that was cool.” It stays on the surface so there is always nagging feeling that something is missing.


Yes, ChefYes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, Chef gets it right. Marcus Samuelsson was orphaned in Ethiopia at a young age. He and his older sister were adopted by a Swedish family. He went on to become an acclaimed chef.

The first chapter of the book is a discussion about how he has no memories of his mother but knows what she must have been like because her life would have been similar to women he’s met in rural Ethiopia now. It talks about the hardness of her life and then about her walking 70 miles to get him and sister to a hospital during a TB epidemic where she eventually died.

“My mother’s family never owned a photograph of her ,which tells you everything you need to know about where I’m from and what the world was like for the people who gave me life.  In 1972, in the United States, Polaroid introduced its most popular instant camera.  In 1972, the year my mother died, an Ethiopian woman could go her whole life without having her picture taken – especially if, as was the case with my mother, her life was not long.”  page 4

That chapter was compelling enough that I read it out loud to the husband and Z in the car.  Nothing in Power Forward made you feel the need to share it.

The rest of the books was also very good.  As a vegetarian, I’m always a little disturbed by food memoirs.  The food descriptions are just so disgusting.  He has to take the obligatory shot at vegetarians when he talks about being chosen to do the Obamas’ first State Dinner.  It was for the Prime Minister of Indian and his wife who are vegetarians.  Oh it is just so hard to make food that tastes decent without using meat!  How can it possibly be done?

(Power Forward talks about this dinner also from the security side and never once mentions the lack of meat. )

These books are both by black men who have nurtured their respective talents (sports and cooking) to rise to positions of prominence that they would never have imagined as children.  Yes, Chef‘s more powerful writing and willingness to look below the surface recounting of accomplishments gives it the edge here.

Photo Credit USDA Flickr