Growing up I regularly read Ann Landers' column. I can even
remember my favorite ones --- the one with the meatloaf recipe and
the one about how to hang a roll of toilet paper. Living in a small
town in New Jersey, I got a new perspective on the world from
letters signed by people with signatures like Desperate in Dallas
and Confused in Cincinnati. Sometimes I would howl at what people
were asking while other times I was shocked at the depths of the
problems that people shared.
Reading the column each day I formed a picture of Landers. When she
passed away in 2002, I read the tributes to her and realized this
was the end of an era.
ANN LANDERS IN HER OWN WORDS: Personal Letters to Her Daughter,
showed me another side of Landers. For here were the letters that
personally defined her ---- those she wrote to her daughter Margo
over forty-four years. Broken up into four sections, the book tells
the story of a close mother/daughter relationship. Here, again in
her own words, we come to know Esther "Eppie" Lederer (Landers'
Whether she was giving Margo advice, checking in to see how she was
or lavishing praise, Landers wrote with the tone of a well-meaning
friend. The excitement that Landers felt in sharing her life with
Margo is touchingly evident. Many of her notes to Margo were
hurried pieces while others were long and leisurely, but all were
personal and laced with love.
Margo has said, "I loved putting this collection together. And
strange as it may sound, reading them all, together, was an
entirely different experience than seeing them one at a time. ANN
LANDERS IN HER OWN WORDS – even for me – is like
watching two lives unfolding."
The book is punctuated with notes from Margo that give background
to the letters. At one point in her introduction she was astounded
to learn that her mom had saved all of her letters, just as she had
saved her mom's. It's clear that this writing ---and their
relationship --- meant a lot to them both.
Readers also get a look at another side of Landers. We see a woman
who was politically active and had a strong business sense. She had
access to the powerful and the famous because of who she was ---
people such as Walter Cronkite, Hubert Humphery and Cardinal Joseph
Bernadin. She also believed in many causes and supported them with
her time and her opinions.
There is enough reference to the feud between Landers and her twin
sister, who penned the Dear Abby column for years, to be honest,
but Landers takes the high road and remains a real lady.
Right after Landers' death, I clipped her meatloaf recipe from the
paper and made it. After closing Margo's book I vowed to write more
letters to my sons. Last week I was passing my older son's room and
saw a recent IM session between us printed and tacked onto the
wall. Sure instant communication like that is wonderful, but the
preservation of letters like those in this book reminds me how much
history we lose when we do not write.
Whether you are a Landers fan or just relish the chance to voyeur a
very special relationship as it grows over the years, ANN LANDERS
IN HER OWN WORDS is a wonderful read.
Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald on January 20, 2011