By Lisa Brennan-Jobs
This book is hauntingly good. It is common knowledge that Steve Jobs was not a role-model father, colleague, boss or human being. He was insanely gifted and artistic and made tech look good. Outside of his obvious skills and humanity-altering contributions of designing and pioneering revolutionary Apple products, his personality is known to be acerbic and awkward. When the book initially released, I read the NYT’s interviews of Lisa and the praise for the book, but hesitated to buy it. I knew the portrayal would be real and that Jobs would come off as despicable and hateful. But little did I know that Lisa’s writing would be so poetic, her descriptions of her homes and the Silicon Valley of the 80’s so vivid and her manner of writing so strong and willful, that I’d become an instant fan.
I haven’t been able to put down the book since it started, with her conversations and tip-toeing around her father on his deathbed. When Lisa writes about the eucalyptus trees, the slanting sunlight and the pink pepper pods around her front door, I can smell and see them. I have driven around on the backroads of Palo Alto enough to picture these Californian ranch houses, dotted with eucalyptus trees and that occasional ocean air. I chuckled at how she described empty lots on El Camino (all worth $$$ today) and how houses on Stevens Canyon roads had goats in their backyard! Even though she was a child of a hippie, poor,unstable mother and a wealthy, ex-hippie father entering prominence and the technological advancements and innovation of that era is not her focus at all, she draws you in and paints a picture of life outside the tech in the 80s. The society’s portrayal is compelling but has a hippie-style glamour that is so different from what Silicon Valley and the social vibe of that area is today. I particularly enjoyed these early descriptions and her matter-of-fact writing.
Steve Jobs was not a good father to Lisa. She understands her being cast as unwanted and has said so repeatedly in the book and interviews, as being thought of as a mistake in the perfect tapestry of Steve Job’s life (as per Steve Jobs). It is these honest feelings that break you heart, even moving one to tears many times in the book. You can feel a child’s pain, her helplessness as she watched her mother scream and yell in the car on a dark, stormy night. You can feel her wishing for things to change and appreciate her willingness to go on, aided in no small measure by the innocence of her childhood and the at-times exciting, yet mysterious presence of a famous, rich father. I don’t know why, but her efforts to please her stepmother and father, her joy at being with him at times when things are good and the emotional pain she experienced as a child and during her rough-teenage years touch your heart in a very tender way. Her experiences are very sad at times – being rejected for a kitten by the Humane Society due to instability or wanting a pretty house and watching your father and his new family occupy it. It is interspersed with her joy at skating around the neighborhood and smelling flowers, but one often wonders how she moved past these instances and managed to be cordial with the person who could have prevented them from happening in the first place!
It is also a perfect showcase of how much children actually understand the world and perceive adult behavior and stresses on the importance of a happy and stable early childhood. Lisa invokes self-pity very well, but balances it out nicely with her factual, straightforward writing and her combination of sad and happy events, describing her internal feelings so well. One particular sentence where she wonders (as a kid) why adults around her treat her like an adult, confessing their complex feelings and love-lives and she pegs it to the fact that maybe since none of them are married, they like her innocence and an opportunity to express themselves openly around her. She also likes the attention and importance and enjoys those interactions. It is this dual nature of her thoughts, I find so relatable and enjoyable.
There is nothing to learn factually from this book that the world already doesn’t know thanks to the multiple movies and biographies on Steve Jobs. But it is a very intimate journey of growing up in the 80’s silicon valley in an unorthodox setting that captures the reader’s imagination. It is also a story of survival and grit, of human errors and behaviors and a portrait of the delicate mind of a child subjected to bizarre and often sad circumstances. If anything, it would make a parent take stock of their behavior with their child and I think that is the biggest success of this book. It is never preachy and never tries to tell the reader what they should do, but it makes you think of how you come across to your child or family. For that alone, I’d recommend this book as a must-read.
Absolutely loved the book. Lisa Brennan-Jobs, you have my attention for all the writing yet to come.