Book review: Memoir uplifts readers when woman takes chance on a Harley Davidson and life
“Harley and Me”
by Bernadette Murphy
Bernadette Murphy starts her memoir/self-help guide with writing that reads more like literature than advice.
“The day is finally starting to soften with the onset of evening as a storm assembles to the southeast. The sun has been scorching my retinas all day and is just now starting dim.”
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With these words, she starts a book that includes opinions, anecdotes and psychological studies, all aimed at those who are willing to push their comfort zones to find out how far they can go. This is not a book that will tell you to follow your bliss, but it will show you that you are not alone in your loneliness, joy or your confusion with the two.
Murphy writes from the point of view of a recently divorced woman in her 50s, adrift in a world where she has always been too preoccupied with being a wife, a daughter or a mother to try to be herself. Suddenly cast out in the world without those identifiers, she finds solace in what might be the least likely source imaginable, a Harley Davidson Iron 883, a midsized motorcycle that carries her across Los Angeles, and eventually the country.
She reflects on the lessons taught by the motorcycle while she tries living in the South Pacific, jumping back into the dating pool or reconnecting with herself on the road from California to Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson rally. She reflects on why bigger risks, like a motorcycle, are suddenly appealing and on everything from social expectations of young women and grown women, to the changing chemistry of the human body as it ages.
There are stories sure to relate to readers from any demographic. I took particular comfort in the moments when Murphy mentions revelations she had as an adult, that were lesson she wishes she’d gotten in her 20s.
What I love the most about this Murphy’s writing, is that while she has clearly lived a life worth bragging about, “Harley and Me” never feels condescending or patronizing. It never tells you how to live your life, and recognizes that risk and reward are going to differ with every person, but failure is universal and tenacity must be earned.
Every genre has its moment. It happened with young adult dystopian fiction, and has started for self-help and life-affirmation books. An unfortunate side effect of this popularity is the tendency for books in the hot genre to start sounding redundant and bland. The same character does the same things against the same totalitarian regime (or midlife crisis) and everything turns out okay in the end.
I’m sick of getting the same advice from different mouths; it’s repetitive boring, and more often than not doesn’t apply to my situations at all because the author is trying to cast too wide a net over too large an audience.
“Harley and Me” doesn’t do that. Murphy uses her own, very personal life experiences to give advice to people who seek novelty and authenticity through experience. Risk takers or want-to-be risk takers will find what they’re looking for in this memoir. Lovers of “Wild,”Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback” or “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” will love this.
This title is available at Off the Beaten Path bookstore and Bud Werner Memorial Library.
Jenna Meier-Bilbo is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.
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