During a trip back to New York from Miami this week, I was browsing the books at the terminal’s newsstand and came across this book by Anderson Cooper and his mother Gloria Vanderbilt. Like most Americans, I know Cooper from CNN and the years of journalism that he has provided to us. I was not aware of his mother’s story or that she is still going strong at ninety-three years of age. I decided to purchase the book and I am delighted to say this New York Times Bestseller was worth the investment. The title is quite self-explanatory but there is so much more in this book which is a collection of correspondence between Cooper and his mother. It takes place over a period of time and through electronic means. The story of their lives is fascinating and contains an interesting history of its own.
The beauty in this book is the newfound relations ship that develops between mother and son as they try to heal old wounds and find out who the other person really is. To say that I learned a significant amount of information about them would be an understatement. The Vanderbilt name is among the most famous in American history. At her age, she is direct link to the family’s storied past. Her memory of her family lineage at her age is astounding but also a testament to her longevity and ability to analyze herself. As Anderson throws the questions her way, she opens up extensively about the periods in her life and what they meant to her. Many years have passed since she has seen or heard the voices of her late Aunt Gertrude, Dodo, Naney and even her own mother. And all of the stars she was acquainted with as a young starstruck teenager on the west coast are deceased. Nonetheless, her memories of her time with Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra, Sidney Lumet and her last husband Wyatt Cooper are enlightening and precious.
However, not all the story is happy and there are many tragic moments as well including the passing of her father, the death of Wyatt and the suicide of Anderson’s older Carter in July, 1988. In spite of the many deaths that have surrounded her throughout her life, Gloria does not fear it but provides an interesting look at what she knows could come for her at any time. Her ability to accept her mortality and live the most rewarding life that she can, is an example which we all should strive to follow. Some of us will live to the age of ninety-three and some of us will not. But it is not about the number of years we live but how we live them. That is a lesson which Gloria seeks to reinforce to the reader. I truly enjoyed her story but it is only part of the book. This is Anderson’s show too and he also opens up about his own life and struggles.
I found that I was able to relate to this story as I have a sibling who is also gay and went through a process of coming out to our mother. Like Gloria, my mother also had her feelings on sexuality that have softened over time. But in the beginning things were not always so easy and many rough patches existed that had to be paved over. Today my mother and brother have an even stronger relationship than they ever did. In reading Anderson’s story I saw my brother and the personal decisions he has been forced to make because of his orientation. But as the older brother, I have long realized that it is my job to reassure him and stand in his corner throughout thick and thin. The main difference however, is that my brother is still alive while Cooper’s brother died nearly thirty years ago. The death of Carter Cooper comes up towards the end of the book and is clearly a tough topic for both mother and son. I do not believe that either will ever completely heal from his death or the death of Wyatt Cooper, their father and Gloria’s last spouse. Wyatt reminds me of my own father in the way that he approached life which we see through Gloria’s words. His death in 1976 came far too soon and left many what-if questions. Mother and son touch on these questions but ultimately accept what is and focus on the time they still have left and that is the most touching part of the book. In fact, reading has made me appreciate both of my parents even more but especially my mother who also shares a unique bond with her son(s). If you are a fan of Anderson Cooper this is a must read.
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