Nonfiction — print. Howard Books, 2011. 288 pgs. Library copy.
Subtitled “An Up-Close View of How They Make it Work”, the Duggars’ second book is anchored by the story of the premature birth of their nineteenth child, Josie, and the loss of Jim Bob’s father to a brain tumor. The rest of the book is devoted to covering why they decided to stop using birth control, how they manage to raise such a large family without going into debt, and what they do to train their children to follow their religious beliefs. (Yes, the Duggars really do refer to raising their children as “training” their children.)
Josie’s birth and the death of J.L. Duggar, who declared on-camera that Jim Bob and Michelle should stop having children, in 2009 were both covered extensively by the family’s television show, which is about the time I stopped watching, so much of this information felt repetitive. I have caught a few of the more recent episodes in which Jim Bob largely blames his father’s death on his “ungodly” behavior, and the tone of those episodes clearly do not align with the tone the Duggars take in their book. Just one of the many examples of how differently the Duggars present themselves on camera compared to their books, which is exactly why I pick up their books.
I want the least filtered presentation of the Duggars as possible; the presentation where they extol the virtues of blanket training in order to crush a child’s inquisitive nature, blame women for a man’s sexual desires, and confess to following the dictates of an alleged sexual predator named Bill Gothard. Some of these topics were mentioned in their earlier specials but have since been scrubbed from the television show in its current incarnation, and their books are probably the closest to reality fans and those interested in their lifestyle from a sociological perspective are going to ever.
They do spend some time responding to criticisms of their family found on the internet, particularly the amount of processed foods they eat and the lack of education opportunities they provide to their children. They randomly interject a statement on how they try to encourage their children to snack on fresh fruits and vegetables, although all the recipes in the book were based on processed foods and the only fruit I have seen the Duggar children eat on the show came from a can. On the later point, they provide an infomercial for a unaccredited, online college associated with Gothard.
There were a few aspects of their life detailed in this book that I had not gleamed from the show such as the fact that they expect their children to confess “sinful thoughts and urgings” to their parents. Not a conversation I would ever want to have with my parents, thank you very much. I also felt a terrible amount of empathy for Michelle when she recounted learning about her own father’s death while her premature baby was in the hospital and, although our respective faiths do not align, I am glad she had her religious beliefs to drawn upon in that moment.
I wish the Duggars’ editor would tell them to stop referring to themselves in the first person only to announce who is actually speaking about halfway through the chapter as it makes the narrative difficult to follow. Knowing their religious beliefs, however, Michelle will never be able to publish a book separate from Jim Bob.
Their publisher should also reconsider the placement of those recipes I mentioned above among the text. Seems rather insensitive to provide a recipe for Apple Dumplings as Josie clings to life in the NICU or one for banana cake as Grandpa Duggar slowly dies from a brain tumor.