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Just Read This: ‘It’s What I Do’ by Lynsey Addario

it's what I do by lynsey addarioLynsey Addario’s memoir of her life as a war photographer, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life Of Love And War, opens in Libya in March of 2011. At the time, Addario, photographer Tyler Hicks, journalists Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell, and their driver, Mohammed, were working near Ajdabiya, interviewing and photographing rebels. As they tried to return to safety, they were stopped by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s soldiers at a hostile checkpoint. Mohammed was killed and the four journalists were taken hostage. This scene ends with Addario raising questions that will guide the rest of the book: “Why do you do this work? Why do you risk your life for a photograph?”

After posing the question, It’s What I Do jumps back in time to Addario’s childhood in Connecticut, moving forward through college and her early experiences as an international photographer. For Addario, the hobby of photography eventually became a way for her to see the world while doing work she found valuable and fulfilling.

Her career has taken her around the world, photographing the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, rape victims in the Congo, and starving children in Somalia. During this time, Addario was part of a Pulitzer-Prize winning team at the New York Times and was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. Throughout, she also shares the challenges her career caused for her relationships and the many treacherous situations she found herself in while in pursuit of a great photo.

Sometimes a book reaches you at a moment where it’s particularly resonant. In this case, Addario’s anxiety about how a relationship, pregnancy and motherhood might affect her career struck a particular chord with me. While few jobs are as physically dangerous and demanding as war photography, her concern that taking time off for family will affect how her fellow journalists and her editors see her – and which assignments she will get – is something I think all women who value their careers must wonder (I know that I do). The fact that she is able to make these varied choices work, thanks to her good work, supportive colleagues, and dedicated partner, was encouraging and affirming to read. I’m grateful Addario was so frank in sharing these parts of her journey.

While I don’t normally gush about the format of a book, I have to point out the beautiful construction of this one. It’s printed on beautiful, glossy paper and Addario’s full color photographs are scattered throughout the piece. It was so beautifully done that I couldn’t help wishing there had been a few more photos (and a little more detail about what each one was – some of the captions are sparse). If you’re going to read this, the hardcover will be worth it so you can see the pictures in detail.

Overall, It’s What I Do is a truly excellent memoir. While the pacing is occasionally slow, the moments where Addario digs deep into her most vulnerable experiences – being embedded with a battalion in the most dangerous region of Afghanistan, her kidnapping in Libya – are page-turning, emotionally resonant stories. I highly recommend this memoir.

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  • Heather @ Capricious Reader April 21, 2015, 6:58 am

    Sold, despite the book buying bans. This sounds incredible.

    • Kim Ukura April 21, 2015, 8:27 pm

      I checked it out from the library, then ended up buying a copy because I loved it so much. I hope you love it too!

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) April 21, 2015, 7:48 am

    You’ve sold me as well.

  • TJ @ MyBookStrings April 21, 2015, 9:31 am

    This was already on my list of books to look into. Now I know I really want to read it.

  • Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf April 21, 2015, 12:19 pm

    This is a memoir I really must read. Thanks for sharing!

  • Nadia April 21, 2015, 12:23 pm

    I’ve heard about this one for quite some time and have had it on my TBR list. After your review I know that I need to get my hands on a hardcover copy of it. Thanks!

  • susan April 21, 2015, 2:16 pm

    Her photos I’m sure really make the book great. I’d like to get this one.

    • Kim Ukura April 21, 2015, 8:27 pm

      The photos are gorgeous. I’m so glad they made the extra effort to incorporate them throughout the book and not just as a photo section in the middle. It was a really nice addition.

  • Kerry M April 22, 2015, 9:34 am

    I’m so intrigued by the concept of this, and now I just want to read it more. Thinking it may have to be a library book–not sure my Nook would do the photos justice.

  • Trisha April 22, 2015, 9:01 pm

    I am all over this like spit-up on a burp rag. Okay, so my similes may be suffering due to my baby-centered life right now. 🙂 This sounds excellent, and as a full-time working mother, I am very interested in thoughts on this strange space I occupy.

    • Kim Ukura April 24, 2015, 7:39 pm

      She’s really honest about how scared she was to become a mother, especially as it relates to her career, and how she makes it work now. I think you will like that part.

  • Jennine G. April 22, 2015, 11:00 pm

    I’d be interested to read more detail on her experience, specifically how involved she gets in the situations around her. I remember steadying war and other crisis photographers in a journalism class in college. There were so many heartbreaking pictures and what struck me was that the photographers refused to get involved. A picture of a kid barely looking human, he was so thin and ragged, crawling to a food outpost…the journalist took the pic but didn’t help him otherwise. For some reason, maybe just in that time period, they documented but were not to get involved otherwise. That has stuck with me for 16 years now. It seems inhumane.

    • Kim Ukura April 24, 2015, 7:40 pm

      I remember that story and photo… not a great moment in photo journalism. I don’t think Addario finds herself in that obvious of a situation, but she does have some challenges while being embedded.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey April 23, 2015, 7:01 pm

    I picked up a copy of this on netgalley, but I’m not at all sure about reading it in that format. It seems like a lot of the impact might be lost. The topic sounds fascinating to me though and even though I’m not planning on having children myself, the right women have to be able to have both a family and a career as easily as men do both is something I feel very strongly about.

    • Kim Ukura April 24, 2015, 7:41 pm

      I think missing the photos would be disappointing. They’re beautiful.