Book Review: Like Mother, Like Daughter

"Never Sit If You Can Dance" by Jo Giese

Malibu resident Jo Giese is an award-winning radio journalist, author, teacher and former TV reporter. To that impressive list, let’s add: an insatiable world-traveler who dresses with an exuberant color palette, a fabulous hostess, adoring wife, community activist, loyal friend and last, but not least, the author of a loving-but-clear-eyed valentine to her late mother, Babe, aptly named “Never Sit If You Can Dance.” In an all-too-brief 142 pages she sets out a series of her mother’s life lessons, mildly eccentric opinions and rules for behavior, utilizing small vignettes, remembered snippets of conversation and Giese’s gift as a storyteller to bring us a woman both ahead of her time and yet firmly planted in reality. Some of Babe’s dictums included “Make the Best of It,” “Never Show Up Empty-Handed,” “Don’t be Drab,” and “Never Leave a Compliment Unsaid.” But it is the book’s title that best encompasses her world view—“Get Up, Get Out, Have Fun. Go!”

Here was a woman who thoroughly embraced life and who spent all of her years bringing joy to others, and this homage itself is a joy to read. Babe was born in the early part of the twentieth century, and if some of her attitudes seem quaint (“Write Thank-you Notes”) in today’s paperless, whirlwind culture, her daughter sure soaked up a lot of it. In fact, in writing this memoir, Giese reveals as much about herself as she does Babe. Like her mother, the daughter jumps off the pages as the kind of person you want to be best friends with. For sure, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and, as she points out in the book, at some point all (or, at least, most) women become their mothers.

As I’ve also taken care of an aging parent, I found the final chapters of Babe’s life particularly touching, spent, as they were, in senior housing—which can be difficult to adjust to or embraced as a new adventure—before going in and out of hospice and palliative care as her life began winding down. She held on to her nightly cocktail, her restaurant dining, her vivid clothing as long as she could. Still, at one point, on the advice of hospice workers, Jo gently told her it was “OK to go.” Babe looked confused, maybe a little hurt, and said, “But I’m still curious.” And she didn’t go, not for quite a while.

Amazing woman. Amazing daughter. Highly recommended reading.

Jo will be signing and selling her book May 26 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Malibu Farmers Market.