A Life Well Bred, A Life Well Led: A Personal Memoir in Eight Psychosocial Development Stages Book Review

Full disclosure: The author of the book that I am about to review is a patron at a library that I work at. All of the opinions stated in this review are solely mine.

When I read Buy My Book, Not Because You Should, But Because I’d Like Some Money by John Marszalkowski about two years ago, it blew my mind because a. It was a memoir that was written by a “non-celebrity” and b. It was written in a non-linear structure to reveal his ADHD mindset and to give it more personality. I thought about this book recently when I read another book called A Life Well Bred, A Life Well Led: A Personal Memoir in Eight Psychosocial Development Stages by Robert Jones – author of the Richville series. That too was about an average person’s life, but it was told in a linear and predictable way even though it had a unique framework. There’s nothing wrong with these narratives, yet some things prevented me from connecting to it. 

The title A Life Well Bred, A Life Well Led: A Personal Memoir in Eight Psychosocial Development Stages describes what readers need to know about the book. Specifically, Jones looks at his life through the lense of Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development. This theory asserts that personality “develops in a predetermined order through eight stages of psychosocial development, from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, the person experiences a psychosocial crisis which could have a positive or negative outcome for personality development.”

The reason why I included the information about the theory itself is that Jones doesn’t. It’s even weirder that the second chapter has the title “Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development – Explanation” and that most of the chapter titles are the said stages.

Before I dive too deep into what bothered me, I will go over what I liked about the memoir first. I really liked the parts where Jones includes his articles from the “Senior Living” section of the Macomb Daily. With these, he goes into detail about his life, and it also promotes his work as a writer. My favorite is when he talks about his first date with his now wife of 50 years. He sets it to the tune of “I Remember It Well” from the movie Gigi. I can easily imagine Jones being Maurice Chevalier in that scene. Also, lots of autobiographies and memoirs include pictures and other visual content, but not as extensively as Jones does here. It feels like a scrapbook at times. Imagine if it was one. In addition, it was nice to read about his impact on his community. For example, he initiated a summer recreation program for special needs students. It really showed how much he cares about other people.

Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty. There were some choices that Jones makes in the memoir that simply baffled me. The first of these was including “Literature Background Notes.” These contained short story definitions, elements of a short story, the meaning of conflict and its types, the Aristotelian plot structure, general terms for literature, how readers get to know the characters, and the different kinds of genre. I don’t know why he included them other than to emphasize how to create a framework around one’s story that he stresses in the first chapter. What’s more confusing is that it’s in the “Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development – Explanation” chapter.

The next problem was the lack of conflict. Don’t get me wrong. There was drama so to speak, but it only popped up once in a blue moon, and it was immediately resolved by the end of the page or by the next one. For instance, on his very first day of school when he was 5, a car ran into him, which resulted in a tear in his pants and a bruised kneecap. He lied to his mother about the injury saying that he fell on a sidewalk by some stones. I wondered how he was affected by the situation, like if he developed some phobia in which he had to look both ways before crossing the street in order to combat it, or if he became so good at lying that he would even lie to himself. Nope, he just moved on, and recounted the other adventures while walking to school. And, that was that. Readers never get to hear that story and its impact again. I’m not saying that Jones needed to have some traumatic event that shaped his life for good or worse. John Marszalkowski’s life is just about as average as Jones’, but his memoir/set of informal essays is full of inner turmoil like whether or not he wants to have kids and the need to belong. It’s as if he doesn’t want to show more conflict than needed, or else it would not fit the framework that he devised to tell his story, and that’s a big no no. A good structure rises from the narrative itself, not imposed onto it.

My biggest peeve with this memoir is that it’s in third person. All of the other autobiographies and memoirs were in first person as a way for the readers to connect to their story and to get into the author’s mindset. Starting from the opening pages where Jones talks about how to tell one’s story, it felt like a 1950s instructional video in book form. If one ever gets their hands on a copy, try reading it out loud in that voice. It’s very uncanny. I couldn’t connect to it for that very reason. I wanted to hear more about how he felt about the important moments and people in his life and how he developed his opinions, but that point of view prevented me from doing that. In other words, I would’ve gotten to know him more if the memoir was in first person.

Oh, and another quick thing: the table of contents shows 11 chapters in the book. In reality, there’s 12. Did the editor see that? This is not me throwing shade; I’m only asking.

Overall, A Life Well Bred, A Life Well Led: A Personal Memoir in Eight Psychosocial Development Stages by Robert Jones should’ve had the more accurate title A Life Too Well Bred, A Life Too Well Led: A Personal Memoir in Eight Psychosocial Development Stages That Demonstrate How Well Robert Jones Lived His Life. There’s a reason why people gravitate towards memoirs and autobiographies that are so gut wrenching and heartbreaking, but are triumphant in the end. I’m not saying that Jones should’ve lived a less perfect life, but with what conflict there is in the memoir, it’s basically saying that he lived a good and fairly average one. I personally didn’t mind the Psychosocial Development Stages framework; it needed to be more clear for more like myself who are seeing that theory for the first time. It also doesn’t help with the third person voice. The only way that I will recommend this memoir is to those who love reading materials from local authors and to those who taken psychology and child development classes. 

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Published by emilymalek

I work at a public library southeast Michigan, and I facilitate two book clubs there. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, play trivia and crossword puzzles, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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