This was a really really great start to my 2016 reading. We’re still in January, but I’d be surprised if this didn’t make my top ten books by the end of the year. It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynsey Addario is about her life as a conflict photographer. And oh my gosh, what a crazy life. She’s been kidnapped TWICE, had bullets shot at her, gotten in a really bad car accident in a war zone, followed soldiers to the front lines, traveled to drought-stricken sub-Saharan Africa while 5 months pregnant, snuck into countries on foot carrying supplies and food and (not enough) water on her back, all while taking photos.
(Whew. Did that paragraph make you tired? Made me tired.)
I seriously could not put this down. Luckily, all three of us were sick all weekend, so I had plenty of downtime to read it while we were all passed out on the couch (or in Sander’s case, while he was glued to the TV, cuz that’s what you do with babies when you’re sick, right?).
Fair warning though – there is some tough, heavy subject matter in here. Addario has seen some horrific things, and there’s just no way around that in her story. Nothing graphic in the read (or the included photos), I just sometimes had to tear myself away for a few minutes and let myself be sad for the thousands and thousands of people around the world who do not share the same freedoms and privileges as me. The whole book left me wanting to do something to help the people of this world, and that’s not at all a disappointing way to come away from a book.
She leads an interesting double life, of sorts. When she’s on assignment, she’s in crazy war zones, often covered in a hijab, or with a head scarf around her hair, or maybe wearing a flak jacket and helmet as she follows soldiers around. Then she heads home to have Christmas with her family, or to go with her husband to a beach house in Thailand, or to their home in London or Istanbul. I really connected with her when she talked about how odd and jarring that sometimes was. She says she got used to it. Obviously, I’m not in war zones and such, but I do see some staggering poverty here in southeast Asia, and then come home from my travels to Vietnam or Thailand or wherever to my marble-floored, air-conditioned, wifi-connected home. Geez, I’m spoiled. I’m still not used to the senseless differences between the life I get to lead (largely based on where I was born) and the lives millions of others lead (largely based on where they were born). Obviously, there’s no real answer to the issue, but Addario had some thoughts on it I really appreciated. I’ll let you read for yourself to find out what those are.
She talks a lot about how conflicted she often is over putting herself in dangerous situations, when she knows the pain that sometimes causes her family (like when she gets kidnapped – KIDNAPPED, people – this is no joke). But she’s passionate about what she does and sees the good she can do in the world through her photos, and I really respect that.
All in all, I loved the girl-power in this one, the crazy adventure stories of a life so different from my own, the stunning photographs throughout it, and the inspiring way it paints both the horror and beauty this world is capable of. Seriously, this book makes me want to be a better person.
And for real – I’ll never look at those magazine photos of war or people in distress the same way ever again. Turns out people literally risk their lives for those shots.