Nostalgia may as well be my middle name. I have reached the point in my life (over 50) where the things that I love the most that aren’t flesh and blood, are things whose heyday was yonder, when I was a kid…1970s and 80s. As a reader of books, that means I indulge myself in tales of days past. Most recently, I cracked open Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist, which was released in November, about a month before her untimely death.
I was going to read this book anyway. It was just going to be a summer read for me. Carrie’s December passing moved The Princess Diarist to the top of the pile, which is totally fine. A thumb through confirmed that it was a super easy, laid back reading style, and I could blow through it, so I decided to jump on it. In regards to reading style, it was indeed easy, but the content was, by no means, easy to read.
I didn’t know what to expect, frankly. I’ve read some of Carrie’s other stuff, so I absolutely expected her normal self-deprecating snark, and The Princess Diarist certainly delivers that. What it also delivered was a sometimes painful look into the heart and soul of a 19 year old girl who was anything but the supremely confident character she played in that film, and for the next 4 decades.
The premise, as advertised, was that Fisher found some old diaries that she had written while she was filming the original Star Wars: A New Hope in England in the mid 1970’s. The diaries included details of an affair that she had with Harrison Ford when he was a much older 33 to her 19. Ford was also married at the time.
The book is divided into three sections. The first of the three details her time before and during the filming. Included is a 58 page chapter titled “Carrison” which is the details of her time spent as Ford’s lover. Many of the other things that I have read of hers, and speeches, like this one, have always made light of her insecurities and the difficulties she has faced throughout her life. This section of the book is filled with that as well, but the presentation this time is at times heartbreaking. She was a kid at the time, and the rest of the cast and crew weren’t. I’ve seen my fair share of Harrison Ford’s work and interviews over the years, and I’ve always felt that he was a guy who did his best emotions when the camera is on. Fisher confirmed this feeling for me in the book. I felt bad that this was the guy who introduced her first real go with romance.
The center section of the book is actual entries from the “lost” journals. They are filled with the musings, the tearful realizations, and the angsty poetry of a young woman in a difficult situation, both romantically and professionally. At the time, no one knew that Star Wars would turn into what it did, a vehicle by which Princess Leia would eventually usurp the rest of Fisher’s life. Her young self clearly thinks this is just a quick gig that she will finish and move on from, going so far as to say, “Because, like any other B-movie heroine, I can’t go on this way.” Much of the writing is similar to the writing I read most days as a high school teacher, angry one minute, giddy the next, unintentionally philosophical right after that. Often, that was this book’s charm, although I am not convinced it needed as many pages as she gave it.
The final section of the book took place in the here and now, a kind of picking up of the pieces. She briefly discusses how she’s dealt with the relationship that she kept secret for all of those years. She discusses life on the convention circuit, and her comical times doing what she calls “the lap dance” that is autograph signing sessions, and her interaction with the true believers. There’s an interesting balance here, that I’ve always been aware of, but never really paid attention to until Fisher pointed it out. The balance between the life that she ended up with after Star Wars, and what she owed to her fans who gave her that life. Sometimes, I think fans glorify that life, when it is, in fact, a hard life, never being able to walk through airports or have dinner out. Sometimes stars get frustrated by their loss of private time in public. Sometimes fans think stars owe them their time and autographs and selfies. Fisher’s take on this is sometimes comical, sometimes heart-wrenching. There is one absolutely breathtaking statement at the end of the first chapter of the third section (page 188 in the hard cover) that made me have to put the book down for a bit to digest it. It was a statement that the implications of which had probably been a driver for her entire life, and she even wrote “I’ll probably regret writing this, but if you have the impulse to yell at me, please don’t. Periodically, I feel guilty enough on my own.”
What this book didn’t have was talk of addiction and mental illness and her life fighting and surviving those. Those were stories for other, already written books. This was The Princess Diarist, a journaled retelling of the often overlooked parts of the life of Carrie Fisher, who played our beloved princess, but was, in fact, not actually our beloved princess. She was, it turns out, a deeply self-conscious, insecure woman who was taken advantage of back in her humble beginning, by an older married man, and by those who presented her (and her co-stars) with a contract that didn’t include any percentage film profits or of the merchandising rights. She clearly continued to beat herself up for those actions and her reactions to those things, until the day that she died.
I felt devious reading all of these deeply personal details and intimate poetry, much like a younger brother would/should feel sneaking a peek at his older sister’s diary. I think I would have felt better about it were the details not so raw. I was the kid she talks about in the book. I was 13 when she showed up in that galaxy far, far away. I was just old enough to actually recognize (and guffaw with my other 13 year old friends) that she was in a totally hot metal bikini. I am also a person who goes to pop culture conventions and events, and while I don’t stand in line for autographs, I help people to get in those lines to see their heroes and get those autographs and share too much while others are waiting for their brush with their idol.
In the end, I would recommend this book to any Star Wars fan. It explains lots about the Carrie Fisher we thought we knew, and the Carrie Fisher that probably only a few of her inner circle actually saw. That it is a bit sad is part of its value. Over the last couple years I have purchased and sometimes actually finished reading other books about the pop culture of my youth. I really enjoyed VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave and Live From New York (the SNL Story told by its writers and cast). Like The Princess Diarist , they offer a pull back the curtain look at what I thought I knew about these things I loved so much when I was just a kid. Nostalgia allows me to remember them as way better than they actually were, and to see a glimpse of what my idols at the time really did and thought about it all.
Final Score 8/10
Despite the times it made me sad (which might be equally because of her recent death) this book was an important behind the scenes look at a person who was important to my childhood, and beyond. Carrie Fisher is/was incomparable and this story needs to be told.
+ Carrie Fisher’s self-deprecating, snarky humor is always a joy.
+ The ease of reading is great. I moved through the book very quickly.
+ The three distinct sections are very different and engaging in their own right.
– She spends more time on Harrison Ford than I wish she would have. He probably didn’t deserve it.
– The diary section was probably a bit overdone too, as it was the sad writings of the insecure, angsty kid.
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The Grumpy Geek, Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram . If you don’t he gets Grumpy. You don’t want to see him Grumpy.