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Flyover Lives: A Memoir

2.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  254 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
From the New York Times bestselling author of Le Divorce, a dazzling meditation on the mysteries of the "wispy but material” family ghosts who shape us

Growing up in the small river town of Moline, Illinois, Diane Johnson always dreamed of floating down the Mississippi and off to see the world. Years later, at home in France, a French friend teases her: Indifference to his
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 16th 2014 by Viking (first published January 14th 2014)
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Oct 25, 2014 Diane rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, midwest
This was a charming memoir, even though it rambled in parts. But even the rambling parts were rather interesting.

Diane Johnson grew up in Moline, Illinois, which is part of the Midwest, which has been derisively called "flyover country" by those who live in big cities on the coasts. I was keen to read this book because I grew up in Iowa, which is next door to Illinois, and indeed, many of Diane's stories were similar to my experiences there, even though there is a 40-year difference in our ages.
Feb 09, 2014 Douglas rated it it was amazing
First, I received this Advanced Readers Copy from Goodreads and Viking.

I didn't want to do this, but I can't stand injustice, and I believe this book has been unfairly reviewed on here.

Before my review, I want to rebut some of the other reviews I've seen. I feel like if you can give a well-respected and brilliant writer only 1 star for their life story, you can handle a rebuttal:

1. "The book's premise and title were misleading." Uh, I don't know how many times she said this in the book, but sh
Diane Prokop
Dec 28, 2013 Diane Prokop rated it really liked it
Elegant and smart writing. Love Diane Johnson. I'll read anything she writes.
Rebecca Foster
(2.5) The generally low ratings for this memoir reflect its scattered nature. In places it’s fascinating; in others, it’s entirely dull. (I read about two-thirds, skipping over the colonial history section and skimming some of the other chapters.) Johnson was prompted to look back through her family history when a snooty French friend declared that Americans are indifferent to and ignorant of history. “It’s when you’re in a foreign land and someone criticizes the United States that you come to f ...more
Jun 07, 2014 René rated it it was ok
Kind of a strange book. I decided to give this a try even after reading some of the less enthusiastic reviews on here because I thought I might identify with the author's supposed focus in this book. Like the author, I was born and raised in Illinois and have some familiarity with some of the towns she writes about here (though I've lived primarily in and around Chicago, and went to college in southern Illinois, I do have relatives in Davenport, Bettendorf, and Rock Island--all near Moline, whic ...more
Feb 02, 2014 Nina rated it really liked it
Although this book is titled Flyover Lives A Memoir, it reads more like an exploration of ancestry than a memoir. The opening section, one I struggled to slog through, describes the author and her husband visiting friends in France. The friend comments that Americans have no sense of family history and the world because they know nothing of their ancestors. This taunt resonates with Johnson, and spurs her to look into her roots.

The book really takes off as Johnson describes the grueling lives o
Dec 31, 2014 Brandi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I won this book from
Like some of the other reviewers, I found this book interesting as I had spent a few years around Moline and visited a couple of the same places as the author.
I did get a bit of a giggle, though, when it was mentioned that most Americans are unaware of their past and believe they are descended from royalty. I had done a great deal of genealogical research when I was younger and never shared in these delusions. My ancestors were more 'fringe' (for lack of a b
Jan 01, 2014 Marietje rated it did not like it
I won this book in a give away. When I signed up for the the give awa,y I was under the impression that the book was about Diane Johnson's ancestors in the Midwest, whose lives had been forgotten. I was interested in the stories of these ordinary people. When the book arrived, I noticed the subtitle "A Memoir", I knew that I should expect part of the book to be about Diane Johnson herself.

In the prologue called "A weekend with generals" Johnson sets out to tell how the remark of a French friend
Jan 17, 2014 Jim rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads, memoir
This book is billed as a memoir, with the title referring to Johnson’s Midwestern origins (she grew up in Moline, Illinois) and residents of the coasts calling the middle of the country flyover states. Rather than write about her own life, the author fills much of this book with bits of her family history that she has learned through research— where some of her ancestors came from and a little of what their lives were like. In addition to not feeling like it really belongs in a memoir, this part ...more
Feb 15, 2016 Rita marked it as to-read
I might enjoy. NYReview is positive [by Francine Post].
CHldhood 1940s in Moline, Ill. on banks of Mississippi.

"What gives her memoir its charm is the tone in which she relates her recollections: as in her novels, the cheerful wry bemusement, the rare combination of optimism and clear-sightedness, the humor and the intelligence we have come to expect from her fictional 1st-person narrators, and from the knowing voice that moves seamlessly from the consciousness of one character to another.
Like he
Jun 30, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it
After reading a few pages of this book, I considered returning it to the library without continuing. Johnson was living in France at the time. She was describing a visit with friends staying in a big, beautiful Italian house that three couples had rented together. None of it seemed connected to the world I knew or or longed to know. Inexplicably, I stuck with "Flyover Lives" for a while longer and was soon glad I did.

Johnson grew up in Illinois, and the "flyover lives" of the title was a pun on
Mar 24, 2014 Marks54 rated it liked it
This book is an engaging and enjoyable mixture of biography, memoir, travel, and historical investigation. The author is a writer who grew up in Moline, Illinois. In a nutshell, the motivation for the book comes from an offhand comment made to her by a French host that Americans have very little sense of history, even though they tend to think they were all descended from royalty. This comment sparked her to do some investigations into her own background and that of her ancestors. The book repor ...more
Feb 25, 2014 Betsy rated it liked it
Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce (most familiar to me) and more than a dozen other books, pulls together her writing life and a story about those family members who came before her to shape her path. From a family that's been in the Midwest for generations, Johnson writes in Flyover Lives about a solid, no-frills upbringing, the results of family research, her life as a writer, her life as a single mother with young children and her current life with grown children and the freedom to travel w ...more
Dave Courtney
Apr 07, 2016 Dave Courtney rated it liked it
I feel quite torn in my feelings about "Flyover Lives", a sort of/not really memoir of Johnson's life. I initially found myself drawn in to her unique approach to the notion of a memoir, which is set up in the early pages as an exploration of the Foreign/American relationship. If one knows nothing of her story at this point, we are let in on the fact that her own story acts as something of a commentary on her experience with foreign perceptions of America, namely the inference that Americans (st ...more
Sara Strand
Jul 20, 2014 Sara Strand rated it did not like it
I'm going to say right off the bat, I didn't love it. I had a really hard time finishing it because to me, it's not anything that I thought it was going to be. Which usually is fine, but in this case I had been hoping more for a historic account of her ancestors growing up in the Midwest way back when. In actuality, it's a memoir (which is my own fault for not paying attention) so it's not really what I thought it was. Then the prologue is about her time in France with several military generals ...more
Feb 21, 2014 Jeanne rated it liked it
I was drawn to this book because I too grew up in Moline, although I was not familiar with the author who is older. In the opening chapters, I recognized lots of names including those of teachers & it was fun revisiting landmarks like Black Hawk State Park, the Rock Island Arsenal, the old Le Claire Hotel overlooking the muddy Mississippi & our favorite hangout, Lagomarchino's ice cream parlor.
I must confess to skimming the part about her ancestors. The rest is filled with name-dropping
After having read two of Johnson’s novels which I enjoyed very much, I was disappointed with this history of her family and early childhood. Her stories about her ancestors, derived from letters left by her forebears, are mundane. Johnson admits in her epilogue that her own life lacks drama, yet the more interesting parts of her narrative are when she writes about herself. I would much rather have read more about her experience on film sets, and life as a young mother and scholar in London, than ...more
Manik Sukoco
Jan 20, 2016 Manik Sukoco rated it it was ok
Disappointing. I’m giving it two stars for some lovely passages in the first half about her pioneer ancestors and her childhood in Moline, Illinois. But in total, the book is uneven and the last half is just Diane Johnson tooting her own horn, and not in a good way. She has some impressive accomplishments, but in the telling, she comes off as selfish and self-aggrandizing. Why didn't her editor give it some focus and polish her image? And why didn’t they rewrite the appalling chapter 38, which b ...more
Nov 25, 2014 Dpdwyer rated it liked it
Shelves: history, biography
For my tastes Johnson tries to do too many things in one book. The sections about her ancestors settling in the upper Midwest and about her own childhood there were fascinating and detailed, more reminders of how much America has changed in one or two human lifetimes. The accounts of her more recent life, especially her working and hobnobbing with famous movie directors, while impressive, seemed out of place, almost like she was trying to bring the book up to a certain length. The letters from h ...more
Feb 11, 2014 Charlene rated it liked it
I picked this book up because of its beautiful cover and because its a memoir, always my favorite nonfiction reading material. I think I would appreciated it more if I had any familiarity with Diane Johnson before starting it. She's a good writer and I may look for her novels and especially her essays now. The book covers a lot of different times & topics -- her ancestors settling in the MidWest, her own childhood, her time in California and then stories of her screenwriting with famous dire ...more
Mar 21, 2014 Diane rated it liked it
Threatened to get bogged down and quit when she began reviewing genealogy and returned to the 18th century - but am glad I persisted. Diane Johnson is a very entertaining writer with a wonderful sense of humor, easy to travel along with. Johnson used and ancestor's notes on her life not just to name her own lineage, but to give a sense of how life was in those times - those not very long ago times, really, that provided one of the great pleasures of this book: contrasting that world to the one w ...more
Feb 05, 2014 Jenny rated it liked it
I received this book in a giveaway, and was excited to get it and start reading. I enjoyed the portions of the book describing the trials and tribulations of the author's ancestors. The letters and other information preserved by her family help us to understand how hard everyday life could be. I also enjoyed reading about the author's childhood in the Midwest, a happy, normal childhood in a nice small town. The transition from these two things to suddenly talking about all the movies the author ...more
Joan Colby
Jun 03, 2014 Joan Colby rated it liked it
Johnson is best known as a cosmopolite writer “Le Divorce”, “Le Marriage” and so on—books set in Paris where she lives part-time, as well as a screenwriter and travel writer. In this memoir, she retraces her youth growing up in Moline, Illinois (flyover country) which will resonate with those of her era—the 40’s and 50’s. She also includes family history, which is not quite so fascinating, and updates us to her present life. Yet, the sections that focus on Moline (“it was like Brigadoon”, says a ...more
Amy Fremgen
Nov 01, 2014 Amy Fremgen rated it liked it
I love to read memoirs, however, this one was annoying. The author seems to have an arrogant attitude about people who don't travel in the same jet set that she does. She has worked hard and been very successful. Her goal was to get out of Moline, to live a broader, more interesting life. Many of us who grew up in small towns can identify with this. But she doesn't seem to recognize that it was the advantages of living in a small town that made her who she is today. But the book is very well wri ...more
Jul 13, 2014 Sharon rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I had just read a couple of Johnson's books over vacation, so this memoir jumped out at me when I saw it on the new books shelf. The author was inspired to write this book after a French friend disparaged the utter lack of historical knowledge on the part of most Americans, although she maintained that we all claim to be related to royalty. Ms. Johnson's older relatives had all passed on by this point, so she used family photos and journals to do a bit of genealogical sleuthing. The book is engr ...more
Jan 09, 2014 Jessica rated it it was ok
As someone from a flyover state, I found this book to be a little condescending. Johnson completely missed the point when it comes to capturing what's great about small town life in the Midwest.
Feb 26, 2014 Niffer rated it really liked it
I received this book through a Goidreads First Reads giveaway.

I have to admit, if this had not been a First Reads book, and I had not felt "obligated" to read it and write a review, I probably would have stopped by page 20, marked the book as abandoned, and maybe left a brief review about what a pretentious snit the author is. I'm not really sure why she wrote the chapter about the generals, except that the visit was key in her researching her past and her ancestry. But what might work in a nove
Mar 01, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Any one interested in a fresh perspective on family history
Recommended to Jennifer by: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Shelves: memoir
Thank you, Diane Johnson, for writing a memoir that includes so much great family history ... and proves that kids who grow up in small towns in the Midwest can lead rich and fulfilling lives no matter where they live! Diane is my kind of writer - funny, witty and introspective as she serves as grand teller of her family tales and shares her perspective as a global citizen of her world. She is fortunate to have come from a family where so much written history has been passed down from a family w ...more
Apr 05, 2014 Richard rated it did not like it
Blah, I didn't know that this book was entirely different from what I had imagined. I thought it was about an air hostess and her experience, travels, etc. In fact, this book is about an AMERICAN living in France. How original ! Americans living in France and writing about France, as if they are experts or something like that. Her previous books include, " L'Affaire ", " LeDivorce " and " LeMarriage " - GIVE ME A BREAK HERE ! Pretensious American think they can write expertly on France and Frenc ...more
Feb 21, 2014 SouthernGirl rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Diane Johnson's books
Recommended to SouthernGirl by: Goodreads Giveaway
Diane Johnson has written several wonderful French-toned books such as Le Divorce and L'Affaire. I was delighted to be able to read her newest book (I won it in a Goodreads giveaway!). When I began reading the book, I wasn't sure what to expect. Not being familiar with the term "flyover", I thought perhaps it had something to do with Ms. Johnson's travels. In a way it is about travel, as she tells the story of her Midwestern coming-of-age and introduces us to some of her more colorful ancestors. ...more
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Diane Johnson is an American born novelist and essayist whose satirical novels often contain American heroines living abroad in contemporary France.

Born in Moline, Illinois, Johnson's recent books include L'Affaire (2004), Le Mariage (2000), and Le Divorce (1997) for which she was a National Book Award finalist and the winner of the California Book Awards gold medal for fiction.

More about Diane Johnson...

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