Debut Author Spotlight: Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Posted by Goodreads on September 1, 2018
Lisa Brennan-Jobs is a writer whose byline has appeared in Vogue and the Los Angeles Times. She's also the daughter of Steve Jobs, Apple's cofounder and tech icon. In her new memoir, Small Fry, Brennan-Jobs candidly describes growing up in the shadow of the often mercurial Jobs.

She talked to Goodreads about how writing the book helped her understand her personal history better, and why her memoir isn't a tell-all but a coming-of-age story.

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Goodreads: Summarize your book for readers.

Lisa Brennan-Jobs: Small Fry is a coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in '80s and '90s California, against the backdrop of a complicated family with an artist mother and a well-known father. I hope to convey how alive and dazzling my parents were, and also show the real texture of a life. In the book I am flawed and spirited, navigating my way toward adulthood and independence.

The book starts when I'm little and ends (mostly) when I leave for college. There are some long roller-skating trips, some minor theft, couches; more seriously, there is a wish to belong and a stubborn adolescent rejection of the reality of what is.

Goodreads: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

LBJ: My aunt is a writer [Mona Simpson], and there is beauty and precision to the way that she lives and writes that I admire. I started reading late, around age eight, and that was only because I discovered there were kissing scenes. I read for those scenes. After I started reading more, my writing improved and I received positive feedback in school.

I got a job as an investment banker out of college, and someone commented that I had too many facial expressions for that line of work.

GR: Why did you decide to write about your life and your father?

LBJ: I wanted to write a universal story—most families are complicated, most children are longing for something, even without a famous person around.

I got to time travel, to spend days with my young parents again and observe them from a new perspective. When I was a girl, they were younger then than I am now.

My mother kept insisting that if you don't understand your history, you will repeat it. After a while I understood that it was important to sort through the past because I wanted to have a different kind of family.

GR: Tell us about your research and the writing process for your memoir.

LBJ: When I first got the book contract many years ago, I was terrified because I was sure I didn't remember enough stories to fill a book. It was my big, awful secret. But then I spent time thinking about the stories I could remember and wrote them down, and these stories connected to other stories, and soon there was a constellation. Later I created timelines of my stories against known events and spoke with people I knew in my childhood. I covered walls in sticky notes with help from a filmmaker friend to understand the chronology and shape the structure. My friend Jamie Quatro helped me cut, shined up the prose, and encouraged me to write some important stories I hadn’t written yet.

I probably wrote seven rambling books to get to this one.

Early on, some of the stories about my adolescence came out as lumps of self-pity. It turns out that when you seek pity in memoir, it doesn't work, it just doesn't ring true. I had to get more honest about why I felt badly—sometimes it was guilt. Usually I'd played some part in what made me feel sad, and when I admitted it to myself, the story opened up.

GR: What are some of your favorite memoirs, and did you find yourself influenced by any particular memoirs?

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LBJ: I love West with the Night, Out of Africa, and Running in the Family. I also love personal essays (bite-size memoirs) by Phillip Lopate, George Orwell, James Baldwin, and Natalia Ginzburg, among many others.

I read This Boy's Life again and realized that the more devious little Tobias was, the more I adored him. This gave me courage to remember and reveal my own deviousness.

GR: What do you hope readers take away from reading Small Fry?

LBJ: I hope that people will come away a bit less ashamed of their foibles, having read about mine—my awkward jokes about hot tubs, bragging to get attention, lying, sneaking, and self-pity. I also hope that people will feel less alone in their loneliness. Books have done that for me. I hope it gives pleasure and insight.

GR: So much has been written about Steve Jobs. Why write more?

LBJ: This is a coming-of-age story about a girl, not a tell-all about a famous man.

I write to understand what the truth is for me. I felt ashamed to be the dark side of someone's brilliant story—and I wanted to write, in part, to understand that. I also felt (and sometimes still feel) ashamed to be the kid of a famous person writing a memoir. These two are in conflict.

Writing about myself as if I'm important seems pretentious, and focusing on myself when there are huge issues in the world that need solving, issues beyond the reaches of this genre, seems selfish and indulgent. The way I have come to terms with the last one is that this planet is fractal. Large and small stories relate. Patterns repeat. Sorting out one's own story has larger implications, and so it is meaningful.

Despite the hard times, there was a lot of joy and wonder in my childhood, and my father was a big part of that. When he was truly present with me, on a four-hour skate in a time before devices or looking at roses or serifs, there was nothing better.

GR: What are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to your friends?

LBJ: I'm a new parent—my son was born almost four months ago—so I read snippets of baby books, including the soulful D.W. Winnicott. I'd forgotten how incredible Peter Pan is, with that kiss you can't have on the right side of Mrs. Darling's mouth.

Over the past few months, I've read and loved Jamie Quatro's Fire Sermon and Joseph O'Neill's new book of stories, Good Trouble (I laughed out loud). I love the new River Cafe Cookbook. I read the birth scene in Karl Ove Knausgård's My Struggle, book two, just before I went into labor myself.

GR: What's next for you? Any preview you can give readers?

LBJ: Nonfiction, and not about myself. Mercy.

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

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message 1: by Kenneth (new)

Kenneth Sloan Wow, a Mommie Dearest tell-all that takes in place Silicon Valley and not Hollywood.

message 2: by Gloria (new)

Gloria Did you read it?

message 3: by Peggy (new)

Peggy Adams Based on this interview, I'm not sure I will read the book. The author loves to 'jabber' and says very little. Seems very self-centered and attempts to justify it all.---even writing the book. Based on what was said: "I want to write a universal story'--Usually with a debut book, author does not have a book contract before writing some portion of the story; the information did not ring true to me, for example: '. . . got job as investment banker . . . I had too many facial expressions for that line of work." This is confusing to me. I would like the last name to be explained---usually a hyphened name as hers is would mean she is not Steve Jobs biological daughter. Sorry, I think she is trading on the "Jobs" name. But, guess I will check the book from the library and see if she reveals anything and find out what she means when in beginning of interview questioned if she had enough stories ". . . It was my big, awful secret." Just saying----

message 4: by Marisa (new)

Marisa Peggy wrote: "Based on this interview, I'm not sure I will read the book. The author loves to 'jabber' and says very little. Seems very self-centered and attempts to justify it all.---even writing the book. Base..." Hi Peggy - just did a quick google search and the results all reference that Steve Jobs at first denied paternity of the author and she was meant to act as if it was a secret. One example:

message 5: by Sue (new)

Sue Vincent Wow you are harsh. The hyphenated name suggests to me she has married but wants to honor her father. (I went back to my maiden name for that reason). I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to grow up with Steve Jobs and a well known artist as parents. I am eager to read her book. Kudos to her for wanting to write it and use it as a tool to understand herself better. Having lived in Silicon Valley at the time she was growing up I can tell you it was and is very much like Hollywood with people parading their fancy cars and homes while being shallow and insecure inside.

message 6: by Rose (new)

Rose I'm with you Sue, adding this to my list.

message 7: by Lara (new)

Lara I’m with you two Rose and Sue! Can’t wait to read this book! I loved this interview with the author. I’ve also read an excerpt of the book which I thought was wonderful. I really like the way she writes and am looking forward to reading her book!

message 8: by Lara (new)

Lara Ps the link to the Vanity Fair article is where I read the excerpt

message 9: by Sat (new)

Sat Mul Hidden in her writing are jewels of thoughts .
Simple but true “more u read better u become as a writer “.
Younger generation is now brought up in texting which ruins writing ability . Also reading is going down .

message 10: by Rachana (new)

Rachana I am going to read the book. There are always two sides of the coin. I am intrigued to see the another face of that person whose mercurial rise contradicts with the so called detachment from his own family. Every author was a child once and childhood memories indeed shape his/her style of writing. What's wrong with it if a tell-all might help her to deal with her own demons and make peace with her past.

message 11: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Chames I'm interested in this book. It takes real guts and honesty to write a real memoir, not just another Mommy-Dearest, and she is obviously feeling the discomfort of telling the truth, which everybody knows, usually gets one in trouble. I'm just getting into the publishing stage of my writing and meeting other writers. Again and again I'm shocked at how snarky writers are to other writers, and it seems, especially women. What did this girl ever do to you, that so many of you should express so much hate and resentment? You've never even met her. Sounds like old-fashioned jealousy to me - and please, we are better than this. You don't build yourself up by tearing someone else down, behind thier back, on the internet.

message 12: by Debra (new)

Debra Reece Sounds interesting. For those of you suggesting her name is hyphenated because she is not his child you don't know what you're talking about because she is indeed his child. I would like to know about their relationship as having him for a father would be fascinating but at times difficult. I hope they turned out to have a good relationship before it was too late. I would not suggest this is a Mommie Dearest book and make comments if you don't know what you're talking about. Read the book and then make those comments if you must. It is amazing to find critics who have not read the books or seen the piece of art or heard the music but they are always out there. Ready to speak with so little thought

message 13: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Bond I'm really interested in reading this. I appreciated Brennan-Jobs' vulnerability in the interview, and the Vanity Fair excerpt was so poignant. Memoir, for the writer who attempts it, is loaded with internal conflict and self-doubt. This author was brave to lay that out in this interview, even admitting her anxiety that there's something shameful about being perceived as the kid of a famous person writing a memoir--as if that somehow invalidates what she has to say.

I found the writing resonant, both in the interview and in the excerpt, so I'll be looking for this book. I find the negativity in some of these comments interesting. It's an attitude I encounter from time to time that is mistrustful of authenticity. It's unfortunate to characterize memoirists as liars out to make a quick buck, rather than human beings inviting readers into a moment of reflection. While the former may be true of some writers, I detected no such shallow motives in this one--only a desire to create something beautiful with the questions we all have about who we are in relation to the challenging people we love.

message 14: by N (new)

N Brennan is her mother's name last name. She was born Lisa Brennan. Steve Jobs denied his paternity when she was born. After a legal case and subsequent conciliation, Lisa, at age 9 and with the help of Jobs changed her birth certificate to reflect her last name as Brennan-Jobs.

Simple search and you don't have to make assumptions.

message 15: by Christa (new)

Christa Sue wrote: "Wow you are harsh. The hyphenated name suggests to me she has married but wants to honor her father. (I went back to my maiden name for that reason). I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to g..."
Her name is hyphenated because her father denied paternity for many years (so she had her mother's maiden name, Brennen). When she was nine and her father decided he WANTED to be her father, her mother agreed to have Jobs name added to hers, hence the hyphenation.

message 16: by Gita (new)

Gita Dasgupta Glad to have returned to Goodreads. I've been wanting to read the book ever since I heard her interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN. No celebrity in my life but I absolutely identify with and understand the complicated painful and bewildering childhood that she has had. Am ordering the book now!

message 17: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Wow. Some people just hyphenate their kid's names. Both of my kids have a hyphenated last name. My maiden name and my husband's name. My name is the same way. Sometimes there's no secret meaning behind. In fact, often times there isn't.

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