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Are You Ready to See Your Fixer-Upper? A Review of The Magnolia Story

By Matthew Richey • September 05, 2018

Looking for something that can pull your family together? Try finding a book that can engage the whole family's interest and read it aloud. (Yeah, you might feel a bit like the Ingalls family in Little House on the Prairie, but just go with it. The payoff is worth it!)

My family of four recently tried this with The Magnolia Story, which offers an inside view of Chip and Joanna Gaines, the husband-and-wife team of HGTV fame and how they struck entrepreneurial gold by blending their unique personality quirks and talents in a way that has captured America's imagination.

In terms of selling this book to my kids, it helped that my 10-year old daughter idolizes Joanna and wants to be a designer someday. My 12-year old son, however, was tougher. When I first mentioned the book, he blurted out, "I don't want to read that TRASH." (Gotta love that pre-teen angst.) The rule in our house is you have to try something before you spurn it, so I said, "Give it one chapter." Well, one chapter later and he was literally begging for more. (And yeah, I've rubbed that "trash" line in his face ever since. I told you there was a payoff in this!)

The Magnolia Story opens with the story of how Chip had the bright idea of spending tens of thousands on a houseboat, without even asking Joanna about it. Just when you're wondering how Joanna puts up with this guy, you later see Chip use this same why-not-now impulsiveness to help encourage Joanna to follow her design dreams.

The book is written from each of their voices, with Joanna typically starting the story, and then Chip weighing in periodically. It's a great structure that gives view to each of their perspectives—with humor on both sides.

Midway through their story, Joanna shared the following insight about how she shifted her approach to restoring old furniture:

"I stopped looking at all the scratches and the scrapes on the old pieces of furniture as flaws. I loved that they told the story of a family that had once eaten at that dining room table—or whatever the story might be. So instead of thinking about how I could refurbish these pieces, I focused on how I could highlight their imperfections. Like houses, the pieces with the best bones were the most fun to bring back to life and the most profitable when I got done."

This motif of imperfections not being flaws is seen in Chip and Joanna themselves. He's too impulsive. She's too cautious. But together, these seeming imperfections find a balance that's beyond perfect—where the sum is definitely greater than the parts. This is what makes the Gaines' story so inspiring—Chip and Joanna are each so dramatically different, but instead of butting heads they give grace in their differences and end up bringing out the best in one another.

This book was full of great fodder for our family to discuss about relationships, about finding your passion in life, about overcoming adversity. We all loved it.

And guess what? My kids barely put up a fuss when I announced our next family read: Life Is Good: The Book—about how two guys selling t-shirts built a $100-million company by tapping into the power of optimism. We're five chapters in so far and loving it.  I'll report back when we're finished.

About the Author: Matthew Richey is on the finance team at ThriftBooks. Outside the office, he’s an avid stock market investor and enjoys a wide range of non-fiction.

Read more by Matthew Richey

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