Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kiss & Tell

A sweet little book I read on St. Valentine's Day.

Compiled by Macy's to benefit the Go Red for Women campaign and designed by Werner Design Werks of Minnesota, Kiss & Tell is a coffee table book of sorts where famous faces and fashion designers reminisce about their most memorable kisses in between musings from the editors on the most romantic places to kiss or be kissed. Tres' Romantic as Kimberly Wilson would say.

Much of what you expect can be found in the thick, damask-illustrated pages - Nicky Hilton having been kissed for the first time by some slobbery high schooler, Kimora Lee Simmons sweet memory of kissing her baby daughter for the first time, and the oh-so-articulate Tara Reid with "A kiss is just a kiss, unless it's not just a kiss." One of the most thought-provoking pieces was by CSI actress Marg Helgenberger on Page 10 about a time she found herself in an elevator with the cute young actor Joshua Jackson who spent those few moments between floors telling her about HIS most memorable kiss - his first one actually - that had not only been on screen but with her! She couldn't even remember it, but it made me think about my own past liplocks and whether I might actually be someone else's most memorable kiss?

I loved that accompanying each vignette was a lipstick-print from each writer. Its amazing how some lips just look like they should belong to certain people - Monique Lhuillier - of course her lips look French - how could they not?

While I won't kiss and tell about THIS Valentine's Day, I will put out there a short list of places where I have stolen a memorable kiss, (or hope to one day!), checked off from the extensive list in the back of the book...

  • In the dark...
  • At the movies...
  • On New Year's Eve...
  • In a car...
  • In a car wash...
  • On a ski lift...
  • Under mistletoe...
  • In a hammock...
  • In the woods...
  • At the alter...
What about you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Cowgirl's Guide to Love

What can I say? It was a short book with big type and lots of bulleted lists.

The Cowgirl's Guide to Love
by Ellen "Lil" Patrick is your basic "Only the best man deserves fabulous you - BUT - make sure to have hobbies, know how to cook, pretend until you actually like sports and don't dress like one of those harlot saloon girls." Each bit of advice on how to recognize, then snag, then be with the aforementioned "Best Man" is peppered with piles of references to John Wayne, Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, horses, ridin', shootin' and yer darn tootin' the West was won by women!

What the Wild West can teach us about love and relationships is an interesting concept I think, and handled delicately could make for beautiful commentary. (Actually, for a perfect example of this, I highly recommend Peace Like a River - one of the most intensely touching stories I have ever read; it is a truly a love lesson in so many ways, set in the Dakota badlands and with a storyline tied literally and figuratively to such legends as Butch Cassidy and Wyatt Earp.)

This Cowgirl's Guide however is choppy - the ideas are bounced around and off of each other at what seems like breakneck speed, just barely hitting upon a piece of what might actually be good advice to the single lady before racing off to some other comment on dealing with the mama-dependent or mama-deprived man in your life, leaving no opportunity for concept development.

While the feminist in me rages against idea that all men can be categorized this way, I have found myself silently but inadvertently judging every man I meet and imagining I know what his mama was like. The author encourages readers to first know which kind they prefer, and provides tips for the training of each. Here are some gems:
Page 58:

"How to Manage Mama-Dependent John Wayne...
  • If you often have delicious homemade snacks on hand, so much the better...
  • If he leaves items of clothing at your house... return them promptly, washed and pressed...
  • When you are at his place, always clean up tidily after yourself, and leave the place a little cleaner overall than when you arrived... "
How to Manage Mama-Deprived John Wayne...
  • If he is mama-deprived, he will be alarmed by too much domesticity...you can comfortably follow your instinct to not vacuum the house or bake a pie before he comes over...
  • Don't feel you have to call him. You don't...
  • Avoid independently contacting members of his family..."
Intuitively, women know how to behave around guys we like - so books of this nature should be unnecessary, unpopular and unpublishable right? Well, sometimes it's nice to be reminded that all relationships have elements of game playing and that to win at love there are rules to follow, some to bend, and sometimes break. Like that whole not dressing like a saloon girl thing - dammit those old gals were hot - and classier than half the dames I saw in Scottsdale last night!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eat Pray Love

I first started Eat Pray Love in the summer of 2008. My book club had chosen it, and I was living at the time with my lovely friend and fellow writer Ashley - who is always gentle, spiritually sensitive and adorably, frustratingly zen. It seemed fitting, but the truth was that I couldn't even finish the book. I found it sappy, far too long and meant for people who were already living in an ashram in India - not, as was the case for me - out of suitcases in the spare bedroom of some friends who lovingly pretended I was not out of my mind that summer.

So the Oprah-favorite has sat on my bookshelf for almost two years, ready to be finished quickly and summed up in the sentence above during this year of intense reading. I always knew I would eventually finish it - I still haven't learned how to be a quitter... but fortunately, I had trouble remembering where exactly I had left off and had to start from the beginning again.

I couldn't have been more wrong in my thinking in 2008! Gilbert, the brave and honest writer that she proves herself to be, is someone anyone can identify with. She wants to be happy and peaceful and beautiful but cannot seem to get out of her own way. She very often wants to give up, can justify almost anything to herself, and is just stubborn enough to keep at it - it being the one year long adventure she set out for herself. I had this idea that Elizabeth Gilbert was this terribly calm, seeker- and finder- of the divine, this ethereal writer who was pretentiously quoting Sufi poets and who probably laughed delicately and without snorting. What I found is that she laughs often - and makes me laugh - in a frank, bawdy, too-much-information kind of way.

Page 73: "Here's how my Swedish friend Sofie describes the great queen [Christina of Sweden]: "She could ride, she could hunt, she was a scholar, she became a Catholic and it was a huge scandal. Some say she was a man but at least she was probably a lesbian. She dressed in pants, she went on archaeological excavations, she collected art and she refused to leave an heir."

And on Page 182: "...my ex-husband never forgave me for leaving, that it didn't matter how many bushels of apologies or explanations I laid at his feet, how much blame I assumed, or how many assets or acts of contrition I was willing to offer him in exchange for departing - he certainly was never going to congratulate me and say, "Hey, I was so impressed with your generosity and honesty and I just want to tell you it's been a a great pleasure being divorced by you."

(If you know me at all, you will find a little chuckle at the universe's idea of a joke if you read this, and then this - while thinking about the cadence of that last quote - and for future reference, never compare yourself to a writer whose book you didn't finish. Yikes.)

Her book, which chronicles Gilbert's year in Italy, India and Bali could have easily turned into a travel guide. It could also have turned into The Diary of a Sad White Woman, or Under the Tuscan Sun. Thankfully, it is not any of those things. It did however, make a really good case for meditation as well as educate me on a great many historical tidbits I may not ever have known. Case in point: While most of Bali is actually inhabited by the descendants of Kings, Priests or Artists, it also has a very violent history and only became known around the world as paradise in the 1960's as a result of a very targeted marketing campaign. (Pages 225, 236-238)

I finally fished the story with a feeling of optimism and promise, and a real belief that by truly seeking out the ways to internal peace that holy men and women have been professing for all ages - I mean really seeking - taking with determination the time and practices set forth, you might actually begin to achieve it. Even if you are a skeptic, even if you think you are a hopeless case, jaded and bitter and far too chatty. I'll tell you this - I'd like to find out.

I Love You, Beth Cooper

Before I Love You, Beth Cooper was a goofy teen movie, it was a book by Larry Doyle - writer of such esteemed work as Beavis and Butthead, The Simpsons, and one article in The Buffalo Grove High School Charger.

The typical slightly-dirty-and-always-boozy-party-romp story that has become the American "classic coming of age" in recent years (think American Pie, Can't Hardly Wait, Superbad...) in book form (or movie form for that matter) has never been my cup of tea. But I didn't say I'd be reading 100 extremely difficult, life changing books this year. Just 100 books. And this one was promised to be "laugh-out-loud funny" and you know what? I did catch myself laughing out loud - more than once.

While the vaudeville-ian physical humor carried the plot along and most of the humor, there were a few lines in the text that were brilliant, and - I'll bet- missing from the movie.

Page 100:
"Can I borrow your cell phone? I --"
"Good Catch," Beth said. She pulled her cell phone from her purse and tossed it out of the car. "GPS that, asshole."
The phone flew through the window of a passing Honda Civic and hit Harold Angell, a thirty-four-year-old nurse practitioner who had no ironic connection to anyone in the car."

The novel reads a bit too much like a script - almost as if before he sat down to write, Doyle had already decided that the destiny of Beth Cooper was to be embodied by Hollywood starlet Hayden Panettiere. Not surprising given his background in writing for TV. Than why not just cut to the chase and write a screenplay? Maybe because there is more money to be made when a popular piece is manifested in multiple forms. Maybe because Doyle was looking for a media in which clever asides do not have to be in dialogue. Maybe because "novelist" looks and feels good when viewed on a resume-website. Who knows?

What I do know is that my high school experience was not at all like the that of the characters in this book, what with their crashing of an H2 Hummer through the front door of a classmate's home, a sexy boy-girl shower after school in the gym locker room, and almost no consequences whatsoever. The music, on the other hand - I did get. What high schooler hasn't made the soundtrack of our lives? This one punctuated by Alice Cooper, The Verve Pipe, Sarah McLachlan and Billy Idol among others, I happily sang along in my head - duly-noting the quotes from Romeo and Juliet, Footloose, Clueless, Napoleon Dynamite...

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches you when to Quit (and When to Stick)

There are many things that my parents and teachers told me as a little girl that still ring true today, and if I'd only followed their advice consistently I'd be in a much better place than I am now. A few examples - "Save your money," "Always be on time," and "Don't drive over the speed limit." Yeah. Sometimes mother really does know best.

According to superstar marketer Seth Godin however, she doesn't always. In The Dip, Godin maintains that children should not be told "Never quit!" and instead, be forced to memorize something a bit more profound: "Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can't deal with the stress of the moment." Page 64.

"...the stress of the moment" - aka: The Dip - is defined as the space between starting something and mastering it. Choosing a direction and arriving at the destination. Short term pain that can lead to long term gain. Easy to read and agree with, less easy to correctly apply to life.

My three take-aways from the 87 page text:

  1. Be the Best in the World at what what you do. In order to do this, find the right world (or market, or hobby, or relationship) in which to operate, and define what The Best means there.
  2. Define the instances ahead of time where you should recognize a need to quit: when you are coping with a situation in which your hard work results in no change whatsoever, and when you are sticking with something that will only get more difficult to quit the longer you stay.
  3. Have the guts to believe that your goal is worth accomplishing, and keep highlighting the benefits of making it through The Dip.
Buried deep down in the psyche of most people lies an equation that Godin is fiercely trying to combat with this little book. Quitting = Failure. Godin encourages replacing the equation with three better ones: Quitting the wrong things equals Failure, Quitting the right things equals the freedom to become the Best in the World and Not Quitting the right things equals Mediocrity which also equals Failure.

My favorite quote from the book, and the one that is most pertinent at this particular point in my life is found on page 63:

"Coping is what people do when they try to muddle through. They cope with a bad job or a difficult task. The problem with coping is that it never leads to exceptional performance. Mediocre work is rarely because of a lack of talent and often because of the Cul-de-Sac*. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy. If the best you can do is cope, you're better off quitting."

How apropos that I actually live in a Cul-de-Sac. Hmm.

*Cul-de-Sac. French for dead end.

Dave Eggers - Hmm, that's interesting

In preparing to review A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius yesterday, I came across some interesting facts about author Dave Eggers that have nothing to do with his personal and familial difficulties but I thought were worth noting - enjoy!

Additional Credits: Comics Alliance, Amazon.com, TED Prize, An Affair with Words, McSweenys