Valentine’s Day is days away. For some, February 14th is the most romantic day of the year, but plenty of others feel it’s just a commercial holiday concocted by card vendors and other purveyors of romance items, to get you to buy more. Whether you’re a sentimental softy, or you think it’s silly, every day is a day to explore different kinds of (non-romantic) love. So today, I want to suggest five books that have nothing to do with “hearts & cupid” and a lot to do with passion for people, places, and things!
A LOVE OF SELF: Give and Take: A Roadmap to Understanding a Psychiatrist by Tephanie H, Mullany MD, MAR (iUniverse 2011) is a query little booklet/book that proclaims: “sometimes the patient knows best.” Inside is, as with many sself-published books, a lot about the author who also happens to be a psychiatrist. I enjoyed some of her stories about interaction with patients, but what was the point, really? If you need a book to convince you that you can have a trusting, healthy relationship with your doctor, perhaps this isn’t the right doctor for you, or more likely, you are resistant enough to therapy that you aren’t ready to reap its many benefits. ‘No one plans to be uncomfortable, ill or emotionally and physiologically exhausted,” says the author. The book seems to focus all over the place, and not on the one thing that I’d assume most people would want out of this type of self help book – the ability to research interview, and finally, interact with a psychiatrist. If the idea of going to a shrink scares you so much you need a book to convince you how to do it, this book may give you some insights, but it isn’t going to be the answer to your prayers. Disappointing!
Many people get engaged during the Christmas through New Years holidays, but I’m willing to bet that many more fight and break up. That could make your first Valentine’s Day, a bit dicey. But you’re in good company if you’ve had a breakup recently, because most adults have had the unpleasant experience at least once. A little help and inspiration during what is usually a difficult time, is offered in self-help books. The Breakup Bible – The Smart Woman’s Guide to Healing from a Breakup of Divorce by Rachel A. Sussman, LCSW (Three Rivers Press, December 2011) is newly minted in this category of many “breakup bibles” with the same title Sussman’s book uses “three phases of healing, understanding and transformation” as the “building blocks” of getting through what ails you when it comes to breakups. But the gimmicks she adds are, amusingly to this reviewer, not different than the ones I wrote about with my co-author (and twin sister) Jessica Blackman Freedman, in Recruiting Love: Using the Business Skills You Have To Find the Love You Want (Cyclone Books, 1998). That’s not to take away from very good ideas such as looking at your past relationships (on paper, please) to see the patterns you may unknowingly have when it comes to picking “Mr. Wrong.” And of course, like Recruiting Love, this book has plenty of fun, heartbreaking and inspiring little stories from women who have lived, loved, and survived a breakup. The Breakup Bible’s “Love Map” is simply a rehash ofthe above. The the information (e.g. how to talk to your ex about joint custody issues) is sound and useful, just nothing new. Almost every self-help book has some undeniable truths If you pick up even a kernel of an idea that helps you cope with your situation, it’s worth reading. Borrow from another broken-hearted friend.
LOVE OF CRAFTS: Sew What You Love, The Easiest, Prettiest Projects Ever by Tanya Whelan (Potter Craft, December 2011) suggests that anyone with a sewing machine can make nice things. Perhaps, but you still have to develop at least a few sewing skills to make the projects look polished. Tanya Whelan uses very eye-catching fabrics in her beautiful photographs to showcase the 30 projects in the books from neckties to knit dresses. The designs are, for the most part, actually simple, even for a beginner, but it’s the color combinations and fabric choices that really make the project, impressive. I am not crafty with a sewing machine, but I was inspired by the projects. Even a total novice can probably make a pieced pincushion or an embroidered felt purse which would garber some admiration. Some of the project require careful cutting, basting/pinning and piecing, and will be interesting for more able seamstresses. The instructions are easy to follow, and the author gives you a list of supplies and yardage required for each project. The back of this spiral bound book has a pretty “envelope” with patterns, and also a place to put your own. If you’re trying to save money or just be more crafty this year, the $24.99 list price will probably pay over the long haul.
LOVE SOMEONE ELSE: Get Married This Year – 365 Days to “I Do” by Janet Blair Page, PhD (Adams Media, 2011) will get you married in a year — maybe. A book that claims you can reach a goal as important and life-changing as marriage, in a cookie-cutter time frame, is analogous to a fountain-of-youth face cream. Both could happen with visible results quickly, but there is a lot more to the process than meets the eye, especially because every person is unique. While having a time frame for any goal is a good idea, putting marriage on a fast track to 365 days is dangerous. You might find yourself walking to the altar wondering if you really picked a great lifetime partner. And worse, if you fail to pick up the perfect man in 365 days, won’t that feel like being a double loser (if everyone else can get quickly hitched, but you)? I immediately disliked the idea that her plan is one where the clock is ticking. It’s not just stressful, it’s seriously a bad idea. Although there are bits of good ideas and wisdom throughout the book, most of what’s in Get Married This Year are things you already know and that (if you are reading this book with the goal of marriage) have not brought you to matrimonial success. Do we really need to be told again that it’s nice to look decent and at least put in some effort when presenting ourselves to potential swains? And if you are really hogging the conversation, nagging, complaining, or telling all on your first date, you don’t need another book to tell you it’s not good dating behavior. The author suggests that her readers to get active and put themselves out there in the dating world, but that’s also a no brainer. If that’s all one had to fix to find a husband, you’d never be able to find a wedding venue that wasn’t booked, in time for your own. All kidding aside, Janet Blair Page is a psychotherapist with more than thirty years of experience in private practice in New York and Atlanta, and the creator of a dating course at Emory University. It’s not that the book isn’t well organized, it is. And certainly the book could motivate the clueless or lazy to stay on track and focused on finding that husband before ringing in the new year. But as someone who has also written a couple of dating books (including The Everything Dating Book 2nd Edition, also for Adams Media), and since I’ve advised people of all ages, walks of life, and cultures about relationships, what I know to the the bottom line is that love can’t be ordered up like an Ebay purchase. Sometimes you find someone special and find lasting love at first sight. For most, it’s a journey, a process, and you need more than motivation. You can do everything “by the book” and still find yourself fidgeting with your champagne glass alone at the bar, next New Years Eve. Like all self help books, this one has plenty to keep you amused and perhaps, even inspired. It’s just not anything new. When it comes to love, dating and marriage, there rarely is an earth-shattering breakthrough in what you need to do. In any case, hopefully you’re not buying this right after you have read The Breakup Bible (see review above)!
LOVE OF ADVENTURE: Some parents take their kids to the zoo or maybe camping to share a family adventure. My family had a sailboat, and we went sailing every weekend. In time, I became an adequate sailor. But the idea of being literally stuck together on a small sailboat for days, weeks, months or years, would be too much for most kids. Alex Ellison’s parents took him on an ocean voyage on Promise, their own sailboat, that literally lasted five years and 25,000 miles. A Star to Sail Her By – a Five-Year Coming of Age at Sea by Alex Ellison (iUniverse, 2011) is a self-published book that tells of that adventure, in his own words. The book is well edited andthrilling, but if Alex really began his personal journal aboard Promise at 8 years of age, he developed an alarmingly archaic descriptive ability. Self-taught by his physician parents during the journey, it appears that little Alex tried to use a lot of unusual and big words that most kids wouldn’t be using in a diary. That makes me believe that the young author had a lot of help in writing the book and it reads a bit strangely. But that aside, imagine spending years 8 to almost 14 on a sailboat with your parents and autistic sister. You’d grow up fast, and Alex did. The thing that is so interesting about this is that most kids wouldn’t be caught dead without all their creature comforts, but this young man not only had to make do with what you can stow on a relatively small sailboat, but he had to take responsibility for things like being in charge of the boat for shifts when the rest of the family was sleeping, and learning to deal with lots of strangers and different cultures. This would be daunting for an adult. I can only imagine what it would be like for a pre-teen, even an obviously precocious one. The journey had it’s highs and lows, including the author’s literal brush with death from parasites, but his love of adventure and the way he embraced the sailor’s lifestyle is amazing. There is truly never a dull moment in this book. While I w0nder about parents who would bring a challenged child and a young son along for what is unquestionably a very long and dangerous journey, they were crazy-courageous. Today, the author is in High School, a member of the Phillips Exeter Academy varsity crew team. He now also has this book to add to his list of accomplishment. The book is impressive, and makes for a great read. You can check out Alex’s Web site to learn more: http://astartosailherby.com
LOVE OF ITALIAN COOKING: Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking by Pamela Sheldon Johns (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2011) is a very nicely crafted, nicely photographed, nearly square-szied hardcover treasury of more than 60 peasant-inspired Italian Dishes from the heart of Tuscany. Written by Italian cookbook authority Pamela Sheldon John La cucina povera” is the philosophy of not wasting anything edible and of using technique to make every bite as tasty as possible. For those who are creative, into “hearty” food, and/or budget-conscious, this is going to help make every day a festival of food. But that being said, you have to really enjoy Tuscan style food which, for my personal taste, is too heavy. So I admit up front that most of the recipes really didn’t appeal to me. Many of the dishes are heavy on starches and grains (e.g. polenta, pasta, potatoes), the ones where the star is tripe, or squab, rabbit or fried flowers are not necessarily something you’re going to serve your kids for weekday dinner. The first 41 pages out of the 176-page book, are introduction, not recipes, featuring stories and memories of the villagers and accompanying photos. While this makes the book more “coffee table” than cookbook shelf-appealing, when I purchase a cook cook I’ve done so for the recipes, not background (and there could have been more photos of the food, instead). Peasant food from Tuscany sounds romantic, but cooking and eating it is another matter. If you favor this type of Italian cooking, that’s amore! You’ll find the recipes easy enough to follow, for the most part. Very few were daunting. Pick up Cucina Provera and you’ll be “cooking Italian” tonight!
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