Well, I'm feeling cranky about a book, so it must be time to start posting again. I'm not sure I'll be back on the full five-day schedule right away, but I'll do my best. I didn't get all the dandelions, but I got a lot of them, and I'm still behind on some projects, but that's no surprise. I wouldn't know how to work if I weren't motivated by being behind.
So what am I cranky about? Well, the other day I was looking at some new nonfiction titles and some bestseller lists, just trying to keep up with the ol' nonfiction world (although I've been reading more fiction of late...details on that to come!), when I saw the title The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship, by Jeffrey Zaslow.
Hm, I thought. Now that's a title I normally wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. (It's got "sentimental" written all over it, and I've never been one of those gals who needed a big ol' circle of women friends, primarily because I have two awesome sisters.) But, I wondered. Jeffrey Zaslow. Why did that name sound familiar?
I went on my merry way, but I kept seeing the book pop up, and I kept thinking, "Zaslow. Why do I know that name?" And finally I remembered that I live in the 21st century and I could easily Google his name. And then it all became clear. Remember one of last year's biggest sentimental claptrap titles, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch? (Dying professor gives last lecture to students, dripping with life wisdom and acceptance of one's mortality and all that jazz?) It was co-authored by Jeffrey Zaslow.
So, this year, because evidently The Last Lecture didn't make him enough money, Zaslow has decided to cash in on another trend, the importance of women's friendships (particularly as baby boomers, who have always been rather, let's say, fond of themselves, age and start to look back on their lives, experiences, and friendships), and has produced The Girls from Ames. It's about ten women friends (eleven, originally; one member of the group died at age 22) who went to school together in Ames, Iowa, and have stayed in touch.
There's really very little to review here. It's exactly the kind of book that you would think it is: it tells stories of how the girls met, where they all ended up, what challenges they've faced, who they married and how many kids they've had, and how they've all changed (or not changed) as they've aged. It's serviceably written and if you're into this kind of thing, I'm sure it's a fine read. And parts of it are very poignant--some of them had bad experiences in high school and college; one of them died too young; some of them have divorced and had children die; etc. And that's okay. Sometimes you need a good sappy read. (I'm guilty of that myself; see my enjoyment of Vicki Myron's Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World.) But I've got a couple of issues with this book:
1. First of all, why is this dude writing it? I know he wants to understand women and all, but for this type of book, I'd rather just see a woman take it on. For this reason, rather than this book, I'd suggest Cheryl Jarvis's The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment that Transformed Their Lives. Although it wasn't about lifetime friends, its premise that one woman advertised to find a group of women who would share ownership of an expensive piece of jewelry with her, and how they became friends, seemed less, you know, like a man telling a story of women's friendships mainly for profit.
2. This is how the book is described at Amazon: "It demonstrates how close female relationships can shape every aspect of women’s lives – their sense of themselves, their choice of men, their need for validation, their relationships with their mothers, their dreams for their daughters – and reveals how such friendships thrive, rewarding those who have committed to them." I found the "need for validation" clause EXTREMELY obnoxious. As though to be a woman is to have a need for validation.* I say, fuck that. And you can agree with me or not, I don't care. But wait. I am a woman, so I should care. Please agree with me? I need the validation.
3. I realize the above is the fault of some underpaid publishing assistant who is writing jacket copy, but this line, found on page 15, I'm going to blame completely on Zaslow: "As a clique, they had a reputation for being flirts--more social than academic, and more apt to tease boys than to please them. In reality, though, most of the Ames girls were very good students. And a couple of them actually pleased more than they teased."
Puke. So, all I can say is, I wish people would stop rewarding this man by buying his books. If you're desperate for a chicks bonding narrative, I'd look into The Necklace instead, and if you're interested in lifelong relationships, put this title down and invest in Peter Feldstein's and Stephen Bloom's superlative photography book The Oxford Project (which is also set in Iowa!) instead. But suit yourself. I wish I was woman enough to need the validation that your following my advice would provide, but I'm just not.
*And, "dreams for their daughters"? Are they not allowed to dream for their sons?