Thursday, September 04, 2008

Up For Renewal by Cathy Alter

Up For Renewal by Cathy Alter is one of those quirky ideas that naturally appeals to my sense of the bizarre. Take one woman whose life is in a chaotic limbo. Add some good intentions for change. Mix in a plethora of magazine driven advice. Tada! You have this book. When I first read the premise about a woman turning her life over to women’s magazines, while appreciating the peculiar choice, I also had to roll my eyes at the inevitable self-destruction that would follow. What woman could possibly read a year’s worth of women’s magazines and walk away with her self-esteem still in tact? Although such magazines as Real Simple and O, The Oprah Magazine offered some balance, for the most part Alter was seeking wisdom from such resources as Glamour and InStyle. I kid you not! Month one, June, she gave over to eating more healthy meals which included her packing her lunch. I started falling love with Alter at this point. Her self-deprecating sense of humor was not so self-abusive that I felt uncomfortable. Her cultural references were often delightful. (Anyone who can make a correlation between learning how to wrap a sandwich with Kathy Bate’s greeting her husband in Saran Wrap in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes is aces in my book.) Come July, I began to have some doubts. She had dumped a couple of dead end liaisons for a potentially permanent playmate, a younger man she had kissed by the end of the previous chapter. So when they go off on a camping trip I was pretty certain it would make for an interesting experience. Not so much. Not even a very enlightening month. So I hoped that August would redeem itself. Yeah. Not so much. By September’s chapter, I was ready to just dump the book altogether. After all, she was begrudging one magazine’s “hinky’ math and claiming that she and her boyfriend had been dating for four months. Last time I checked, June to September does not equal four months. And for a woman who supposedly was trying to find herself and get her life together, why the hell was she thinking of moving in with her boyfriend of only a few months (not four, no matter how hinky your math may be!)? I think I am the only woman in America who still thinks moving in together can actually wait for the first anniversary of dating. That’s probably because I don’t read a lot of women’s magazines. Why did I choose to finish reading to the end? Because Alter’s book lends itself to my reading along while pedaling on my recumbent bike. Which resulted in my shouting out to Rob as he walked by, “Good Lord she’s already thinking about marrying the guy and it’s only been six months by her hinky math calculations. Or maybe it’s nine months. I’m not sure how this hinky math works.” The problem is that this book falls into the chick lit category and I am not a big fan of chick lit. I can’t completely hate anyone who suggests that “shitfuck” is a mantra. I suppose I like this book about as much as I liked Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. The only difference is this is a memoir and I always end up measuring memoirs by one simple question: After reading this book, would I want to know the author? I don’t know. I think I’d like to see her across a room at a party and just sort of watch her for a little while. Maybe sidle up beside a conversation she would be leading to overhear what she has to say and see if she is as funny in person as she is on the page. But I’m pretty sure I would want her to proofread my writing given her grammatical errors which were at least few and far between but still sadly evident. (Albeit, the conversational tone of the book may have been more important than grammar, an easy sacrifice to make when attempting to not sound pretentious with an aim at sounding familiar.) BTW, if there is a movie studio out there that hasn’t signed on to make this book into a movie then someone is missing out on a perfectly predictable but potentially charming chick flick. Just narrow down her various friends to either a ball busting girlfriend or a laugh-a-minute gayfriend and they can talk and shop and it will be oh-so Sex in the City only with a narrower focus. And Sarah Jessica Parker could even star in the movie version of Alter’s life. It seems somehow apropos. And sure I’d watch it when it comes on television. After all, I read the book, didn’t I?

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