Reviewing for Elle Magazine

One day a couple of months ago, while browsing the discussion forums on PBS, I learned how to apply to be a reviewer for Elle Magazine. It sounded like fun, so I applied (an interesting process in itself) and was accepted. My three books came a few weeks later, and I began reading.

Based on books I told them I'd recently read and enjoyed, they sent me three memoirs. I found this a bit odd since I don't often read memoirs, but they looked mildly interesting; in fact, one of them looked fascinating (if very sad), so I started with that one. Visiting Life - Women Doing Time on the Outside, by Bridget Kinsella, purported to be about the wives and girlfriends of incarcerated men. It sounded very different from anything I'd read before, and since my college has a prison outreach program, I thought it was something I ought to know about.
Actually, the book is about Kinsella's inability to come to grips with her divorce and her ticking biological clock. Although she interviews a few women, the interviews are constantly interrupted with her own whining, and she shows little sympathy for the women except where their experiences intersect her own. The prisoner she interviews becomes her "savior." She depicts him as worshiping her, and at the end of the book (I'm not giving anything away, because I warn you strongly NOT to buy this book, which means you're not going to read it, right?!) he conveniently contracts throat cancer and chooses not to have it treated. In other words, he's around just long enough to function as her "angel" and then disappear so she can get back to life away from the sordid prison setting.

Although the prisoner, "Rory," is supposed to have been the inspiration for the book, and her emotional and spiritual savior, the book isn't dedicated to him. Heck, he's not even mentioned in the acknowledgements, nor are the women who so freely gave of their time and souls to the project. That left a bad taste in my mouth, too.

I believe that she did meet with a few wives and girlfriends, and perhaps she even visited a prison once. But the rest of the book is an obvious fabrication - a framework for her own private whinings. Which, I should add, are poorly written.

Can you tell how much I hated this book?!

Now, Carolyn Jourdan's book Heart in the Right Place was so wonderful that it made up for having had to read Kinsella's! It comes out in June (I believe all three of these books do), and you should immediately run out and buy it! Jourdan is one of those authors who make you wish she were your next-door neighbor, and her book is one of those books you want to buy to give to everybody you care about. She has an honest, straightforward voice that speaks right from the heart - in other words, the title does not disappoint.

Jourdan took a brief vacation from her job as a U.S. Senate counsel when her mother had a massive heart attack, and returned to her rural Tennessee home. Her mother immediately put her to work running her father's family medicine practice for two days until her mother was back on her feet. (Obviously, both Jourdan and her mother were in denial about the severity of her mother's condition.) The time was extended from two days to a week, from a week to two weeks and so on, as Jourdan had to learn to cope not only with making appointments over the phone for people who demanded special services she did not understand ("does the doctor wash out feet?") to dealing with goat emergencies (many of the farmers trusted her father more than they trusted the local veterinarian).

There are similarities to James Herriott's gentle humor, but Jourdan has a crisis all her own: she wants to return to D.C., her exciting, important job, foreign embassy dinners and her mentor, who keeps calling and urging her to come home. Rural Tennessee is no longer her home; she has gone to great lengths to escape a place where she never fit in, and she has no intention of staying any longer than her parents need her. She is homesick for Washington and out of place in her father's office.

It is a good book. Read it!

The third book they sent me was a real surprise. I hadn't expected to enjoy it, but the first paragraph grabbed me and from there on I couldn't set it down. Lindeen has the comedic timing of P.G. Wodehouse - yes, she is that good! I'd never heard of her, or of Zuzu's Petals, or of most of the punk rock bands in the book, but the experiences and the time about which she writes, oh yes, they ring lots of bells for me! Of the three books, this was the most laugh-out-loud fun to read, but in some ways also the most painful, as I'd shared some similar situations (Lindeen is about 2 years younger than I am, so we grew up in the same era, and it was a tough one). You don't have to have wanted to break into the music scene to love this book - it's about dreams, and growing up, and friendships, and finding yourself. But it's also about the music scene in Minneapolis, and that part is really interesting!

And did I mention how marvelous the writing is? ;-) Do get it when it comes out. It was the last of the three that I read, but ranks very high on my enjoyment meter. C will be reading it next - he's not into punk, but he recognized Lindeen's husband's band (The Replacements) and, of course, he's interested in books like this anyway.


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