Two days until Halloween, people. Get out your party hats, apple cider doughnuts, and be prepared to get heckin spooky.
This week’s number is Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding.
I don’t remember where I first saw this book, but I remember being intrigued. The cover promised exotic foreign travel and sassiness, the title indicated humor and possibly an examination of social expectations for women.
And… I was let down.
I know, I know, I’m bumming you out already. Hell, I’m bumming me out. After reading so many great travel books of late, this one fell horribly flat.
Yes, it’s currently #68 on Amazon’s travel book list but in this book travel is secondary to… almost everything. She does travel throughout the book, yes. But she’s traveling for the classic lady-reason: mending a broken heart. Followed by the next classic lady-reason: loads of sex with foreign “lovers.”
But behind the loads of sex with foreign “lovers,” you can see this incredibly deep fear of being alone and unattractive. She has an ongoing commentary about her own attractiveness (and how she used to be fat (read: unattractive) in college), about how she is aging, about how she was almost always the oldest one of any travel group, about grooming (see below), about presenting as young, about the attractiveness of her friends, her “lovers,” and everyone around her. All of this is threading in another ongoing commentary about how, once she hits a certain age (and thus a certain level of unattractiveness), she’ll be involuntarily alone forever.
This makes the entire book seem like an obsessive ode to being young, beautiful, and getting dat ass while one still can, all while in a feverish haze to find love and a long-term partner… but sorta not a marriage partner, but sorta maybe? She’s conflicted.
And I get it. I grew up in Southern California, land of movie and television studios, of only one type of beauty. And not only was there really only one way to be attractive but, as a woman, you are expected to be attractive. Or you’re worthless.
And the film industry? Sexist as shit. Ridiculously sexist. Horrifically sexist.
So I get how she got to where she was when all this was going on.
While many of the stories are entertaining, the pacing was off for loads of them–which I think is just what happens when you’re used to writing screenplays. And I felt bad for her a lot. Not for what she was going through (most of the time she was enjoying herself very much), but because the life view and the view of herself she had was just so… unhappy. And was causing her so much stress.
For me, because of that, reading this book was unpleasant. What I thought was going to be a one-day page-turner (I read fast) turned into a three-day slog because I just didn’t want to be reading about all the things she was doing (and doing to herself) to feel okay, to feel attractive, to feel complete, to feel able to love and be loved.
It was good for me to read this. There’s a chunk of sex and how I approach sex in my book, and a chunk of men. This book made me realize that I have to take extra care in how I approach that, and how I approach my approach, as it were. Some people are going to be alienated no matter what, but I need to make sure that my readers enjoy the trip with me and are not left questioning my emotional health in such a way that makes them uncomfortably concerned.
There’s a bunch more I could say about this book, but I’m going to end it here. Can’t have these things turning into twenty page musings.
“Meanwhile, I spent a few months in both a metaphorical and literal fetal position, and wondered, like some many ex-girlfriends of forest rangers before me, if I would ever be able to use the tent he gave me for Valentine’s Day again.”
“And that’s how I used 9/11 to rationalize cheating.”
“Leoni started rocking back and forth, trying to self-soothe by saying things like, ‘I’m in the ocean surrounded by dolphins, I’m in the ocean surrounded by dolphins,’ as she threw back her margarita and watched her brother grind on the hot, tan grandpa.”
“Ben tried to get back together again, and as tempted as I would be by the completeness of his love in the face of a new world of men who seemed to see me as some sort of little brother, something deep within me was screaming that I wasn’t ready to be half of a whole. I was about to be having too much fun.”
“I can’t recommend sleeping with your Spanish teacher highly enough.”
“You can keep a shepherding dog in an apartment in New York, but it’s eventually going to try to herd your dinner guests.”
“This meant days in a writers’ room where my talented, serious boss would shake his head and say things like, ‘I don’t know, you guys, I just don’t think we have the monkey-ass-rape moment of this episode yet.'”
“I read Eat Pray Love, which caused me intense stress due to how much I both hated the narrator for her self-involved, self-inflicted misery in the middle of a pretty amazing life, and deeply related to her, due to my tendency to be self-involved and inflict misery on myself in the middle of my pretty amazing life.”
“I can only assume that was because the horse tranquilizers were organic.”
“I stopped eating. I lasered/waxed/dermabrased everything. I dragged the Chuck writing staff to the gym at Warner Bros. every day at lunch. I listened to Spanish lessons in the car. I bought a lot of white linen, and turquoise jewelry that I hoped would ‘pop’ on the golden skin I got for forty-five dollars in Beverly Hills. I dyed my eyelashes for model-like emergences from the ocean. I procured sexy jammies that lifted my girls up a little higher than they were naturally perching these days.”
“I will say that it was really nice to be flying back to Los Angeles free of the debilitating realization that I had to get back on Match.com when I got home.”