Published: 2011 by HarperCollins
Source: Received from the publisher for review
Once again, I am drawn to a project memoir that I was fully expecting to dislike, but am pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed.
Anna David, a successful writer, has been unlucky in love one too many times and — like many of us bibliophiles — heads to the bookstore to search for that one perfect book that will cure everything that ails her seemingly bleak situation. Her search appears to come up empty until she sees a pink cover on the shelf — a copy of Sex and the Single Girl
by Helen Gurley Brown. The first line “I married for the first time at 37. I got the man I wanted.” intrigues David and she purchases the book, but with the realization that is not likely to be a miracle worker:
I’m not the sort of person who transitions from a state of hopeless despair to one of zany optimism just because of a book – let alone some guide to living as a single girl in the 60’s – so part of me wonders if I’m in a delusional state where I only think I feel better. But I also know that I’m not really in a position to care. This is the first time I’ve felt something other than miserable since my birthday, and these days, I’ll take whatever I can get.
And here is where I expected to start disliking the book. I had preconceived notions of what a book written in the early 1960s would say about finding and keeping a relationship, and I didn’t want to read about a woman in the present day changing herself just so that she could meet Mr. Right. With some women, that may have been exactly what happened, but with David, what she learns about herself is much more than just how to get a guy. For example, after some less than successful dates arranged through an online dating service, she realizes that her comfort zone is too small, she dusts off the Rollerblades that have been sitting in the closet and heads to the park to reacquaint herself with the activity; before she realizes, she is a fair distance away and is thrilled with herself and of the experience:
This place I’ve discovered because I’d forced myself to do something I’d long wanted to do, in other words, reminds me of some of the happiest times of my life.
This experience resonated so strongly with me. I’ve had the same types of experiences with things I’ve wanted to do but were afraid of trying because I thought it would be too hard; when I “just did it”, the results were nothing but positive, even if there were some bumps along the way. And in this sentence she sums this up beautifully: “I can be whoever I want to be, provided I’m willing to not give up even when it’s difficult.”
In addition to expanding her comfort zone, David also picks up more domestic pointers from S&SG (as she refers to the book throughout her own); like how to cook a proper meal, how to decorate your home/apartment, how to “dress for success”. Ostensibly, these are improvements designed to impress a man, but to David they provide self-satisfaction; that you should be doing these things for yourself all along.
Of course, the memoir does talk about David’s adventures in dating and romance, and I found these parts to be uninteresting, even though I know they are a main point of the book. However, I absolutely loved the overall message I took from reading it — that anything you do should be done with you in mind first.
Here is a podcast interview with the author, Anna David (also available on iTunes)