November 11, 2004
How-Tos by Jews
There's something very American about a book that claims to be a "guide to life." There's also something very Jewish about it. From Ben Franklin to Henry David Thoreau, the goal of self-improvement has enjoyed a distinguished history in our country -- and currently enjoys extensive floor space in your local Barnes & Noble. But in a culture that values the scholar above all, Judaism clearly trumps American culture in esteeming the know-it-all. Consider the title of kabbalist Michael Berg's latest book: "Becoming Like God." Lucky for us, two other Jewish writers set the bar a little lower this month -- and also inflect their self-help books with a little fun.
Jane Buckingham's "The Modern Girl's Guide to Life" (Regan, $25.95) offers survival tips for the things your parents neglected to teach you, from throwing a killer dinner party, to dealing with impossible bosses, to changing a tire, to getting good credit. Undoubtedly, there are tricks every "modern girl" has mastered, but some, too, that she has not.
"It's all the tips that I wish I had had when I was younger, when I was single and that I wish I didn't have to go discover by myself," said Buckingham, who cites her own incompetence as the inspiration for writing the book.
"I feel like so much of the lifestyle stuff that's out there is sort of above our heads ... or a little beyond our means. If I had three hours I could make a meal like Martha Stewart," she said.
Stewart is one celebrity who did not contribute to Samantha Ettus' "The Expert's Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do" (Clarkson Potter, $19.95). But 100 others do. Rather than researching and writing the book in her own voice, like Buckingham did, Ettus gathered essays from experts on the subjects they know about. Larry King writes about "How to Listen," Donald Trump discusses "How to Negotiate" and Bobbie Brown explains "How to Apply Lipstick."
From Buckingham's general overview of the big stuff we can't manage, to Ettus' guide to doing specific everyday things expertly -- like sleep, or read the newspaper -- the true Jewish overachiever will find room for both on her bookshelf.
Buckingham will sign her book on Nov. 18 at Barnes & Noble at The Grove.