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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me



by Rachel Bertsche
Ballantine Books     2014
258 pages     Memoir

In her delightful book, Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me, Rachel Bertche channels some "celebrity muses" to make needed changes in her life. She says: "The point of this whole quest is to follow the examples of those who seem to feel the way I'd like to feel, the celebrities who present themselves to the world in a way I'd like to present myself, and see if it makes me feel glamorous, together, and happier."

And so she picks a celebrity a month to use as a model. She spends a month each--adopting Jennifer Anniston's exercise regime, Gwyneth Paltrow's diet and cooking, Sarah Jessica Parker's clothes sense, Tina Fey's work ethic, Jennifer Garner's marriage, Julia Robert's serenity, Jennifer Lopez's pregnancy, and Beyoncé's perfectionism. Along the way, she struggles with the lethargy that has come from working at home for the first time,  a lack of exercise, and the desire to spend the whole day in pajamas. She and her husband are trying to have a baby, and Bertsche juxtaposes her desperate desire to be a mother with the perfection of her chosen muses.

And in recording the struggle to conceive, Bertsche moves beyond the gimmick of the plot device to offer us a glimmer of the real woman with the real life situation. She does a remarkable job of moving beyond celebrity adoration to finding a balance that can motivate her life. None of us, including Bertsche, believe that celebrity is perfection. Most of us are happy with anonymity. All of us realize that the cult of celebrity has gotten out of hand. Bertsche explores all of these things as she tries to pick and choose characteristics of her celebrities to emulate. Two things I especially noted—one is that Julia Roberts doesn't pay any attention to social media. Bertsche discovers that her addiction to Facebook is a ploy to be unproductive. I can relate to that. I tend to look at Facebook when I am bored with a project or when I reach an impasse in my writing. The other is that Bertsche notices that Jennifer Garner never says a harsh word in interviews about her husband Ben Afflick.  That is also a good model to follow. Bertsche says that she occasionally will make a joke at her husband's expense just to be clever. I have found myself guilty of the same thing. 

I have to say that I have only had one celebrity addiction, and that was with Michelle Obama's clothes. Early in their first term in office, I found a website that chronicled what Michelle wore every day, how often she wore it, and which designers she used. I checked it nearly every day until last year when the author quit writing the blog. On another note, if I were to use a celebrity to emulate it would be Meryl Streep, because I think she is the world's best actress and seems to live a nice quiet, non-celebrity sort of life. 

Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me uses a clever concept that follows a whole line of similar books, including Bertsche's first book MWF Seeking BFF, where she chronicles her attempt to find new friends after she moves from New York to Chicago. I didn't read MWF when it came from the publisher because I had just finished a book about friendship called What Did I Do Wrong? and I wasn't ready to read another friendship book. However, I have read several of the books that are mentioned as a comparison to Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me. If you like her book, you will most likely enjoy these books as well: The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin; The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs; and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, which I didn't read but saw the movie.

I do have to admit that I became so worried about Bertsche and her husband getting pregnant that I turned to her arch-nemesis Facebook to look her up to see if she had a baby—long before I got to the end of the book and found out she had a baby girl.  Then I could get back to the fertility struggles.

She closes her journey with the thought: "While I'm happy to have role models, and it's great to find inspiration in others, I need to find my own version of perfect without consulting People." Those of us who have lived far longer than Bertsche will be able to tell her that perfection never happens, but there can be lots of perfect days without perfection, and that "good enough" can be a doable mantra.

Additionally, I want to thank Bertsche for giving me lots of practice spelling Gwyneth!
A review in the Boston Globe
Rachel Bertsche website.

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