One-Minute Book Reviews

May 19, 2010

Phyllis Theroux Writes of Finding Love Online and More in ‘The Journal Keeper’ — Meditations on Life After 60

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:33 pm
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The Journal Keeper: A Memoir. By Phyllis Theroux. Atlantic Monthly Press, 281 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

More than two decades ago, Phyllis Theroux moved from Washington, D.C., to a drowsy Virginia town that lacked stop lights but had a house she could afford after a divorce left her in financial peril. She looks back on six years in Ashland in this collection of edited diary entries that reads less like a journal or memoir than a series of meditations for the age of, the dating service that led her to the man she married in her mid-’60s.

For part of the time covered by this book, Theroux lived with her idiosyncratic mother, who moved in after developing macular degeneration. And The Journal Keeper makes clear that many people would benefit from having such a loving caretaker for their final days. Theroux writes on her mother’s 85th birthday: “My present to her is to be at her disposal for an entire day.”

But the reticence of The Journal Keeper robs it of the force of May Sarton’s trailblazing Journal of a Solitude and more recent accounts of growing old, including  Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End. Theroux omits most dates on entries and is so polite to friends and relatives that she gives you little sense of those people and the events that define them. She mentions that her daughter is coming for a 10-day visit and then says nothing about their time together, which leaves you wondering what happened, one of many dropped threads in the book.

Nor does Theroux make you understand how, for someone educated by Dominican nuns, she became so drawn to alternative spiritual disciplines. In Ashland she has sessions with an “energy healer” and writes approvingly of Gary Zukav and Eckhart Tolle, both favorites of Oprah. And she finds more than one kind of inspiration in the writing classes she teaches to pay the bills. After a stop-and-go courtship, she discovers that her “premarriage mood of doom” has lifted: “Perhaps, as one student observed, this is because Mercury had been in retrograde and only went out of it two days ago.”

Theroux calls The Journal Keeper “the spiritual equivalent of a personal light box” that avoids “dark developments” and favors the insights she gained from them. This approach leads to more than a few overwrought metaphors and pseudoprofundities. And the insights in the book tend to be less memorable than directly observed incidents that Theroux serves up with little or no commentary. One occurred when friend’s 8-year-old son looked up at a sky full of snowflakes and said, “This is the best day of my life.”

Best line: No. 1: “Living in a small town is like being in a play.”

Worst line: No. 1: “A funeral is like a train station waiting room. We’re all going to board that train someday.” Except that the people in a waiting room aren’t necessarily waiting for the same train. No. 2: Quoted above: “Perhaps, as one student observed, this is because Mercury had been in retrograde … ”

Published: March 2010

Watch the trailer for The Journal Keeper.

Furthermore: Theroux is an essayist and the author of books that include Peripheral Visions and California and Other States of Grace: A Memoir.

Consider reading instead of or in addition to The Journal Keeper: Journal of a Solitude.

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 29, 2006

Judsen Culbreth Tells How, in Her 50s, She Found Love and Marriage on the Internet

A lively guide to finding a mate — or a New Year’s Eve date — online when you can remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a TV set with knobs

The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating: Date With Dignity. By Judsen Culbreth. Rodale, 230 pp., $12.95.

Think you’d have a better chance of winning a Pillsbury Bake-Off than lining up a date for New Year’s Eve this year? Feel sure you won’t find love until you lose the crow’s feet or the saddlebags?

Judsen Culbreth disagrees. Divorced at the age of 49, she expected her many friends to fix her up. After two years in the single lane, she’d gone on two blind dates. She had similar luck meeting men on her own, so she decided to try online matchmaking.

“Two days after posting on an Internet dating site and asking for matches within a 50-mile radius of Manhattan, I had 84 responses,” she writes. “Over the next year, I posted my profile on six sites. I screened thousands of men, corresponded with more than 100 of them, and liked 25 well enough to meet in person.” The result? She found and married “the man I prayed for.” And she tells how she did it in The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating, a lively how-to book for what she calls “the mature woman.”

A former editor-in-chief of Working Mother, Culbreth offers smart and practical advice on topics from the pros and cons of well-known dating sites to getting sexually involved after meeting online. In a chapter on how to write a compelling profile, she tells what doesn’t work along with what does. Among the nonstarters: taglines or other come-ons that are hostile or bleak: “NO HEAD GAMES,”“RU NORMAL?” or “MAKE ME SMILE AGAIN.” Would you want to go out with someone who had forgotten how to smile?

As for that New Year’s Eve date you know you won’t have, Culbreth encourages you not to be so sure. She believes online dating can work even if you keep telling yourself, “I want to get a face-lift first” or “I need to lost 25 pounds.” Waiting until you’re perfect may make you older, but not wiser. “I’m all in favor of self-improvement,” she says, “but your social life can move forward online while the metamorphosis takes place.”

Best line: “Almost every site will ask about your age, children, education, occupation, religion, ethnicity, height, and weight. Be absolutely honest. You can’t recover from misrepresenting yourself.”

Worst line: None. But this book came out before the surge in popularity of a new feature on some sites that lets members post comments about others. I agree that “you don’t have to reply to all the men who contact you,” but I would add that failing to respond could get you slammed on a site by people who expect a reply.

Recommended if … if you’re a woman in her mid-30s or older who wants recharge her social life. This book has useful for information for any female reader of a certain age, not just baby boomers.

Editor: Jennifer Kushnier

Published: August 2005. Author:

Conflict alert: Judsen Culbreth is one of my closest friends, I am in her acknowledgments, and I would no sooner give her bad review than I would ask Dick Cheney to be my friend on a social networking site. If I didn’t like a book Judsen had written, I wouldn’t review it. I like this one, and that’s why I’ve reviewed it.

Janice Harayda
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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