Books for the hopeful and the heartbroken

When I popped back on the dating scene after a series of ill-fated relationships, I was the ripe ol’ age of 24 — and felt every bit of that.

It’s ridiculous now, of course, to feel like an old maid when I was, um . . . in my mid-twenties. But when your friends are pairing off and that pressure of behind-ness weighs so heavily on your chest, I couldn’t help but feel disheveled and slightly broken.

Definitely in need of change.

Up until I joined a dating site in early 2010, I can’t say I’d ever really dated. My boyfriends had been coworkers or classmates, friends of friends or men introduced by family. I definitely never did the stereotypical hanging-at-a-bar thing, which should be a surprise to exactly no one.

So when I did decide to put myself out there, as it were, the question was where to put myself. Like any good spinster, I worried the world had passed me by — and had no idea where people actually went to meet others. Like any good denizen of the Internet, though, I quickly figured it out. The rest is history.

Many good bookworms rely on books for guidance through countless experiences — and I was no different. When faced with a new challenge, it wouldn’t be unusual to find me haunting the self-help section of Borders with a stack of tomes at my feet. From taking college courses to grieving a deceased pet, books have been my sources of inspiration, knowledge and comfort.

So I started reading. And whether you’re hopeful or heartbroken, there’s a book for you.

How to Survive the Loss of a LoveHow To Survive the Loss of a Love
by Peter McWilliams, Melba Colgrove
and Harold H. Bloomfield

When my first serious relationship ended, I was despondent in the way you can only be once: after that loss of your first love. My mom, ever the wise comforter, found this slim volume of poetry and practical advice I read cover to cover for months. Easily digestible in bits and bobs, How to Survive is accessible for all — whether a relationship has ended in distance, infidelity or death. In later years, I realized it’s also useful for getting through the loss of goals and dreams, too.

Geeks Guide to DatingThe Geek’s Guide to Dating
by Eric Smith

Though this cute, fun book didn’t exist when I was on the dating scene, Smith’s kind and funny guide to dating for the socially awkward is especially appropriate for gamers and sweetly bumbling guys . . . but has practical advice for anyone entering the dating scene. Its illustrations will be especially fun for those who were fed a steady diet of Nintendo games growing up.

The Rules for Online DatingThe Rules for Online Dating
by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider

First published in 2002, this version of the popular Rules books can be . . . well, a little eye-rolling at points. I’ll admit the feminist in me didn’t love the idea of playing coy or waiting for men to come to me online, but I did decide to follow many of the Rules successfully — and with success. Less a literal guide to communication and more guidelines for the smart woman looking for love online, most of its tips are probably still appropriate for 2014.

Dear Jane AustenDear Jane Austen:
A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love

by Patrice Hannon

This slim volume channeling witty Austen isn’t going to break the bank on insight, but it is a diverting way to spend an afternoon. Filled with “letters” imploring Austen for her take on modern-day but universal problems with love, manners, appearances and more, it’s especially fun for Austen fans who will recognize the predicaments of her heroines in her responses. Like sitting down for crumpets with our favorite authoress, Dear Jane Austen is a good reminder that though we all may suffer some, we come through — no matter our era.

literary love

I’m participating in Literary Love this week — a celebration of all things lovely and bookish! Feel free to play along by checking out other links at Estella’s Revenge, Doing Dewey, Love At First Book and From Isi, and check out posts under #LiteraryLove14.

Book review: ‘Point, Click, Love’ by Molly Shapiro

Four women struggling with life, love and happiness in Kansas City. One Meg struggling to get into an entertaining but emotionally-distant novel.

“Best friends and fellow midwesterners Katie, Annie, Maxine, and Claudia are no strangers to dealing with love and relationships, but with online dating and social networking now in the mix, they all have the feeling they’re not in Kansas anymore.

“Katie, a divorced mother of two, secretly seeks companionship through the Internet only to discover that the rules of the dating game have drastically changed. Annie, a high-powered East Coast transplant, longs for a baby, yet her online search for a sperm donor is not as easy — or anonymous — as she anticipates. Maxine, a successful artist with a seemingly perfect husband, turns to celebrity gossip sites to distract herself from her less-than-ideal marriage. And Claudia, tired of her husband’s obsession with Facebook, finds herself irresistibly drawn to a handsome co-worker.

“As these women navigate the new highs and lows of the digital age, they each find that their wrong turns lead surprisingly to the right click and, ultimately, the connection they were seeking.” (Goodreads)

As I’ve often shared, I’m an online dating alum. Having had that experience and initially connecting with my boyfriend online, stories delving into the world of meeting potential mates through the Internet catch my interest. That’s what brought me to Molly Shapiro’s Point, Click, Love, an entertaining novel that kept me reading — even if I wasn’t completely invested in the characters’ lives.

Despite heralding the four central women as “best friends,” we see very little interaction between them. The book’s third-person narration shifts focus between chapters from one woman to the next. That might have been my biggest hurdle to jump, enjoyment-wise: just as I was getting into Annie’s story, for example, we were hopping over to Maxine’s. Claudia’s situation felt the most realistic, but I couldn’t believe she was tumbling so far down a rabbit hole without anyone to pull her out. And I didn’t feel having four “main” characters was a benefit; I almost wish this had just been Katie’s story. Or maybe Claudia’s, though she made me pretty mad.

Point, Click, Love is easily digestible and often brims with humor. Shapiro writes well and I enjoyed her turns of phrase, but her characters lacked the depth required to keep me thinking about them. The “online dating” theme took a backseat to run-of-the-mill drama, and I didn’t feel like technology’s role in the modern dating world was explored in a satisfying way. I did like quips like this one, though:

“Katie decided to take care of her need for sex in the same way she took care of paying her bills, finding cheap airfare, and buying her kids’ school uniforms — she went online.”

Fans of chick lit, modern romance and vignettes might find Shapiro’s novel an easy, breezy read for a summer afternoon. Though Point, Click, Love didn’t bowl me over, I did finish it quickly and would take a peek at the author’s future work. Maybe with a bigger concentration on the online dating scene, which was the most interesting part of this work — whew wee, Katie and her potential sugar daddies! (You know, if the current situation doesn’t work out.)

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0345527631 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘Save As Draft’ by Cavanaugh Lee

In a thoroughly modern love triangle, heroine Izabell Chin is navigating the treacherous world of online dating — and learning what it could mean to date a best friend. Told exclusively through texts, emails, tweets and Facebook messages, Save As Draft details Izzy’s struggles to become a successful lawyer in Atlanta, Ga., while trying to assess her feelings for Marty, a charming man she met on eHarmony; and Peter, her co-worker and best friend.

Despite having gone on “the best first date of her life” with Marty, Izzy can’t quite shake the feeling that she’s pursuing the wrong man . . . and exchanges between her best friends can’t save her there, either. She has to see where things go with Peter. But that doesn’t mean Marty’s out of the picture . . .

Cavanaugh Lee’s Save As Draft was a fast and occasionally painful look at one woman’s romantic (mis)adventures, and I knew from the start that I would whip through this one in no time. Even after just finishing a book with a similar premise — in terms of online dating, anyway — I couldn’t put this one down. And after reading the acknowledgments and learning there is a real-life “Marty” and “Peter,” I’m even more intrigued. It feels very autobiographical.

The epistolary novel — a book told through a series of letters, say, instead of actual prose — is a familiar one. Reminiscent of Holly’s Inbox, these stories have an addictive, voyeuristic quality that makes you feel as if you’re actually peeking into someone’s private files. As hinted by the title, the most important messages in Save As Draft are not the exchanges that are sent between Izzy and others. It’s everything in between — the pure, unsent thoughts; the messages saved as drafts and never mailed — that are crucial to the story.

And who doesn’t have a million of those?

Nursing a broken heart years ago, I read that writing letters is a therapeutic way to handle your feelings and come to terms with what has happened — you know, without acting like a crazed stalker. I was having a tough time letting go after a break-up and writing to him did seem to make me feel better — even if I knew he would never see my words. Especially since I knew he would never see my words. Letter after letter flowed from my fingertips, all stashed away in a super-secret desktop file.

You know, I should probably find and delete those.

So I related to Save As Draft. It wasn’t as funny as Tales From My Hard Drive, for instance, but it wasn’t meant to be — Izzy’s struggles and ups-and-downs endeared her to us, and I didn’t go into this book thinking I’d have a knee-slapping good time. By the last page, I definitely felt like Izabell was a friend — and I wanted good things for her, especially when things veered off in not-so-great directions.

Though this book didn’t change my life, it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a few hours — and I felt like I’d finished just as soon as I’d begun. Anyone who has dabbled in the complicated dating world has probably known a Marty or two — and those stories alone were enough to keep me guessing. And reading.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1439190690 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from Amused By Books

Book review: ‘Tales From My Hard Drive’ by Megan Karasch

Nothing does wonders for the spirit — and matrimonial bliss — quite like coming home to find your husband sprawled out on a diving board — um, your diving board — with another woman. But this is just the fate of 40-year-old Melissa, a magazine writer who thought she was in a committed relationship until . . . well, until she wasn’t.

Gathering the pieces of her broken heart and pressing for a divorce, Melissa leaves sunny Los Angeles for the concrete jungle of New York City. She settles into a friend’s spare bedroom,  picks up freelancing jobs and, with time, starts to humor friends’ advice to “get back out there.” Not convinced she’s ready to meet someone but needing a distraction, Melissa signs up for a few online dating sites — and immediately begin to gather both anecdotes and war stories. And once her tales begin to run in a city newspaper, Melissa finds herself with a booming freelancing gig . . . albeit anonymously.

It’s not until she meets Ted, a funny filmmaker who becomes smitten with her immediately, that she starts to question whether or not exploiting her love life in the press is such a great idea. Coupled with a few hair-raising experiences with online dudes, Melissa must decide how to move forward with her life . . . even if that means doing it alone.

Megan Karasch’s Tales From My Hard Drive is a funny, erudite and quick read that will appeal to women shuffling through the dating game and those who have sought love through channels like eHarmony and OkCupid. As someone who found her hunky hunk (ew, sorry — too much?) in just such a way, Karasch’s novel immediately piqued my interest. I wanted a fast, hilarious ride with heart, and that’s just what she delivered.

Though I’ve seen the “OMG my boyfriend/husband is cheating on me I have to get the heck out of here so I’m going to New York City on a plane tomorrow” shtick before, that doesn’t mean I don’t still lap that stuff up like a gingerbread latte. It’s pure delicious escapism, friends, and just the sort of novel I like to cuddle up with on a Wednesday evening. From the beginning, I saw through Melissa’s prickly exterior and knew that, deep down, she possessed the heart of a romantic. Even if she didn’t always see it that way.

And I loved Ted. Loved him. He’s geeky and sloppy and a terrible, terrible dresser (I agree with Melissa: a wallet chain? Are you a 13-year-old emo skater kid?), but that makes him all the more endearing — especially because of the way Melissa constantly keeps him at bay. Though I’m surprised that she would find herself dating so quickly after a shocking and unexpected divorce, I felt that Karasch’s development of Ted and Melissa’s relationship was realistic. And Melissa’s issues were realistic. Overall, it just worked for me.

And this book? This book is funny. Aside from the hilarious dating anecdotes (of which there are many), Karasch’s dialogue simmers with wit and warmth. Melissa’s conversations with Wendy, her friend-cum-unexpected-roommate, had me snorting Diet Coke and giggling like a fool. The banter between Ted and Melissa worked really well for me, too, and further endeared them both to me as a couple . . . they’re intellectual equals, after all. Oh, I love equality.

Basically, this story delivers.

Though I feel Tales From My Hard Drive would work best for those who have played the dating game (which, you know, is almost everyone), I wouldn’t limit this book’s appeal to merely ladies — or single ones, either. Because I dated online and having plenty o’ stories of my own to share, I related on a personal level to Melissa’s misadventures . . . but I don’t think you have to have taken that route to appreciate this one, either.

So if you’ve loved, lost, loved again or just dig fun chick lit . . . this could very well be your book. I’d also like to make special note of that fact that it’s written by a fellow writerly Megan. Rock on, girlfriend.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1456315404 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

Giveaway winner chosen. Congrats, Jen!

‘The Rules For Online Dating’: Feel the fear and go for it

Earlier this year, I made a bold move: I joined an online dating site. I’d been out of my most recent relationship for almost a year and, having not met many eligible bachelors, I was eager to find a way to connect with someone.

If you’re single and over the age of 22, the opportunities in which to meet singletons like yourself dry up faster than water in the Sahara. Once you’re out of high school or college, the dating pool is pretty much limited to coworkers, friends of friends and random dudes you’d meet in a bar, bookstore or market.

None of that was working for me.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of online dating. You hear lots of “success” stories but lots of horror stories, too. I was incredibly nervous about going on first dates, most of which felt like blind ones — though I’d seen photos of the guys I was seeing, of course, and had exchanged emails with them several times. Some of the dates went well, full of laughter and interesting conversation. Some of them went poorly, full of the awkwardness I feared. But in each case, I was happy to have gone and put myself out there — especially when I met Spencer, the fourth of the online dates, and now? Well, that crazy guy is my boyfriend. And I barely remember that we “met” online at all.

Friends email me now and ask my take on the online dating scene. I was encouraged to join by a good friend and fellow blogger — I’ll protect her identity in case she doesn’t want me “outing” her, but her initials are JL! — and never regretted joining, though it could definitely be stressful.

One thing that simultaneously eased and added to that stress? The little book above.

In 1995, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider released The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets For Capturing The Heart Of Mr. Right, a self-help guide for single women on the prowl, and the basic advice was this: play hard to get. Don’t be too available. Don’t make them think you like them more than they like you — and, better yet, don’t let them think you like them at all. And if you do insist on letting them know your feelings — as in, you have some and aren’t an automaton with better hair — you’re proceeding at your own risk.

When I first joined, my only foray into the world of online dating, I felt like I was sailing uncharted waters with nary a map. After putting in my information and uploading a few photos of myself at my most glamorous, my mom and I sat huddled around the kitchen table on a Sunday afternoon. We looked through photos of eligible bachelors in the area, perused their profiles and started narrowing down the results. Who was the most interesting? Who seemed compatible with me and my goals? And, you know, who was hot?

I was nervous, friends. This was a dating site. This was the Internet. It was good to have my mom there, cheering me on and cautioning me against doing anything rash. So when I started send out emails to boys and hoped to seem sparkling, witty and interesting, it was good to have my mom there making me feel slightly less silly.

And then I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And no one I messaged ever messaged me back.

received plenty of notes, sure, from random dudes who didn’t seem to have bothered to read anything in my profile. Most of them asked questions like, “You’re pretty. Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” and the always popular, “Can I buy you dinner?” (They might have had a chance to buy me dinner if they’d given me an opportunity to even start a conversation with them before delving right in, though I appreciated their willingness to actually go on a date.)

Considering I didn’t know an Adam from a Joe from a Chris on there, it all got very overwhelming very quickly. After going a solid six months without a guy even asking for my number in “real life,” suddenly I had an  inbox full of messages from guys wanting to take me on a date. And who were these guys? Some were heavy, some thin; some young, some older. They were IT specialists and government employees and mechanics. They were in the military and all over the area. Some were blonde, some brunette; some American, some not so much. (I got an email from a Russian in D.C. to study; it was all in broken English. I was tempted to go out with him just for the good stories that would inevitably produce.)

After exhausting my friends, family and blog readers (hi, you guys!) for tips and encouragement, I turned to the only other place I could think of for help: a book. Like any devoted reader, I’ve long believed the answer to any question could be found in a book . . . I just needed to find the right one.

Enter The Rules For Online Dating: Capturing The Heart Of Mr. Right In Cyberspace. A modern incarnation of the popular and controversial Rules by Fein and Schneider, this set of Rules was snatched up before I hunkered down with it for the night.

I read the whole book in a matter of hours, each of the chapters swimming through my head. Huddled over my laptop the next morning, I began the process of putting them in action. It’s easy to remember most of The Rules because they all have a pretty specific slant: namely, sit back and relax. Don’t do any of the work.

According to Fein and Schneider, I’d already committed a cardinal sin in the online dating world: I’d messaged men first. You never want men to think you’re overeager and desperate, but more than that, Fein and Schneider advise that men like the “thrill of the chase.” (How many times have we heard that in our lives?) Men don’t like to be pursued; they like to do the pursuing. If you claw too hard at a dude, he’s going to turn tail and run.

Like much of The Rules, this seemed like stereotypical, sexist advice. In fact, that’s how many of the authors’ detractors have summed up their work: antifeminist. Antiquated. Sexist. Rude. I’d spent months sitting back and waiting for something to happen, and nothing did. So I was going to grab the bull by the horns, darn it! I wasn’t someone’s pet or trophy to be won, reclining and waiting to be rescued and pursued! 

But here’s the thing, too: I was still a willing student — a shiny sponge, if you will. After reading the book cover to cover, I began to implement much of what Fein and Schneider suggested, and not all of it was degrading or ridiculous. In fact, most of it actually made sense.

For example, say the authors, be sure your profile picture features you looking good (of course) and smiling. And not like a false, your-friend-is-begging-you-to-smile-but-you’re-mad-at-her grin — a real, honest-to-goodness smile. Look happy. People like happy people! Happy is good!

And how about this gem: less is more. God love them, men don’t always like when women get wordy. Spencer often jokes that he can write me a two-sentence email and I’ll send him back a novel. My dad is famous for emailing “OK” — just two little letters — in response to a giant message I’ve sent him. Over a lifetime of communicating with men, I’ve developed a “just the facts” mentality — and that applies to online dating, too. Don’t write out a giant note (like, say, this monster of a blog post). Keep it simple. Don’t seem like you spent all day and all night writing your online profile. You’re a busy woman, the authors say; seem aloof, unavailable, and free! Like you barely had ten minutes to piece together to write this thing, because you’re awesome and in demand.

After I read that chapter, aptly titled “Less Is More When Writing Your Ad”? I went back and removed all kinds of stuff. I still kept the flavor of what I was trying to say in my profile, sure, but I condensed everything to two paragraphs instead of five. Continuing on with The Rules, I followed advice about not responding too quickly to messages, blocking myself from instant messages (I don’t even like instant messaging, anyway), and not volunteering my phone number first.

And then something funny happened. After following The Rules for several days, I did find myself getting more responses from men . . . but not the ones I wanted. Following all these hard-and-fast “rules” became a chore, and a painful one; when I got an interesting message from a guy, was I really supposed to wait 24 hours before replying? Wouldn’t that seem rude?

So, friends, I started breaking The Rules — many of them, anyway. I still wasn’t writing to guys first, but I was through playing hard to get — especially after I got my first email from Spencer. He jokes about  how I didn’t write him back right away, but that’s because I was genuinely busy — not playing hard to get. Sometimes, I guess, one can be mistaken for the other.

For a total novice on the dating scene, I can see The Rules being helpful. It does provide some logical advice about putting your best face forward, if you will, but it’s definitely not a be-all, end-all guide that simply must be followed in order for someone to find love via the Internet. The book does a good job of outlining that online dating is a means to an end: basically, it’s a way for you to actually meet people. Like, in person. If you’re looking to develop relationships that never leave cyberspace, start a blog or something — but don’t join an online dating site. You join the site to date, so go do it. With a live, warm, breathing and laughing companion — even if you’re nervous.

And that’s the best advice of all: “Feel the fear and go for it.” Do y’all remember “House Arrest,” that ’90s gem of a film starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Kyle Howard and Jamie Lee Curtis? . . . No? (Well, it’s awesome, so go Netflix it.) That’s the advice of a self-help guru and, having watched it a million times in the summer of ’96, truer words have never been spoken. Feel the fear. And go for it. Simple, powerful and true.