Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me

Alright, so this is a little bit of a late post... make that quite the late post. So I read this book during Recruitment way back when, and never got around to saying much about it. Mainly because I didn't have all that much to say. 

Who hasn't gazed into the glossy state of celebrity, as documented by tabloids, gossip blogs, magazines, and more, and not dreamed of being a member to that exclusive faction? I mean, even if you never outright admitted to yourself, "I wish I was a celebrity," there are celebrities you admire... for me, it's Kate Middleton, Mindy Kaling, Emma Watson, and Lauren Conrad, whom I all admire for various reasons. If I see them on Facebook's trending topics list, chances are I'm clicking over.

Well, in Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me, Rachel Bertsche takes celeb obsession to a new level... by crafting a lifestyle plan for her own edification, for the purposes of gaining greater insight into Hollywood talents, like Gwyneth's cooking, SJP's fashion sense, Jen and Ben's marriage, and Beyonce's, well, everything. Cue the shenanigans.

To be honest, I could probably take the easy route here, and pinpoint my dislike of this nonfiction account on the principle of disdain for a dangerous cultural practice - namely, star-stalking - but lets be real: the culture of celebrity is deeply entrenched in modern media. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a ready-and-available list of celebrities I admire, based strictly on the scant amounts of information I've been able to glean on their personalities from a very select source of a very biased, and often unhealthy, media.

We connect to celebrities, and use them as a source of self-projection, building up a sort of dependent relationship, where we consider them close to us, and yet, they don't know us at all. This can take a significant emotional toll on us individually, not to mention on the public consciousness: remember the immediate reaction when Robin Williams died?

(And it wasn't just him, for me: I distinctly remember my mother sitting me down six years ago, in 2008, to break the news to me that Heath Ledger had died. Even just a month and a half ago, I was in the middle of a quick lunch amidst Recruitment workshops, when I got the text from my sister, The Cheerleader, about Joan Rivers' death, with the accompanying sentiments, "I wanted to make sure you heard it from us first.")

However, my dislike for the nonfiction book stemmed more from the fact that I felt like the advice I was being given - detailing how to achieve the lifestyles of those I only read about in magazines - were things I HAD already read in the pages of magazines before. From work-out advice, to cooking tips, to figuring out how to balance work and, well, the rest of your life, the instruction was generic.

Overall, and I know this might sound a little crazy, I felt like the book would have been more successful in a blog format. The personal nature of some of her experiences - including her pregnancy struggle - would seem a lot more intimate and believable than out-of-place,  and the lifestyle plans would seem more easily replicable, as evidenced by their varying degrees of success/failure.

Mainly I feel like it just would have lent the narrative more veracity; sure, you can say that you changed for the better because of this new lifestyle plan, but without concrete information on how and why these things worked for you, your readership strictly relies upon your individual testament. Where are the recipes you enjoyed the most? What workouts were most worth your time? What sort of outfits did you come up with? These are the sorts of individual stories that would have made up a more cohesive overall narrative in the blog format.

Final Verdict: Accessible, but not interesting; Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me takes celeb culture into a slightly more realistic territory without making it something you can totally replicate, relying on generic lifestyle advice and a slight disconnect in the intimacy of the narrative for an overall work that doesn't really give that much of a glimpse into how the famous folk live.

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