Saturday, September 24, 2011

31 Dates in 31 Days: The Review (Anne)

For the first time in my life—and I hope not the last—I had the opportunity to read an advance reading copy of a book. “31 Dates in 31 Days” is the tale of Tamara Duricka Johnson's quest to make sense of the madness that is dating.

This is a hard review to write for two reasons. First, I felt a bit of jealousy that I didn't come up with the idea to date 31 guys in 31 days, blog about it, turn the blog into a book, and possibly sell the movie rights (it really would make a pretty decent movie, in the spirit of “Julie and Julia.”) Second, the book caused me to examine my own approach to dating and relationships—and it was somewhat uncomfortable.

I identified all too well with Johnson's admissions of relationship-killing fallacies: rushing past dating stage into full-blown relationship; compromising her interests in order to save a relationship; and the big one—believing that any relationship was better than none, and making it work was imperative, because no one else was going to come along. Luckily, Johnson doesn't disclose these admissions until half-way through the book, and by that time I was too invested in her experiment to stop reading.

I'm not going to discuss plot at all—you can check out the website for that—but I will say that as I read the book (hard to put down, by the way—took me about three hours) I was tired for her. I would not be able to keep up the frenetic schedule she did: a demanding full-time job (which I also have), plus a date every single night. And while she set a minimum time limit of 31 minutes for each date, it seemed that all of them lasted at least 2-3 hours.

If I wasn't still trying to heal from a breakup, I know I would have adored this book. And that's not to say I didn't enjoy it—I did. But some of her words hit just a tad too close to home and forced me to examine my own failed relationships through a different lens, a lens that I was simply unprepared to face.

As for Johnson's writing, it is typical of the genre—accessible, engaging, with flashes of humor. My only criticism is that many of her dates seemed to end with her extrapolating some lesson or moral to help develop her new approach to relationships. I'm not sure such epiphanies were completely integral to the story-telling aspect of her experiment. I enjoyed just reading about the dates and didn't need to read all of the lessons she learned; a handful would have sufficed.

That said, I spent the better part of the day trying to figure out how I might run a similar experiment. I wouldn't be able to do it every day, but there's really no reason why I couldn't find a way to have a date every weekend for a specified period of time. And the hallmark of any good book is if it compels the reader to act, to change behavior.

Johnson acknowledges in her book that she is Mormon, but doesn't explore how Mormon culture complicates dating and relationships. I assume part of that is so that she can reach a wider audience, and perhaps because she converted to the faith later in life and might not have been raised with some of the expectations and fears that I was.

But I'm glad she left that part out, because that's my book to write.

31 Dates in 31 Days is available at your regular book-shopping locales. According to Amazon, its official release date is September 27.

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