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- February 18, 1991
- Vol. 35
- No. 6
Picks and Pans: Pages
With Love from Hell
Don't let the babyish title throw you off. This book, while probably at least partly intended for children, contains adult information worth knowing. To wit: "groom" (the wedding kind) may come from a term "used to describe someone who performed menial tasks of any kind, not just taking care of horses," and so "newly married men were expected to wait on their brides at the table." (Tell that to a modern suitor.)
Or consider that British and American World War II soldiers were forbidden to end letters with Xs symbolizing kisses (authorities feared spies might use Xs as a code). Or that "love" as "zero" in tennis comes either from "to play for love"—to play for fun—or from anglicizing the French l'oeuf, which can mean zero.
Graham-Barber, an ex-children's book editor, claims her "long love affair with words" inspired the book. That explains its gleeful tone. There aren't enough valentine-related words in common use today to maintain an adult reader's interest though, let alone lure a child away from a video game. And Betsy Lewin's simple drawings can't match Super Mario's graphics. (Bradbury, $13.95)
Edited by Lena Tabori
Short of on-the-job training, movies may be the most popular source of education we have on the art and science of kissing.
Tabori, a book packager and the daughter of actress Viveca Lindfors, has collected stills of enlightening moments of cinematic smackery, from a James Stewart peck on Carole Lombard's forehead in Made for Each Other to a watch-those-tongues Clark Gable-Lana Turner smooch in Honky Tonk.
The kisses are chaste by today's norms and coming mostly from pre-1948 films, they seem too historic. It would be nice to see, say, William Hurt and Kathleen Turner devouring each other in Body Heat or Red-ford and Streisand in The Way We Were.
Tabori does include relevant bits of dialogue, such as this sweetly ironic exchange between Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis (as a man in search of his virility) in Some Like It Hot—Joe: "They told me I was kaput, finished, all washed up. And here you are making a chump out of all those experts. Where did you learn to kiss like that?" Sugar: "I used to sell kisses for the milk fund."
For the pure osculaphile, however, it's hard to top Gable's line to Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind: "Never mind about loving me. Scarlett, kiss me. Kiss me." (Citadel/Turner, $22.50)
by Robert Sternberg with Catherine Whitney
This book contains one idea that is stretched thin and taut and tiresome over almost 200 pages: The attributes that make for smashing success in the business world can sabotage one's best and brightest at-tempts to forge romantic relationships.
There are diagrams, there are quizzes, there are lists of "love myths" that Yale psychologist Sternberg explodes—the notions, for example, that love conquers all, that living together before marriage provides a valid barometer of one's chance for a durable marriage, that the best predictor of happiness in a relationship is how intensely the partners feel about each other. There are case histories served up to the reader in decorous, spoon-size portions, and there are chapters that offer suggestions for improving what the author refers to as "relationship intelligence." Or as Sternberg puts it, "Let's go into the Love Classroom and study the six lessons for Relationship Intelligence." Let's not. (Bantam. $18.95)
by Elizabeth Macavoy, Ph.D. and Susan Israelson
Another self-help equivalent of a one-note samba, this volume beats to death the notion that some people are so emotionally deprived as children that they are handicapped in romantic relationships. Marilyn Monroe is cited as a case study, and much of the book is filled with ostensible evidence to support that argument.
Macavoy is a clinical psychologist. Her coauthor (and former patient) Israelson, a free-lance writer, gives a hint of how scientific the book is in her foreword when she describes the differences between herself and Macavoy this way: "We come from two different worlds, planets, intergalactic opposites, New York and Poland, Libra and Aries, dark and light, size 10, size 4."
And the coauthors' advice on reacting to mistreatment by men confirms the mindlessness of their approach: ' "Allow sounds of fury to come from deep within, growl and rage. See and feel the lava in your belly filled with pulsing tension. You are Pele, the Goddess of the Volcano.... Let the inferno blaze and burst upward. Flames and lava spew forth from the top of your head."
Quick. Somebody get a fire extinguisher and a mop. (Fine, $18.95)
Compiled by Jon Winokur
What an authentic curmudgeon would be doing in a garden in the first place, let alone being in love, is a question perhaps left for a better, nonvalentinian time.
In fact, the most certifiably curmudgeonly among these comments on the general subject of romance may be from science-fiction author Ursula Le Guin. who answered Winokur's requests for both a description of her worst date and of what women want by saying, "None of your business."
Technicalities aside, there's cautionary fun to be had in browsing through the wideranging definitions of and complaints about love that make up this volume.
Coleridge, for instance, said, "The man's desire is for the woman; the woman's desire is for the desire of the man." "Beware of the man who praises women's liberation," said Erica Jong. "He is about to quit his job." "I've only slept with the men I've been married to," quoth Elizabeth Taylor. "How many women can make that claim?" Or, of course, Alexander Woollcott: "Nothing risqué, nothing gained."
Winokur includes long Q&A interviews with some mostly dull commentators, including humorist Lewis Grizzard, columnist Alice Kahn, actor Orson Bean, actor-writer Harry Shearer and (the funniest) novelist Rita Mae Brown. Skim those and head for the hard-core curmudgeon stuff, such as an appraisal by French author Jules Renard: "Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties." (Plume, paper, $7.95)
by Tomima Edmark
By far the most delectable part of this book is the gathering of quotations about kissing—that it is lip service to love, a pleasant reminder that two heads are better than one, a contraction of the mouth due to an enlargement of the heart and love's lesser lightning.
One hears from such experts on the subject as Mae West: "Few men know how to kiss well; fortunately, I've always had time to teach them"; or Chico Marx: "I wasn't kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth."
There is some amusing miscellany. For example, in 1909 a group of Kansas men formed the Anti-Kissing League. Seems they saw kissing as unhealthy and unnecessary and pledged never again to buss their wives. The group disbanded soon after.
Because the fundamental things still apply as time goes by, Kissing deals with the basic and fine points of everyone's favorite indoor sport: what to do, when to do it, what not to do (don't, for example, kiss and tell, laugh after a kiss or be forced into a kiss). There is even a flowchart that maps out the steps of a first kiss.
Generally the suggestions are sensible (it's hard to criticize admonishments against gagging your partner). Some tips, however, seem a tad distasteful—including one that lovers try a few periods of an osculatory diversion called mouth hockey.
"Start with an M & M held between the tips of your tongues. The goal is the back of your partner's mouth. The game begins after the third nose rub and ends when either the M&M dissolves or one of you eats it." No word on the penalty for illegal use of hands. (Fireside, paper, $6.95)
by Elizabeth Cox
" 'I don't love you anymore,' William told Molly one Sunday afternoon as they sat together in the den. His eyes had a glass-slick look, strong with conscience, it comes down to that, I think." He smiled. She wanted to ask him why he smiled. She knew he didn't mean to.... She blushed when he said he didn't love her, the same way she blushed 18 years ago when he told her for the first time that he did love her."
So begins Cox's second novel. She is particularly effective at capturing the small moments—architect William Hanner watching morning cartoons with his young son, Lucas; William fishing with his older son, Joe, who's all of 16 and full of the wisdom of the ages. "A lot of my friends' parents have split," Joe tells him. "It happens. I know people who've gone through it."
Or there's Molly, a painter, practicing how she'll tell her children their father has moved out. And Cox effectively limns a marriage in disintegration: the couple too unhappy to argue, the dozy, early-morning lovemaking whose core is pure pain.
What William found charming in Molly years before—how she would get dressed after a shower without toweling off—he now finds annoying. William puts on a new shirt, and Molly wonders when he bought it. Indeed, Cox is so often sure of her terrain, and her prose is generally so deft that a few clumsy stretches seem especially obtrusive: "When he took off his clothes, Molly saw that he was more manly than she had imagined" or "Louise had exposed her invisible threads of passion."
There is one piece of plot that seems to belong to another book entirely—the saga of a homeless man befriended by Molly. And there is another hideously melodramatic turn—Joe's supposed drowning—that only the most generous-hearted reader will be able to forgive, let alone forget.
Still, there is an undeniable poignancy to Cox's chronicle of a family gamely trying to pick up the pieces of its broken heart. (North Point, $18.95)
by Matt Groening
As might be expected, postcards drawn by the creator of The Simpsons aren't the right valentines for everyone. If when you fantasize about someone, for instance, those fantasies don't include anything about boiling oil, Groening might not be your most suitable source for greetings.
The 32 cards collected here include panels Groening drew as long ago as 1981. Many relate only vaguely to Valentine's Day, let alone to love, hellish or not. In one, the cover of a magazine called Angry New Ager bills this story: "3 New-Age Ways to Drive Your Neighbors Out of Their Minds: Homemade Bamboo Flute, Gong Therapy, Enlightened Talking Parrot."
Roses are red/ Violets are blue/ Mr. Valentine Sweetheart, Matt/isn't you. (Harper Perennial, paper, $8.95)
- Sara Nelson,
- Ralph Novak,
- Joanne Kaufman.
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