March 2011

Serenity Now

Lonely Hearts Book Club Picks

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”
—Mark Twain (1835–1910)

My actor boyfriend of five years left a few months ago and moved to a hip neighborhood in Brooklyn. He told me he felt “stifled” and needed to broaden his horizons. He broadened them, all right—with a mutual friend named Rose. As the first day of spring nears, I’m still mad as hell. I’d like to read some books to help me let go—or at least pry me out of the house. I don’t care for self-help books per se, but I’m sure there are some good reads to improve my mood as well as my life. In the meantime, I’m just sitting around watching TV and eating way too many malted-milk balls.—ELLEN, Santa Monica

Dear Ellen,
Since rest cures and est are passé these days, how about a new generation of self-help books? In our world, that can be anything that takes you away from the chaos of your life. Find a warm, cozy place (a bathtub is ideal), sink into a different universe and open yourself to reads that deal with the soul, mind, body—or even the French mystique. And you might substitute a glass of pinot for the malted-milk balls (just a suggestion)...

How Proust Can Change Your Life


You don’t need to read Proust to learn valuable life lessons. The message here translates into a literary version of “the best things in life are free,” including why, at certain times, you’re better off simply staying in bed and snacking on madeleines. When this came out in 1997, many Proustians were offended that the title was categorized as “self-help.” But most critics found the work, loosely based on Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, immensely clever and entertaining—even the chapter “How to Suffer Successfully.”

How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer


A bestselling self-help book from Michel Eyquem de Montaigne? Apparently so, as Bakewell’s bio of the 16th-century essayist received rave reviews in Britain. The American edition is anything but academic. Chapters include Montaigne’s musings on love, loss, control and what to do when you forget everything, including something you’ve just read. His solution: “Affect an air of nonchalant superiority.” Gems from the father of all bloggers.

The Conquest of Happiness


A distillation of the Nobel Prize–winning mathematician and philosopher’s advice for living well. Writing in 1930, Russell starts out listing the causes of unhappiness (boredom, envy, fatigue, to name three) and then the sources of happiness (zest, affection, family), imparting commonsense solutions that are stunningly relevant today. Time called Russell’s books “a modern substitute for the Bible.”

Stumbling on Happiness


The concept of this nonfiction work is, Be careful what you wish for, because odds are, whatever it is, it won’t make you happy. Harvard professor Gilbert uses data to prove we often have no idea what will float our boat, despite the fact that we spend inordinate amounts of time imagining just that. And if the occasional person does end up truly content, it’s by accident. This was awarded the Royal Society Prize for Science Books in 2007. At least that made Gilbert happy...or maybe not.

The Action Hero Body: The Complete Workout Secrets from Hollywood’s Top Trainer


Who wants a shape like Angelina Jolie or Josh Hartnett? Maybe half of America. The other half just thinks, Why bother? But if you want to give it a try, de Mey is the first call a star makes when a role requires rock-hard abs, buns of steel, carved arms! If you want a change, the one from this go-to guy is the most visible.

What French Women Know About Love, Sex and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind


Can’t help but love a book that starts out, “It’s not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that give French women their allure. It’s this: French women don’t give a damn.” If this 12-step program for living la vie en rose doesn’t give you the courage to stand up for yourself, nothing will. Written with arch intelligence and light-handed irony, this book is perfect for someone who keeps feeling that same foolish coup de foudre.

For Better: The Science of a Good Marriaged


Author of the New York Times’ “Well” column, Parker-Pope digs into the eternal mystery of why some marriages work and others don’t. No surprise in her three magic bullets—more sex, more money and more exercise—but she backs this up with computer-assisted coding programs, body-sensors and hours of recorded conversations with couples that track everything from facial movements to jiggling knees. Be advised: Rolling your eyes at your mate is a strong predictor of divorce. Incidentally, there’s a scientific link between fertility, sexual activity and fashion. Who knew?