Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

 Book:  The Tao of Martha:  My Year of LIVING or Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog. 

Author:  Jen Lancaster 

Grade:  C - 

Recommended To:  Previous Lancaster Fans 

Jen Lancaster was recommended to me by at least three people.  They told me that she was hilariously funny and that I would love her books.  So, I suggested that my book club read her newest book for November and the hostess for this month took me up on it.    I had high expectations for this book but they were not met.

Lancaster has written a series of memoirs about her daily life.  In this one, she writes about living within the Tao of Martha Stewart and attempting to get organized, throw parties like Martha, and create a green space that would make Martha proud.   I thought Lancaster was mostly irritating and the very very few funny parts in this book were tempered by her story telling ability which is somewhat poor.

First, I don't like Lancaster as a person.  She lives in Lake Forest, by far the ritziest of the Northshore suburbs.  She has gardeners, cleaners, she dry cleans her table linens (which I have never heard of before), she shops exclusively at Williams - Sonoma, and she complains.  Holy Hell, she complains and complains and complains.  Pro Tip:  Maybe you shouldn't have a garden if you don't like dirt and earthworms!! Or, suck it up and pay someone to do it all for you (and stop complaining about the money, you clearly make enough because you live in Lake Forest).  It is hard to like a book, especially a memoir, when you don't like the person.    It also bothered me so much that she cut down a 100 year old tree because she though it was ugly.  It was painful when she chopped it down paid someone to cut it down.  Ouch.

Second, I did not find Lancaster's writing style particularly humorous.  I haven't read her other books, but she put a duvet cover on a bed for about 3% of this book (kindle edition).  That isn't interesting.  She organized a desk drawer for 4%.  Even the funniest part of that chapter, which is when she found shards of broken wine glass in the drawer, is tempered by the fact that she writes about it for 4% of the book.   Further, some of these scenarios could have been funny but for Lancaster's writing style which came off as bitchy instead of humble.  I don't get the impression that Jen is also laughing and that is the distinction between a good humor writer and a great one.  She still seems mad that she sat in a pile of fire ants, one full book later.  I don't find that funny.

Third, living like Martha Stewart is hard, if not impossible.  I looked at a lot of Martha's ideas when planning my wedding and then my dear, sweet, bridesmaids were gluing 1/4 inch green leaves on my handmade wedding invitations.  Sorry you guys.  The thing you have to realize about Martha is that she isn't doing these things herself.  She has endless teams of gardeners, party planners, caterers, set up and tear down staff, cleaning crews etc.  She might come up with the idea, but she ain't ironing her own table linens, okay?

The best part of this book was Lancaster's writing about Maisy.  Her beloved pitbull.  Her writing was superb during these chapters and I can empathize with someone would would literally do anything for their pet. There is almost nothing I wouldn't do for out cat Moe and I totally get that Lancaster would make a pork roast and then hand feed it to her dog.  I totally understand that she would pay thousands for pet surgery and chemotherapy because I would do the exact same thing.  The real Lancaster comes through in these pages and it reflects because the writing isn't forced.

After reading this book and mostly disliking it, I wondered what on Earth I was missing.  Three people from three separate stages of my life recommended Lancaster, so I started looking up her other books and those have gotten far far better reviews than The Tao of Martha.  In fact, the Tao is getting very very few five star reviews on Goodreads and has an abundance of two and three star reviews.  Apparently Lancaster was much much funnier when she was poor; now that she's made it, she's struggling for material, according to those loyal fans.

So, although I did not like this particular Lancaster book, I likely will try another of her earlier memoirs.  Thank you for the recommendation, friends!

Happy Reading!

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