So, I have to start out by saying that my disappointment with this book is largely my own fault. For whatever reason, I keep picking up books by privileged rich girls from New York City, who have inexplicably decided that their lives are so fascinating that they need to write 300 pages about their plucky adventures navigating romance/career/drugs/whatever in the "Big City." I find the authors self-absorbed, whiny, and boring. Their lives are not interesting. They have nothing profound to say. Why do I keep reading their books, then? I don't know. But after reading Shelasky's book, I can finally say - I think I'm done.
I never read Shelasky's blog, Apron Anxiety, or Grub Street before picking up this book, so I had to go do some background reading before I wrote this review. I think I am even more baffled than before. Both the blog, and the fluffy bits of foodie writing, are far from what I would call enduring works of literary importance, but Shelasky talks in the book like what she does is akin to documenting the atrocities of Cambodian genocide. I also had to look up some pictures of Shelasky herself, because from the descriptions of herself she coyly gives in the book, I was expecting some goddess; a Venus who has men dropping at her feet to worship her and beg for crumbs from her table. Let's just say her pictures don't really help me understand the book either, and leave it at that.
Here's Apron Anxiety in a nutshell: overprivileged, overbored, overconfident die-hard NYC party girl bounces around meeting celebrities as a gossip reporter (and you'll get to find out about EVERY celebrity she ever talked to, because she puts their names in the book). Then she engineers a meeting with a chef from a reality show she thinks is cute, and they end up going out. For some reason she doesn't put his name in the book, even though it takes a two-second Google search to find out who it is (Spike Mendelsohn from Top Chef, who wore those little hats and was kind of a jerk to everyone in his season). They have a whirlwind romance, he sweeps her off her feet, he takes her to Greece and they eat some kind of seawater-bread salad by the ocean. Then, inexplicably, after three months of dating she quits her job at People Magazine (and I imagine they don't just hand those out to folks who come knocking), moves to Washington, D.C. to be with Mendelsohn, who is knocking his brains out opening restaurants there, and then promptly decides she hates everything about Washington and she hates her life and everything sucks because - THROUGH HER OWN ACTIONS - she has nothing to do all day but decorate their apartment and wait for him to come home from work.
See, this is what I don't get. Although I definitely think Shelasky's self-evaluation of her own hotness, talent, brilliance and irresistability is, shall we say, a little overblown? She doesn't seem stupid. But even people who haven't been raised by loving parents, with every advantage and opportunity, usually can figure out that quitting a great job to follow a guy who works 80 hours a week, and then not getting a job or finding something to do with your time, is a recipe for trouble.
And trouble follows. Saying that Shelasky seems a little high-maintenance is like saying that the contestants on Top Chef are a generally a little ambitious. She yells, she screams, she cries in public, she picks fights, she berates Mendelsohn on the phone in stairwells outside ritzy fundraising events. She emails pictures of herself and Mendelsohn to gossip blogs and magazines from an anonymous email account, and gets busted doing it. She says snarky things about how out-of-shape and "unwaxed" the women at her spinning gym are. She seems to expect Mendelsohn or her Mommy and Daddy or someone to come along make things all better for her, when it's her own choices that have caused 99.9% of her problems, and therefore, her own choices are the only things that can fix her life. For some reason, in the midst of all this madness, Shelasky and Mendelsohn get engaged, and Shelasky immediately starts planning a wedding it is very obvious that Mendelsohn is not into going through with(and for good reason). She becomes a grasping, needy, screeching harpy and proceeds to make Mendelsohn's life miserable. I ended up feeling incredibly sorry for Spike as I was reading the book. In his shoes, I would have spent as much time as possible away from Shelasky too. Any time a guy is saying things like "Don't scream at me, OK?" or repeating to himself and to you "I am a good person" (which Alyssa answers with an oh-so-sensitive "you need to SHOW me, not just SAY it"), he is a guy being emotionally beaten to death by his girlfriend. I was glad when we got to the "horrible breakup" part of the book because I was rooting for Mendelsohn to get the heck away from this psycho who was making his life miserable! And through it all, I keep having this sneaking suspicion that Shelasky was hanging on so tough because she had either envisioned Spike getting rich and "taking her away from it all," or she was envisioning that his success and fame would rub off on her and they would be some kind of fabulously rich, fabulously famous, fabulous couple, without her having to rely on her own talent, or do much of anything.
Somewhere in the course of all this canoodling and jetting off to food shows and screaming and breaking up, ad nauseum, she decides to teach herself to cook because she needs something to do. Then she starts a blog about it. I guess she hadn't heard about the whole Julie/Julia project thing, right? Because it's been done, but somehow, according to her, Shelasky's blog is some kind of life-changing paean to newfound domesticity. Eventually, she and Mendelsohn break up and she gets a job at New York Magazine writing about food. She dates a few more guys and dumps them unceremoniously, I'm not sure why those stories even made it into the book as they were boring, and irrelevant. Plucky City Girl Triumphs Over Bad Relationship to Find Semi-Fame and Somewhat Fortune, and Gets a Book Deal. Yay.
Like I said, my disappointment with the book is largely my own fault. I need to stop reading books like this, because it makes me A. fear greatly for the future of womanhood in our society, and B. get irrationally angry at the people who keep giving book deals to people like this, and denying them to good writers who actually have something to say. I imagine that the problem is that so many book people in New York are themselves shallow, snotty, overconfident women (or men), and so when books like this land on their desk, they can relate and think other people will (of course!) be able to as well. But there is absolutely nothing profound about Shelasky's life, and therefore there is absolutely nothing profound about this book. She writes as if her relationship with Mendelsohn was some kind of Taylor-Burton "love for the ages," but in fact, it was absolutely no different from the passionate-but-ill-advised love affair most women have in their twenties or thirties. You love, you learn, you move on. Shelasky is a good writer, but why anyone felt her brief life and mediocre adventures deserved a book-length navel-gazing exploration, I don't understand.
Anyway. If you like snark and fluff? This book has snark and fluff. Fuhgeddaboutit. It might be a good vacay read. But substance and meaningful content and relatable experiences and humility are greatly - and I mean GREATLY - lacking. So if that would bother you, skip it. I wish I had.