June 22, 2008

Summer Book Review: What Would Jackie Do?

What Would Jackie Do? An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living
by Shelley Branch, Susan Calloway

I adore etiquette books.

I pride myself on having impeccable manners already: sending thank-you notes immediately, knowing which fork to use, graciously bringing gifts to hosts and always immersing myself in the local culture when I travel. I buy appropriate, thoughtful gifts, revere my elders and make fantastic toasts. But what is a skill if not finely honed on a consistent basis?

I found What Would Jackie Do? while perusing the sale shelves at my local Barnes & Noble. While I love bringing a new book for almost every beach trip (of which there are many), I don't enjoy going broke by dropping $15/book when I go to the beach every weekend, many times twice. I also read in bed and in my backyard, so I try to look out for bargains when I can, especially on light fare like this. I picked up the book because I love breezing through books that inspire me to decorate better, host more often and generally live a more fabulous life. I'm not a Szhack-LEEN fanatic by any means, and learned a lot about her through this book. But she is one of the most famous American icons of style and grace, so she made a good role model for this book.

This book is much less a biography or instruction manual for copycats, than a motivational book on being a better lady. In chapters entitled "Daily Bred," "O! That Dress," and "En Suite Home," the authors use Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (JBKO) quotes and stories as demonstrations of grace, generosity, expert manners and geisha-like entertaining ability. For women like you and I, surely, it's not surprising that showing too much skin can lower your credibility at work, and that job interviews require thank-you notes. But other advice is administered more like suggestions, such as refusing the offer to finish the last of the wine, so as to appear (and be) a generous lady of good upbringing. The book also advises women clamoring to be like JBKO to support both private and public education, pursue self-education through the arts and travel, and place themselves in locales in which they will meet the men with whom they desire to couple up.

Every chapter ends with a section entitled "Would Jackie...." This is a list of questions about modern living and what Jackie would do, were she still around in this age of email and online auctions. The authors tell us that, according to extensive study of this woman and opinions of those who knew her, Jackie O would try online dating, would not pursue competitive sports, would fundraise for public schools, would not send her kids there, would buy a reproduction of an extravant purse (a really good one) and would not marry a man whose bank account was smaller than hers. While I was amused by the theories posed in these sections, and learned that there was more juiciness to America's favorite First Lady than I thought, I'm not sure how she would react to these theories of predicted behavior. Many reviewers on amazon.com found this section blasphemous, that it was practically offensive to guess at Jackie's actions in the 21st century. My opinion is that Jackie would have found this kind of study of her vulgur and a tad over-eager, two qualities which she avoided like the clap. Odd, to include something she may have disapproved of in a book which describes to readers how to emulate this embodiment of class and pedigree.

I took What Would Jackie Do? with a large grain of salt. In fact, I was debating between it and another similarly fluffy book when I got a phone call summoning me to Starbucks immediately for a bridal party meeting. Ergo, I grabbed the one which sounded more intriguing and dashed. I'm glad I did, because it opened my eyes to the not-so-glamorous lives of the Kennedys and the many tragedies which Jackie endured, the least of which were Marilyn and other bathing beauties in the White House pool, which she avoided so as not to catch Jack in an act of infidelity. I also learned about her appetite for couture, which cost even more than I imagined, as did the restoration of the White House.

About 3/4 of the lessons in this book were already obvious to me, but it did give ideas for how women (and everyone) can be more thoughtful in their actions. You can decorate a guest room to invite or repel visitors; you can, and should, mix high and low end items in both your fashion and living room; you can also use a little imagination to create an interesting menu for a dinner party, whether you're hosting a maharaja or mama-in-law. However, several of the sections were either too unrealistic (flirt more with men who have private jets; even better, take flying lessons to meet men who already own them), or too Jackie (try dressage as a means to keep the pounds off).

All in all, I enjoyed this easy read that was part Lilly-Pulitzer-entertainment, part historical guide and part obvious etiquette manual. I was able to enjoy it due to the $4.98 price tag. Had I paid the original $22.50 or even the discounted $12.70, I would have been disappointed. But if you see What Would Jackie Do? with a red sticker at your local purveyor of texts, flip through it to get a feel for the language and style, and decide for yourself. However, Jackie or not, this is not a substitute for Emily Post's or Lilly Pulitzer's entertaining and manners guides. It did encourage me to try other, more polished volumes on the life of Jackie O, volumes which would have equally good tidbits of history, with more insight than how to deal with pesty paparazzi.

Score: 3 Mojitos (out of five)

No comments: