Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"I feel that I may be on my way to gracious living."*

It’s coming up on the dog days of August – and you don’t even need beach reads anymore, it’s so hot. You need “Lie on the porch swing with a sweating glass of iced tea” reads. And here I am, useful as always… Thank you, thank you, I live to serve.

I first encountered Jennifer Niesslein as the co-editor of the wonderful magazine Brain, Child. The only parenting magazine I have ever read that was smarter than me. This magazine addressed the real issues of parenting…for example, not “What is the best brand of diapers?” but “Should you potty train your child at age six months, or not? And why?” OK, yes, that’s extreme, but BC’s take on all kinds of parents and children, living all kinds of lifestyles in all sorts of ways, is refreshing and funny and smart and thoughtful and a terrific read that I awaited eagerly every three months.

So, when one of its brilliant editors produced a book, I snapped it up and read it right away. And while I picked up Practically Perfect in Every Way, with its charmingly retro cover, in hardcover, it has recently been released in paperback – perfect for the beach, or the porch swing, or the bus - wherever. Jennifer graciously agreed to answer some burning questions I had after finishing the book.

BB: What was your favorite chapter (to write, research, whatever)? Why?

Jennifer: Writing the marriage chapter was definitely my favorite because the advice is just so over the top. I mean, really, Dr. Laura—my fella wants to be a knight and slay my dragons? And Dr. Phil: Seriously? We’re supposed to sit down and earnestly discuss what animal the other one is most like? I think the old-schoolness of most of the self-help advice out there really comes into focus when you look at relationship advice. Meaning, the ladies are responsible for it all.

BB: What was your least favorite? Why?

Jennifer: My least favorite to write was the financial advice chapter, just because the learning curve was so steep. When I started, I had no idea how one would go about buying a stock, and so I had the task of both explaining the factual stuff and analyzing the advice itself. But I think my least favorite advice to take was any of the advice that dealt with flesh-and-blood interactions. You can kind of go crazy being hyper-aware of every move you make.

BB: You've said elsewhere you sort of wished you'd left your son out of it. Is he old enough now to know he's in it and what has his reaction been, if any?

Jennifer: I really wish I’d left the part about my son’s social interactions out of it. I think it’s a great read, but writing about it sort of screwed up some real-life relationships. Caleb knows that he’s in the book but doesn’t know what I said. He’s a big supporter of my career though—he really likes the idea that I’m making him famous. (ha ha!) He’s nine now, and we’ll see about his feelings when he gets older.

BB: Is there a book/topic you wish you'd included/left out?

Jennifer: Actually, I’m pretty happy with what I included. I did a whole lot of thinking to include the most popular and ubiquitous experts. I wasn’t going to try anything that seemed super-crazy because I really was being earnest in hoping that some special nugget of advice was would transformative. That said, The Secret wasn’t out yet when I was researching. Maybe I could have wished myself onto the bestseller list.

BB: Your husband is a massively good sport. Did he have any suggestions for topics/books, or did he just kind of go along for the ride?

Jennifer: Holy hell, he is. He’d already read David Bach’s Smart Couples Finish Rich, so he sort of had a leg up on that. But I think Brandon has a quiet way of just not participating when he doesn’t want to. (See: house, decluttering of.) He did suggest, though, for the spirituality chapter, that we attend a sermon at an African-American Baptist church, but it was clear that he just wanted to hear the music. I nixed that idea because I’m superstitious enough to think that one could be smote for entering God’s house just for the tunes.

BB: The important question: are you working on anything new?

Jennifer: I am, but I’m not sure what’s going to come of it get. It’s an historical nonfiction mystery about my great-great grandmother. It’s totally different from PPIEW, and the research is going much slower.

BB: And apropos of a recent post of mine, what are you reading now/what are your 'beach picks'?

Jennifer: I’ve been all up in the historical nonfiction lately. I just finished The Devil in the White City and I’m in the middle of Sin in the Second City. (I don’t know why I’m drawn to the Chicago books.) A few people recommended Carter Beats the Devil to me (it’s fiction), so I’m going to read that next. Plus, I have my small mountain of magazines because I’m a periodical-lover: The New Yorker, Bitch, The Believer.

Two novels I read recently and LOVED are Never Let Me Go and Then We Came to the End. Everyone else has probably read them by now.

Thank you, Jennifer!

And for further reading, dudes, go check out Jennifer’s Internet Presence, and hound her to hurry up with her second book. Next summer is only eleven months away, and you’ll need something else to read.


*Jennifer Niesslein, in Practically Perfect in Every Way


Anonymous said...

Oh, she's so great! And so are you!

Anonymous said...

The Devil in the White City what more could I add?

-J., glad SOME [cough] people agree with his taste in books

MadMad said...

What a great interview! I love Brain, Child, too!

Anonymous said...

Someone got me a subscription to Brain, Child and it's like eating a well-balanced meal for dinner instead of a Snickers. Great interview!

tut-tut said...

Wonderful interview. I haven't picked up Brain, Child in years, but perhaps I will, now.

Sarah said...

Cheez, why wasn't cool stuff like this around when my kids were little? Honestly, I almost want to have another just for all the cool stuff.

Kudos on the interview!

MsCellania said...

A friend gave me a subscription to Brain, Child as a housewarming present. Best gift we ever received.