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Like Cupid gone mad, shooting darts here, there and everywhere, the publishing industry is releasing a barrage of books on romance and relationships just in time for Valentine's Day. Some sparkle, some are just silly and some are about as much fun as a lecture by your maiden aunt.
Here's a sampling:
By far the edgiest - and for sure the funniest - is "Do You Love Me Or Am I Just Paranoid?: The Serial Monogamist's Guide to Love" by Carina Chocano (Villard, $9.95). Chocano, a Los Angelena who writes for Salon.com and has contributed to The New Yorker and Bust magazines, takes you smartly through the various aspects of that torture we call dating.
Noting that serial monogamists move "from one long, sincere committed relationship to another like an over-stimulated squirrel monkey," she wryly opines that they've "devised a clever way to live the life of a married person and a single person simultaneously, without cheating, lying or developing a set of discrete personalities... "
She examines the abyss of over-thinking, the wisdom of lowering your standards, the dangers of e-mailing ("Nothing will betray your overexcited feelings more than a `casual' thousand-word reply to a casual greeting") and the trampoline of the rebound romance.
Chocano knows her relationship buzzwords. "When two people reach the point when they are no longer able to talk normally, it becomes necessary for them to communicate," she points out.
This book may not improve your love life, but you'll be laughing too hard to care. I can see the film version now. Janeane Garafolo, where are you?
Film versions are the whole point of "Cinematherapy for Lovers" (Delta, $13.95). From Nancy Peske and Beverly West, who've already published "Cinematherapy" and "Advanced Cinematherapy," this paperback is subtitled "The Girl's Guide to Finding True Love One Movie at a Time."
While it's basically a book of lists, divided into categories that include "Finding Your Prince Movies," "Sex and Sensuality Movies" and "Hook, Line and Sinker Movies," it offers intelligent plot synopses, apt movie dialogue quotes, lists within lists and plenty more. It's nicely done and, like a fresh cup of popcorn, really hard to put down before you've finished it.
Great quotes are the sole point of "Shakespeare and the Art of Verbal Seduction," compiled by Wayne F. Hill and Cynthia J. Ottchen (Three Rivers Press, $14). Alas, methinks that's all there is: quote after quote after quote from the plays. Offering not much context beyond chapter heads such as "Ice-breaking," "Ego-Stroking" and "Propositioning," it's hard to see what use this book would be. Unless you think the likes of "I will take upon me to wash your liver as clean as a sound sheep's heart..." is a snappy pick-up line.
Let's assume you've aced the dating game and have recently married. Jenny Lee has some advice for you in "I Do. I Did. Now What? Life After the Wedding Dress" (Workman, $18.95).
Using her own marriage as a guide, Lee motormouths her way through the ups and downs of learning to share a life with that typically untrained, less-than-fully civilized creature, a real guy. She's plowing some pretty familiar territory here, but she does it with verve and a Gen X perspective. I'm betting this book will be a popular shower gift.
Lee's not profound, but at least she's breezy. Windy is more like it for "The Thoroughly Modern Married Girl: Staying Sensational After Saying I Do" by Sara Bliss (Broadway Books, $12.95).
The book's not so blissful. It's cursed with cutesy-ness - "You'll be constantly reminding people that your name isn't Susie Singlegirl anymore" - and icky abbreviations - the reader is an "MG," and husbands are "Your Guy." It's heavy on advice of the "Duh!" variety on dealing with married friends, in-laws, decorating, giving parties and on and on. No thoroughly modern girl is likely to need this book to make her way through married life.
Cutesy would not be the right word to describe "Barbara Taylor Bradford's Living Romantically Every Day" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $22.95). Swoony would be better.
A beautifully produced book, with romantic photos, to-do lists, recipes, primers on wine, cheese and perfume and decorating and travel advice, it offers rose-colored suggestions to make your relationship an unending whirl of romance. And with 18 popular romance novels under her belt, Taylor Bradford certainly knows the territory.
Some of her suggestions flirt heavily with the saccharine, such as working with your spouse to "develop your own relationship mission statement." But the recipe for Roasted Peaches Drizzled With Peach-Caramel Sauce does sound yummy.
There's not much rose-tinted romance in "NOT `Just Friends': Protect Your Relationship From Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal" by Shirley P. Glass (The Free Press, $24).
A cautionary book, it warns that the nature of extramarital affairs is changing as society changes. Glass, a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist who's been called "the godmother of infidelity research" by The New York Times, believes emotional, non-physical affairs can be even more destructive to a marriage than plain old extramarital sex. She says that in a reverse of the old paradigm, men are becoming more emotionally involved, and women more sexually involved in liaisons. And she warns that the workplace is a, well, hotbed for nurturing affairs. Though marred by a rather preachy tone, the book offers plenty of documentation and a guide for getting through the worst of it and rescuing the threatened marriage.
A book that deals with a sad situation that can lead to extramarital affairs is Michelle Weiner Davis' "The Sex-Starved Marriage: A Couple's Guide to Boosting Their Marriage Libido" (Simon & Schuster, $24).
Davis, a therapist and author of books on divorce, says one of three couples suffers from mismatched levels of desire, complicated by the fact that many people with low desire aren't troubled by it or motivated to change yet nevertheless expect their spouses to remain monogamous. Miscommunication also plays a big role, and emotional as well as physical intimacy suffers, frequently leading to divorce. Having differing sexual appetites is not the problem, she says. Failing to acknowledge and deal with the consequences is.
The book is written in a conversational tone, with stories of many couples who have dealt with the problem. It offers plenty of practical advice about a situation that may be more prevalent than is commonly thought.
For couples who have less destructive but nonetheless annoying problems, Judith Viorst has comforting words in "Grown-Up Marriage: What We Know, Wish We Had Known and Still Need To Know About Being Married" (The Free Press, $24).
Viorst, the bestselling author of books for adults, such as "Necessary Losses," as well as 16 children's books, including "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," writes with warmth, humor and observations gleaned from her own 42-year marriage. She knows that no one can drive you up the wall like someone you love, and that terrible, horrible, no-good days can plague even the best marriages. Viorst counsels that patience, compromise, humor and a willingness to work at solutions are what get you through the rough patches. No new ground is broken here, but she offers plenty of common sense and comfort.
And sometimes nothing works. Sometimes, all you can do is open that pint of Ben & Jerry's, reach for a book like "Dumped" (Grove Press, $14) and wallow.
Edited by B. Dolores Max, it's a collection of short pieces by some excellent established writers, including Dorothy Parker, Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Andre DuBus and Tobias Wolff, as well as such newcomers as Lucinda Rosenfield and Steve Almond.
These people know their way around unrequited love, romantic disasters and fierce revenge. Reading their stories may not heal your broken heart, but it may ease your pain a bit to realize you are not alone.