Smart Bitches is a safe haven for all of us who cherish our happy endings in fiction (and in real life, when we can get them). But I often find that right around Valentine's Day all the romance is leached from my bones and nothing will do but some heavy cynicism. If, like me, you are all HEA'ed out and you need a drastic change of pace, you might enjoy The Little Book of Heartbreak: Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages, by Meghan Laslocky.
Little Book of Heartbreak is a light, anecdotal look at some of the many ways that love has gone terribly awry through history (mostly Western history). It's cute (but not too cute, and occasionally quite dark) and vastly entertaining. Usually I read non-fiction much more slowly than fiction, but I zipped right through this. It's not laugh out loud funny but on the other hand it's more informative than I had expected.
This is fairly educational stuff, but not hard scholarship. Here's my personal favorite bit of trivia: medieval lovers sent messages to each other on inscribed on wax tablets. They had the tablets delivered by illiterate servants, and after reading them simply smoothed the surfaces clean so no nosy parents could read the notes. Laslocky calls these tablets “Etch A Sketch, Twelfth-Century Style”.
Speaking of Etch A Sketches, there are a lot of comparisons that individually are somewhat entertaining and helpful, but that can get pretty repetitive. For instance, in describing an ancient Greek story about Castor and Pollux (“two mythic hotties”) Laslock says, “The modern equivalent? Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, fresh from a trip to Bangkok, ask to crash at your place for the night, but knowing your daughter's taste for the raunchy boy toys, you suggest they move along. In the morning, you find that your daughter has bolted along with her entire wardrobe yet left behind her Twilight posters as well as her birth control”. This is one of her more labored and lengthy comparisons, but if you find this sort of thing annoying, you might tire of Laslocky's style quickly.
Here's a sampling of some of the topics Laslocky addresses:
- the history of the concept of romantic love in Europe and in China
- arranged marriages in India
- the joy and solace of a good mix tape
- famous broken hearted heroines in nineteenth century literature
- the origin of the painting The Scream
- the science of monogamy
- the multi-cultural appeal of the phrase “heart-break”
and this piece of excellent advice:
“At the risk of having the DEA storm my house, I'll venture that if sitting in the bathtub smoking a joint and listening to “When Doves Cry” on repeat helps you have a genuine, enduring eureka moment that really helps you get somewhere, then you should do it”.
If I may borrow a technique from Laslocky, I'd like to compare her book to a particularly juicy issue of People Magazine. It has parts that will make you laugh and parts that will make you sad, and its historical insights might not stand up to harsh scrutiny, but you'll learn something and you'll be very entertained. This would be the perfect book for me to leaf through after I finished washing all the cookie frosting out of my hair after my daughter's class Valentine's Day party.
Plus, in its own way, the book is oddly romantic. My husband has his quirks, but you know what he has never done? He has never announced that our marriage never actually took place, so that he can marry his business partner's fifteen year old daughter, as did Giovanni di Ser Lodovico della Casa in fifteenth century Florence. But I must admit that I feel a little dissatisfied with my life, knowing that, unlike Lady Jeanne Campbell (one of the many wives of Norman Mailer), I will never be the topic of a rumor like this one: “She was rumored to have moved right on from Norman to have affairs with President John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro, all between October 1963 and May 1964″.
Clearly, I should have gotten out more in college, even if doing so would have resulted in me saying, like Norris Church (another Mailer wife), “Well, I bought a ticket to the circus, I don't know why I was surprised to see the elephants”.