On my bookshelf, from my relationship-writing days at the Boston Globe, is a book called “Make Up, Don’t Break Up.” But let’s face it, more often the more useful advice is “Break Up, Don’t Make Up.”
When you do, whether it’s your choice or not, there’s a book for that. Hot off the press is the anthology “Love is a Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts” (Plume, $16). It was edited by my friend Michael Taeckens (say TAKE-ins), who lives here in Durham, NC, and is publicist for Algonquin Books in Chapel Hill, one of the best and coolest book publishers in the world.
What does that mean, “edited by”? In this case, it means Michael came up with the idea, sought out a bevy of bodacious writers (no small feat), worked with them on their stories, wrote his own hilarious and bittersweet essay for the book, and then hashed it all out with his editors to complete the book of 23 entries. Now he’s on the publicity trail, and I’m here to help any way I can.
Like all essay collections, contributions vary wildly, in this case a little more so because Lynda Barry and Emily Flake contributed graphic stories (for you international readers: that’s like a comic strip) and they’re in color, no less! And when Michael saw his pal Patty Van Norman’s childhood breakup notes, he rightfully had to publish those. The most inspired: “Dear Fatso. You are fat and ugly and dumb. You do not love me at all.”
Last night (I’m so current!), we went to a reading by Michael, Patty (hers was quick!), and two other contributors, Margaret Sartor and Wendy Brenner. Margaret‘s “The First Time” sweetly chronicled her first heartbreak, as a teenager. I chuckled during the part about her being “saved,” and moving in Jesus circles for a while. As I told her, I still have my Bible from my own period of salvation, at age 11 or so. My heartbreak came later.
Wendy read from “I Love You in Twelve Languages,“ a wrenching piece about the lover, muse, and fiance she could and could not be with. He died from alcoholism in 2007. This, from the story (not the reading), sums up the sadness: “It is 2008 and Jim is dead. He laughs into my ear, close as ever, far away as ever.”
Michael had us laughing with excerpts from his piece in the collection, “The Book of Love and Transformation,” about his first real love, a visiting professor in college. Misbehaving Theo’s parting gift to Michael? “After our good-byes the next morning, I didn’t hear from him again. … A few days later I couldn’t stop scratching.” (More pics from the reading, emceed by beloved Algonquin editor Chuck Adams, and apres-soiree may be viewed here.)