Everyone has an obsession or two. For author Rachel Bertsche, it could have easily been Us Weekly and babymaking.
Odd combo? Not so much, really. It takes just a chapter or two of her latest book, Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit Of Happiness, One Celebrity At A Time, to see the big picture—becoming one’s best self and living with intention—without giving up a dream and a guilty pleasure.
“I do like the idea of making this culture work for you instead of against you,” says Bertsche, who reconciled a voyeuristic enjoyment of all things celebrity and desire to emulate certain aspects of that lifestyle with the reality of a Midwestern marriage, a budget and a baby on the brain.
Bertsche’s book is a breezy, enjoyable and relatable read—the search for self-improvement by adopting lifestyle habits of celebrities. For example, attaining Jennifer Aniston’s buff arms. Or Julia Roberts’ sense of Zen. Or Sarah Jessica Parker’s ability to rock the fashion world.
Chicago area readers: Catch Rachel Bertsche tomorrow, July 10 at 7 p.m. at the Highland Park Library, 494 Laurel Ave.
I asked Bertsche if she’s always been an avid reader and writer and what led to becoming an author.
“I was always a big reader of books,” she said. “Growing up, I was always the person with a book under the covers when I was a kid when I was supposed to go to sleep.”
A love of reading preceded a career in writing that first solidified with magazine articles.
“I had started to think about writing a book shortly before I sold my first one, “ she said. Bertsche’s first book, "MWF Seeking BFF" explored the topic of adult female friendship.
“The friendship thing was something I thought a lot about. It suddenly occurred to me maybe that was my book, that was my story.” And a “farfetched dream” as she calls it happened quickly.
“I hope it (authoring books) will be a big chunk of my career.”
Bertsche’s latest includes a deep dive into what it would be like to live more like the aforementioned Aniston, Roberts and SJP, but also looks at Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, Queen Bey and the oft-vilified Gwyneth Paltrow. Written prior to the “Conscious Uncoupling,” I asked Bertsche why she thinks Paltrow takes such a beating from other women.
“I think part of the reason that so many people kind of take issue with her is that she is trying to be more than just an actress. She’s now taken it upon herself to give this kind of advice,” she said. “I don’t hold it against her for doing Goop because there is an audience for it and they are hungry for it and she’s taking control of that message as opposed to letting the tabloids do it.
“People love to hate her because we feel like she’s suggesting that tired working moms should still get a blow out every week … or they have to stay at this hotel in Morocco or get $90 white T-shirts and those are the kinds of things that are not really accessible to a lot of common folk ... I think that people kind of mock her for it.”
Bertsche’s struggle to conceive her daughter Maggie and the subsequent pregnancy are woven into this book’s narrative. I asked if becoming a mother changed the lens through which she views celebrity life.
“I wish I could say I had my daughter, woke up and suddenly didn’t pay attention to celebrities,” she said. “That would be wonderful and enlightened but it’s not the case. There are different things you notice, though” she said, with a nod to Angelina Jolie and her ability to whisk her kids through the airport looking fabulous.
“Of course, it affects our future. Celebrity culture gets more and more in your face, and I can’t imagine what it will be like when my daughter is a teenager.”
And finally, what we all want to know—what are some of her more recent favorite reads?
“I really loved The Interestings,” she said, along with "Me Before You" and "Defending Jacob." But her favorite of late is “The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez. “It’s awesome. Wonderfully written.”
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