I have never read a book quite like Emily Belden’s Eightysixed: Life Lessons Learned. It is an honest memoir, recounting Belden’s life as she moves through the uncertain days post college through her budding “adult” life in the land of deep dish pizza, hot dogs with celery salt and Malort.
Emily tells us about what it was like for her to fall in love with Trent, a man who was emotionally unavailable to her but kept her with his money and tantalizing hints of budding love. Predictably this relationship lasted far longer than it should until finally his inability to commit to her became apparent driving her away to Chicago.
Chicago is an amazing city. Here on Chicago Literati we celebrated epicurean week not long ago and you can look to those articles for evidence of all of the wonderful food and drinks which abound here. We are a city that loves all sorts of food from tapas and Ethiopian to hamburgers with gyro meat as a topping. Emily, however, has her appetite whetted for one thing only, a replacement for Trent.
She makes her way through a few more would be suitors trying to pick men up in bars, through friends and finally on the internet. When she finally gets over Trent (through a questionable therapy session) and cements her freedom after a last chance encounter with him one would think she would finally be able to appreciate all of the variety which Chicago has laid out before her. In a way this is true. The internet provides her with all manner of new variety and spice for her dating appetite. So much spice that it’s almost too much.
Finally, Emily gives up a little. Readers, If I can give one piece of advice outside of whether or not to read a book it may be simply to stop trying so hard to be what you want to be tomorrow and focus on what you want to be today. In short, love thyself. All through college I bothered my friends with lamentation on my lack of a girlfriend. I allowed this status to define my self confidence. Once I escaped the shelter of my education everything else became questionable too. Am I employable, am I worth the time people spend on me, am I a good writer or actor? I am certain that I am not alone in this post-collegiate crisis of self. Only when I gave up a little and focused on the things I knew I was good at and the people who I knew cared about me did romance come find me. Similarly, when Emily takes a break from her furious focus on her love life serendipity gives her chance to reset her expectations.
Her moment comes in an incredibly chance encounter with a Dutch Chef, Floris Versluijs on the street in Wicker Park. They meet while trying to hail a taxi and what follows is a strange, kind-of-romance. Floris teaches her to eat. Until this point in the book which some have touted as being about a foody Emily has mostly eaten and imbibed things which, when she took the time to mention them, were uninspired and nondescript. Floris takes her to some of the most cutting edge prix fixe restaurants in the city. He is in Chicago for just a little while to study with another famously fabulous chef but he takes the time to make Emily a priority. She goes from someone entirely focused on the metaphors her life can make into someone who describes the moment in intense and direct detail. Floris, goes back across the ocean and Emily’s serendipity continues. She writes an honest and grounded blog post about Floris and her feelings about him. The blog post goes viral and lands her a job. The job makes her into the kind of person who would write the book that she did. Conclusion?
So, that’s the book. Not the kind of book this writer would have normally read on purpose. Emily’s blind self obsession through most of the book stops her from any kind of helpful introspection which makes her a frustrating protagonist. She can’t see how her own mistakes feed into the problems she is having and she is all to happy to associate her romantic woes with flaws in the men she dated. This, of course, informs the reader as to the mindset which held her back from happiness and appreciation of the moment. That is the point of the book, after all. Good work there, Emily.
Emily also shows a love for overwrought metaphor lacing them into almost every paragraph of the book. Almost everything is like something or as if something else. Is like she was writing the book as an exercise in unnecessary comparisons. Some of these diversions are amusing but mostly they stand between the reader and the flow of her prose.
That being said Eightysixed makes regular reference to Sex and the City and Eat, Pray, Love. It is neither of those books but if that’s the kind of thing you would normally pick up for a weekend’s light reading or something to keep you busy on a flight from O’Hare then this book will certainly serve. It is cute and honest which is really all one can ask for in the memoir of a twenty something trying to make her way in the big city.
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