Tuesday, January 29, 2013

No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better by Elizabeth Weil

Why did I buy this book? Why did I read this book? While those questions are unanswerable, at least I know why I didn't like this book. The best thing I can say about it is that I didn't pay anywhere near the $25 list price for these 170-odd pages of steaming psychobabble bullshit.

The main title doesn't really have anything to do with the book itself--it merely describes the ground rules Weil and her husband had set for their marriage before this silly book idea ever sprouted. The subtitle bluntly explains the premise: "I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better." The first problem is that I don't think they have a particularly good marriage, at least not one that I'd want to endure. Weil alternates between dippy and annoying, and her husband is sometimes a total dick, especially while they are dating (the book has lots of flashbacks as Weil examines their relationship). I get the impression that Weil shallowly put up with his mistreatment because he was such a hunk. My wife explained to me that all women think they have a good marriage.

The idea of taking a marriage that is working for its participants and putting it through the desperate measures that are normally applied to those on the verge of divorce is rather daft if not brazenly stupid. It's like taking a bunch of pills when you're not sick. And that is a pretty good simile because it turns out that there are side effects to all this marriage-saving mumbo-jumbo. Saving a marriage involves bringing buried conflicts to the surface, and doing that in a "good" marriage is just asking for trouble. Heck, any two people can find something to be mad at each other about. Weil even admits that marriage counseling is oriented toward staving off divorce rather than making a good marriage better.

In one particularly dopey chapter, Weil meets with a rabbi and lets him whip her into a frenzy about their children's religious upbringing. When she tells her husband, he utters one of the best lines in the book: "You've got to be fucking kidding me." Though Weil understands his reaction and even appears to agree with him, a page later she gives him another stupid (and insulting) solution to the problem they didn't have before she had met with the rabbi.

There's so much that I don't like about this book that it's easier to say what I enjoyed. Weil's husband is seriously into weight training, and she name-drops Pavel Tsatsouline and Mark Rippetoe in No Cheating, No Dying. Tsatsouline is a Russian best known for his kettlebell books. His books are pretty expensive ($34.95 for a 128-page paperback with black and white photos?!?), but I enjoyed his Power to the People, a book that proposes complete body training using only the deadlift and the side press. Rippetoe's legendary Starting Strength is a thick volume that covers six basic barbell exercises with such thoroughness as to be virtually foolproof. I have the second edition, but a third was published in 2011.

Aside from recognizing those fitness guys, I didn't like No Cheating, No Dying much. I suppose I had hoped to learn something about marriage but if I did I can't remember it now. I could give Weil credit for sharing so openly about her marriage, but in the end I really didn't want to hear about it. Parts of this book read like a dreadfully long self-help magazine article, and other parts are just plain dreadful. This is not the type of book I'd normally read, and I hope I never read one like it again. It was a crappy way to start the year, but at least I'm done with it.

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