Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Book Review, By Request

I never write book reviews, because I don't think I do them well. Consider this an apology in advance. Furthermore -- does this happen to anybody else? -- I always read books a year or more after they come out, so nobody is talking about them any more. This is SUPREMELY disappointing in situations where you really want to talk to other people about what you've read. Examples that come to mind from the past couple of years for me include Freakonomics, The Blind Side, Moneyball, and the book I'm reviewing now, Free Gift With Purchase: My Improbable Career in Magazines and Makeup by Jean Godfrey-June.

Ms. Godfrey-June is the Beauty Editor of Lucky, and past beauty editor of Elle, as well as a veteran freelance writer. The problem with reading her book more than a year after it came out is that it is, in part, a roman à clef. She mentions several of her more outrageous former co-workers but assigns them pseudonyms. This can't be for legal reasons, or for reasons of wanting not to burn bridges; several of the people mentioned were obvious even to me, an outsider. So it's just damned annoying. I did a number of Google searches to try and figure things out, but was not particularly successful.

But my additional research serves as evidence that I really enjoyed the book. I liked her conversational writing style. The book has two distinct elements: first there is the narrative element -- the story of her development as a beauty writer and editor. [This is where I ran into the problem of wanting the author to name names.] It was thoroughly enjoyable, light reading.

The second element, in true Lucky style, is comprised of the sidebars. These are the real gems of the book. You get honest, credible assessments of how to maximize your time and money in the beauty realm. My favorites include pieces about plastic surgery, getting good haircuts, and, best of all, "The Least Amount of Exercise You Can Get Away With." Rocket science it is not, as the author freely admits, but it is useful information nonetheless.

The author mentions a few of her favorite beauty products by name, which is also very useful because you know, in this context, that they weren't mentioned as part of a pay-for-play arrangement. She is also forthcoming about the amount of makeup she actually wears; I wouldn't call her regimen minimalist, but it's not completely unrealistic, either.

By the way, in an interview I found online, Jean Godfrey-June named the one beauty product she actually goes out and buys with her own money, presumably because she goes through it faster than fresh supplies of it arrive in her office. It is Anthelios sunscreen, the UVB-blocking formula previously only available from foreign sources. I mentioned it here last month as it is now available in other brands and through more traditional channels in the U.S.

The book is available in paperback now (one of the advantages of waiting to read it), so I'd say at $10 it is definitely worth the purchase. Read it and pass it along to a girlfriend.


  1. Here's to hoping I'm the girlfriend it's to be passed on to.

    So, on the "reading books a year after they come out" issue... there's a definite couple of pluses to this:
    1) you can find the books used
    2) you can skip it entirely if it's a dud

    However, a year or so ago (whenever Blink came out) I decided that I really like to be one of the first ones to read "trendy" books, because I could get so much more conversational mileage out of them. I like being "in the know" and being able to recommend things that are not yet bestsellers to others (if it's worth it, of course).

    One other thought -- if you haunt the "recent" section of half priced books you can find many of the new books in review copies and read them before they even release. I read Sharon Osborne's autobiography that way, and was even able to give my pre-read copy as a gift before it was released in the US.

  2. I'm with Sara. The best part is that if you like what a reviewer says or you get a recommendation from a friend, you can buy it on half.com. :)

    Thanks for the email btw. :)