Getting Past Your Breakup: How to Turn a Devastating Loss into the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You. By Susan J. Elliott. Da Capo. $14.95.
Gluten Free Every Day Cookbook: More Than 100 Easy and Delicious Recipes from the Gluten-Free Chef. By Robert M. Landolphi. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.
The notion that you can spend less than $20 to solve major problems in your life and guarantee future happiness is absurd on the face of it, but that does not keep authors from trying to produce reasonably priced self-help books designed to be far more valuable than their price would indicate. Motivational speaker and grief counselor Susan J. Elliott combines both those roles in telling people who have suffered relationship devastation how to get through the stages of grief associated with romantic implosion – and how to pick themselves up afterwards and come out of their distress better than they ever were before. Like many self-proclaimed experts, Elliott has a harrowing tale of her own to tell, and she tells it early in the book, explaining how her own marriage shattered and how her fear of abandonment led her to try to put back together something that was irretrievably broken. She deserves considerable credit for getting her own life together – but that does not necessarily mean that her experience parallels that of others, or that her advice (given, of course, from her particular perspective) will work in very different situations. Elliott had children and suffered emotional (but not physical) abuse; readers should consider ways in which their situations are similar to and different from hers before accepting her advice at face value. Actually, Elliott’s comments on the stages of grief, although scarcely new, can be helpful to just about anyone who feels devastated by the end of an intimate relationship. She takes readers from “shock and disbelief,” through “review [and] relinquishment,” to “reorganization [and] acceptance,” dealing with such specific emotions as guilt, anger, ambivalence and depression. But Elliott’s main focus is rebuilding after a failed relationship, and this is where her approaches are a bit too one-size-fits-all. Journaling can be helpful, but not for everyone – some people struggle to write down their feelings. Some people believe affirmations help mold reality; others find them a silly sort of wishful thinking. Writing gratitude lists – pages about positive things in one’s life – can be liberating, thought-provoking or immensely frustrating. And so on – even therapy and support groups have their place for some people, but not others. And some of Elliott’s well-intentioned ideas, such as a “relationship inventory” to work through the issues involving your ex, will work well for organized, self-aware people but be overwhelming and even potentially traumatizing for others. The point is that Elliott has many good ideas that may be helpful for people whose approach to life gibes with hers. Ultimately, though, people have to find their own way out of a relationship, just as they found their own way into it. The extent to which Getting Past Your Breakup will help with your breakup will vary quite widely.
Robert M. Landolphi’s Gluten Free Every Day Cookbook does not attempt to be for everyone – its target audience, obviously, is people with gluten allergies and those who live with (and cook with or for) them. A great deal of attention is now being paid to gluten-free living – whether because the incidence of gluten allergies is increasing, because they are only now being more frequently recognized, or because the whole subject is faddish in some way, it is difficult to know for sure. Like Elliott in the relationship area, Landolphi has a personal connection to his subject: his wife was diagnosed with celiac disease (one of a number of wheat allergies) more than a decade ago, so he started experimenting with ways to make tasty gluten-free dishes. Landolphi arranges his book intelligently, starting with basics (flours, starches and such) and then moving into soups, main courses, side dishes, desserts and breads – offering, at the end, his perspective on the complexities of dining out (“nobody checked to see whether the chicken stock that rice was boiled in does or does not contain gluten”). The heart of this book is, of course, its recipes, and it helps to be a devoted chef to follow a number of them: despite the book’s subtitle, many are more delicious than they are easy. Cayenne-Dusted Chicken Nuggets, for example, require a food processor and overnight refrigeration after the first step. Corn, Potato, and Leek Chowder needs a heavy soup pot and includes cooking bacon, sautéing vegetables, simmering several ingredients and using a blender to purée three cups of the soup. Chocolate Cream Pie requires sugar, cornstarch and egg yolks whisked gradually together over medium heat in a heavy saucepan, then whisked constantly until the mixture boils, and also requires cooling at room temperature for 20 minutes plus refrigeration for one to two hours. None of these recipes will be daunting for somewhat experienced cooks who have plenty of time to spend in the kitchen, and Landolphi’s meals without gluten certainly have a great deal of variety and a number of pleasant flavor variations. People with gluten sensitivity will not feel they are sacrificing food quality or taste with these recipes. But if you are not an experienced chef and do not live with one, Landolphi’s book is more likely to be frustrating than helpful – there is little in it that can be easily thrown together in a minimal amount of time. Opt for Gluten Free Every Day Cookbook only if you really do have plenty of time for cooking every day, and if you truly enjoy putting together satisfying meals that require attentiveness to details of preparation and presentation.