March 22, 2007


A Lovely Love Story. By Edward Monkton. Andrews McMeel. $9.95.

Life 101: An Illustrated Guide. By Geoffrey Day-Lewis. Andrews McMeel. $14.95.

      Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about love – or about life itself – in just a few pages, and for less than $25 total (plus tax). How can you go wrong?

      Actually, you can’t – if you are looking for a cute gift item or something you yourself can read in just a few minutes, then be satisfied to own even though you will probably never pick it up again. Both these books are more in the nature of extended greeting cards than books of the keep-them-around-and-reread-them-occasionally type. As long as you set your expectations at the right level, you will enjoy these short works.

      A Lovely Love Story sounds as if it is going to be an animal fable, starting as it does with a “fierce dinosaur…trapped inside his cage of ice.” But then the not-very-fierce-looking dinosaur finds his ice thawed when a Lovely Other Dinosaur appears, and from then on, Edward Monkton (pseudonym of British poet Giles Andreae) might as well be writing about squirrels, bunny rabbits or people. Well, of course he’s writing about people. And very stereotypically, too: the first dinosaur can be distant and peculiar, and is fond of Things. The Other one has a mind that skips about and is fond of Shopping. But each decides that the other’s flaws (if they are flaws) are what make him or her endearing, so they stay together and grow old together and feel the warmth of the sun together, “and the world is a beautiful place.” And that’s it. These are greeting-card sentiments from first to last, and expressed largely in greeting-card language, too, but there’s still something charming about the book: the naïve, slightly silly illustrations, which include one dinosaur playing with a remote control and the other carrying a cute little purse. Even the hearts and flowers (yes, hearts and flowers) are pleasantly drawn. It’s a lovely little book that you’ll read in fewer than 10 minutes, although – with luck – the sentiments will stay with you longer.

      Life 101: An Illustrated Guide doesn’t even have 10 minutes of text in it, but it’s a thicker book than A Lovely Love Story – as it should be, since it purports to include all of life, not “merely” love (although love’s in it; a touch of lust, too). Geoffrey Day-Lewis has taken offbeat stock photos from Getty Images and and strung them together with minimal text designed to showcase 101 things about life. Actually, the number 101 is cheating, since #36 is “Respect your elders” and that page then includes numbers 37 through 69, with the next page picking up at #70. If you find that funny, you’re in the book’s target audience. If it falls a bit flat, see how you feel about #27, “Don’t be afraid to speak up” (a seated man about to be wallpapered over); #77, “Get plenty of fresh air” (a skier in a bunny suit leaping off a ski jump); and #83, “Expect the unexpected” (an elderly couple in bed, looking at something – whatever could it be? – under the covers). Some pages here are rather snide, while others are simply clever, such as #18, “Beauty is all around you” (a graphic rather than photographic page, with the word “YOU” in the middle and the word “beauty” repeated many times in concentric circles around it). The advice consists entirely of clichés (“Try to be positive,” “Eat your greens,” “Be a good listener”), so when the book works, it works because of the contrast between the humdrum words and the interesting photos. Not all the photos are particularly interesting, though; most readers will surely find some hilarious and wonder what point Day-Lewis thinks he is making with others. But that’s life, and that’s Life 101.

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