February 04, 2016


A Practical Wedding Planner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Wedding You Want with the Budget You’ve Got (without Losing Your Mind in the Process). By Meg Keene. Da Capo. $19.99.

Worm Loves Worm. By J.J. Austrian. Illustrated by Mike Curato. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.

     They used to go together like a horse and carriage – does anybody even remember that song? – but these days, love and marriage seem to go together only incidentally, or for the purpose of “making a statement,” or as an affirmation of one’s faith (for marriages performed in religious settings) or declaration of independence from spirituality (for civil weddings, beach weddings, mountaintop weddings, etc.). This makes Meg Keene’s A Practical Wedding Planner a touch quaint with its naïve assumption that weddings are “all that,” even though Keene is smart enough to know that sometimes they are all that one needs to take the great leap into losing your mind (hence Keene’s subtitle). Keene posits that A Practical Wedding Planner will be used as an encyclopedia, not read cover-to-cover as a guidebook, and that is a good thing, since the sheer amount of detail and option discussion and expert opinion and “pro tip” material will quickly become overwhelming to anyone who tries to read the book straight through. In truth, not all of what is here is necessary for wedding planning, thank goodness. “If you have a wedding with every single element included in this book, you’re not having a wedding; you’re having some sort of three-ring circus,” Keene opines, and that is a highly useful perspective – except for the fact that some people want to have a three-ring circus of a wedding, and certainly the wedding industry does everything it can to encourage that mindset (it “is mostly trying to sell us more things” – well, duh). A Practical Wedding Planner is a highly useful and plainspoken guide to the intricacies of arranging your own wedding, with some very helpful checklists and spreadsheets in the back that can assist with everything from budgeting to a highly specific timeline for the event (“guests seated for dinner, 6:00 pm; first guests to buffet, 6:10 pm; last guests through buffet, 6:30 pm; toasts—four total, 6:30 pm; first dance, 7:10 pm” – and on and on for a total of 35 entries, each with four columns labeled “when,” “what,” “where” and “who”). There is material here on bridesmaid dresses (“the perfect dress that everyone will like does not exist”) and on buying a wedding gown from China: “Dress will generally be made from a cheap fabric. …Detailing will be sub-par. Workmanship will generally be a little shoddy. …But alright [sic] already! You’re a woman of daring and risk, and you want to give this thing a whirl! Here is what you need to know….”  And so on. And so on. And so on. Want to know what to expect of a DOC (“Day-of Coordinator”)? That’s here. Pluses and minuses of “officiants,” whether clergy, civil servants, officiants-for-hire or friends and family? Yes, that’s covered. Hiring a DJ and choosing music? Oh yes, that’s here – and it shows some of the predilections and prejudices with which Keene approaches wedding planning, with which it is important to be in sync in order to get value from this book. “The older crowd is going to be out in force for the early part of your set. Play some classics everyone will like early on, then work your way up to that old-school hip-hop after Nana has gone off to bed. ..Your average pop song is long…[so] cross-fade…before that eight-minute song has run its course. …Nobody’s gonna dance if you’re not dancing.” A Practical Wedding Planner strives mightily to be simultaneously up-to-date and sensitive to tradition – the section on addressing wedding invitations is a good example – and ends up being something of a mishmash; but then, encyclopedias always are. The book has a very thorough index, some of whose entries are themselves worth reading: “Colorado, self-solemnizing marriage in,” for example, and “botanical gardens wedding with 65 guests, budget pie chart example for,” and “mason jars, estimating amount of alcohol needed for serving in.” Anyone who thinks the whole wedding-planning concept is faintly ridiculous (maybe not so faintly) will have that impression confirmed here; anyone who takes the whole thing seriously enough to believe that a onetime party somehow has something to do with living with another person for an extended period – a notion right up there with the horse-and-carriage notion of being wed – will also find confirmation.

     And what about love? Oh yeah, that. Well, one would expect a level of charm and simplicity about the feeling in books intended for children, and one would often get it. But just as A Practical Wedding Planner tries to guide adult readers through and among the many intricacies and traps of the love-and-marriage maze, while subtly introducing its author’s own predilections, so some kids’ books seem designed to inculcate values even as they appear, on the surface, to be simple appreciations of love. Worm Loves Worm is one such – an unlikely-on-the-face-of-it advocacy book that families must be careful not to pick up unwittingly, but that some families will find a very useful story of what love and marriage mean in the contemporary United States. Worm Loves Worm looks like pretty much any recent picture book, and it reads that way at the start, too, with two worms deciding to “be married” because they love each other. In the absence of A Practical Wedding Planner, the worms take advice from various insects. Cricket, standing on hind legs, wearing a vest and glasses, and clutching a book, is clearly the right “someone to marry you.” In fact, “That’s how it’s always been done,” Cricket explains. Beetle offers to be “best beetle,” and the Bees say they will be “bride’s bees,” which is all well and good. But what about rings? Worms have no fingers! Well, “we can wear them like belts,” they decide, and since they do not have feet to dance with, they “can just wiggle around.” J.J. Austrian’s point, of course, is that love and marriage transcend the trappings of weddings – an unexceptionable message, to be sure. But then the book turns in an unexpected direction, as Worm and Worm say they both can be the bride and both can be the groom – they are, after all, identical in appearance – and even though Cricket reminds them that “that isn’t how it’s always been done,” Worm and Worm insist on getting married anyway, “because Worm loves Worm.” Somewhere along the way, a cute book about love and marriage has turned into an advocacy work about same-sex marriage, carefully structured by Austrian and illustrator Mike Curato – who himself is in a same-sex marriage – so that the primary message emerges slowly and even a bit slyly, well after all the marriage trappings have appeared in a forthright way. Same-sex marriage is now legal in the United States, but that does not obligate anyone to accept it, agree with it or give children books supporting and advocating it – opponents emphatically do not believe that the statement that “Worm loves Worm” supersedes “how it’s always been done.” Families that do believe in same-sex marriage will find Worm Loves Worm an enjoyably simple explanation of what proponents have said for some time, with pleasant illustrations that end with even the clergyman-like cricket smiling approvingly at the newly married couple. But families that pick up the book on the basis of its pleasant illustrations or the first few pages of text may find themselves surprised to be pulled into the middle of a legal decision that remains highly controversial and, to some people, highly objectionable. This is a book that parents should definitely read on their own before reading it to children or having children read it themselves: it raises issues that, wherever a parent stands on the sociopolitical spectrum, a child is likely to want further explained after the book is over.

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