Guiliano begins her look at aging by quoting Coco Chanel — “No one is young after 40, but one can be irresistible at any age” — and then tells readers in her “Overture” that she has designed her book so that they may “devise their own formula for life that enhances their looks, health, and pleasures, and helps them to be comfortable in their skin at any age.” To do so, she contends, demands not “aging gracefully,” but “aging with attitude.”
What Guiliano means by attitude is the mental and spiritual state we bring to aging. According to her, joie de vivre, joy, engagement, an eagerness to embrace life, make us attractive no matter how old we are. Guiliano then goes on to give specifics that can highlight this spirit, this zest for life. She writes of the importance of fashion and dress, skin care, grooming, diet, and exercise. The author of three books on food, she also includes a section of recipes titled “Foods For Feeling Better” and lists her top 10 foods for health.
Guiliano’s advice on exercise is not unusual, but she does stress the importance of non-stress activities like walking, swimming, and yoga. As she points out, these exercises are easiest on joints and muscles. She reminds readers that walking in particular is the “very best non-exercise exercise” and is also the “best weight-loss program.” Guiliano practices the tenets of her homilies, walking to work, avoiding the subway, taking the stairs rather than the elevator when possible.
The best part of French Women Don’t Get Facelifts is its infectious spirit. Guiliano comes across as both optimistic and practical, a philosophy she lauds in the final chapter. Here she tells us that the French (and Americans) can be divided into three groups in terms of how they treat their bodies and their attitudes. (For evidence, she cites the work of Olivier de Ladoucette, a French gerontologist and psychiatrist).
First up are the gamblers. These are the people who roll the dice with various addictions, tobacco, alcohol, and so on, contending that they might as well live it up since they will die someday anyway.
In the second and largest group we find the mechanics, those who believe “their bodies can be fixed like a car.” These are the people who want magic potions, who fight high blood pressure with pills but no lifestyle changes, who replace their knees with surgery without first trying weight loss and exercise.
Finally, there are the gardeners, those who fed their bodies and souls the right way, who “listen to their bodies, anticipate, and act.”
Read Mirielle Guiliano, and odds are you’ll want to become a gardener.
In By The Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review (Henry Holt and Company, ISBN 978-1-62779-145-8, 315 pages, $28), editor Pamela Paul has brought together 65 authors who have appeared in the popular column “By The Book.” Lee Child, Francine Prose, E.L. Doctorow, Christopher Buckley, Elizabeth Gilbert, and even Sting: these are just a few of the notable authors who appear here and who share their thoughts on literature and writing with Pamela Paul.
One enjoyable feature of this book is the question and answer format. Pamela Paul — I keep writing the full name because I like the alliteration, and Paul just looks too empty by itself on the page — asks the authors many of the same questions. “If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be?” was a question to which a large number of the authors replied “Shakespeare.” (Somehow this answer, though expected, strangely gratifies).
In addition, the authors reply to these questions in writing. This approach rather than a verbal interview allows them to shape and hone thoughtful replies, telling us in detail, for example, what books influenced them as children or what book they might urge the president to read. (In answer to the latter question, Dave Barry wrote: The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. I was required to read this book in English class during my freshman year at Haverford College, but I never finished it. I seriously doubt that Dostoyevsky ever finished it. So I figure if the president read it, he could tell me what happens.”)
One negative point: though they have published something, celebrities Emma Thompson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sting seem misplaced alongside writers like Isabel Allende, Scott Turow, and Amy Tan. Bryan Cranston, star of “Breaking Bad” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” is included here, but has never published anything. These performers might appear more suitably in a collection of the reading habits of celebrities.
But this is quibbling. By The Book offers a light, pleasurable look at writers and literature.