Monday, May 04, 2009

'The Girls From Ames' ...

I am entirely devoid of objectivity.

Here's the short version of Beth and Jeff: A Friendship: "I met Jeff Zaslow when I was 17, shortly after he took over for Ann Landers at the Chicago Sun-Times. We've been friends ever since."

And through the years, there have been books. His first book, Tell Me All About It, was about winning the contest to pick Ann's replacement and his ensuing experience as an advice columnist. We were working together while he wrote that book. I remember printing out the manuscript and shipping it off to New York. When it was published, he inscribed my copy, in part, "Well Beth, you were a great help and a good friend ... . I'm sure we'll be having a lot of contact and good times ahead."

That was in January. Of 1990.

Somehow, he managed to publish two more books without an ounce of help from me, but a couple of years ago, we found ourselves on the phone talking about a book contract he'd just signed, a book about 11 women from Ames, Iowa.

And just as he was embarking on telling their story, he returned to his alma mater to see a man named Randy Pausch deliver a lecture – his last lecture – and the Ames project was shelved temporarily so Jeff could co-author The Last Lecture with Randy. Time, of course, was of the essence. (I blogged about The Last Lecture briefly last year before the book's release in April. At the end of the post, I predicted that the book would be on the New York Times' bestseller list for at least a year. Ahem. After 55 weeks in print, it's currently No. 3 in hardcover advice.)

This April, The Girls From Ames arrived in stores and mailboxes. (Like The Last Lecture, it too sold out on Amazon and debuted on the New York Times' bestseller list.)

Today, I finished my copy.

And as I suspected, while I read it, I laughed. I cried. I saw more than a bit of myself in several of these women. And I thought a lot about the friendships in my life.

Jeff writes, "... [R]esearchers say a woman who wants to be healthier and more psychologically fit in her old age is better off having one close friend than half-a-dozen grandchildren."

I stuck a Post-It Note to the margin on which I wrote, "Well, that's good news." Odds are getting better that I won't have grandchildren in my life. I'd need to have children in order to have grandchildren.

Later, in another Post-It-Note-worthy passage, he writes, "[Marilyn] and Jane—and the other Ames girls, too—would sometimes talk about how it was hard to find men who possessed the qualities they were looking for. 'Why is it that I can find those attributes in plenty of women?' Jane would ask. 'Why do so few men seem to have them?' She had decided that there seemed to be more interesting women in the world than interesting men. 'There are definitely great guys out there,' she'd say, 'but not a lot of them. So a lot of really neat women who'd be great wives are not going to end up meeting someone special.' "

Amen to that, sister!

But it was heartening to read, later in the book, that Jane did indeed get married.

Of course, some of the women also got divorced. Late in the book, Jeff writes the most powerful sentence I've read in a long, long time: "Kelly says she understands that not all love lasts forever, but that doesn't mean it never existed."

It's a very good reminder. Love is indelible. Love of all stripes.

I Post-In Noted other passages on other pages, but I don't want to spoil the stories. I will, however, reveal that anecdotes include Michael Jackson and maxi pads. But not together.

The girls from Ames and their collective lives are a microcosm: Their upbringings were similar in many ways but sufficiently different. They have grown into very varied women, geographically dispersed, each with unique perspectives, but forever united by the bonds of friendship, friendships I envy, as will many other women, I'm sure.

Jeff and I do not have an Ames-esque friendship. We met later in life and a decade – as well as gender – divides us. But in some ways, we're the same as those Iowa women: We are there for each other unfailingly. Jeff always asks about the men in my life. (One day, I hope to have good news.) I share his deep, deep devotion to Bruce Springsteen. We never want for advice or encouragement from the other. And we cannot foresee a time when we will not be friends.

I'm sure we'll be having a lot of contact and good times ahead.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm reading the book right now and I find it quite poignant, as the nature of most friendships has changed so much ... as a mobile person with lots of friends, but few FRIENDS, it makes me sad that we all can't maintain the connections like the Ames women do. It's something to aspire to.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe he should have written Dewey...


7:27 AM  

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