I’m most comfortable as a book reviewer sharing books I’d recommend. It’s simpler to write about what you love, and - I think - usually more helpful to readers. So, I’d decided originally not to write about Robin Rinaldi’s new memoir, The Wild Oats Project.
But then the buzz started, and I knew that while this wasn’t a book I loved, it was a book I needed to talk about. Newspaper profiles, radio interviews and my husband's question about "that book I'd been reading with the naked woman on the cover"...everyone's talking about Robin Rinaldi and her confessional memoirs of her year of living in an open (very, very, VERY open) marriage. I'd really been looking forward to reading this memoir of the author's year of living "for passion at any cost."
The project was simple: An attractive, successful magazine journalist, Robin Rinaldi, would move into a San Francisco apartment, join a dating site, and get laid. Never mind that she already owned a beautiful flat a few blocks away, that she was forty-four, or that she was married to a man she’d been in love with for eighteen years. What followed—a year of sex, heartbreak, and unexpected revelation—is the topic of this riveting memoir, The Wild Oats Project.
An open marriage was never one of Rinaldi’s goals—her priority as she approached midlife was to start a family. But when her husband insisted on a vasectomy, she decided that she could remain married only on her own terms. If I can’t have children, she told herself, then I’m going to have lovers. During the week she would live alone, seduce men (and women), attend erotic workshops, and partake in wall-banging sex. On the weekends, she would go home and be a wife.
There's no doubt that Robin Rinaldi's story is interesting, or that her writing is strong and clear. Unfortunately, her story is self-indulgent and narcissistic to a point where I felt bad for all of the characters who crossed her path. She claims that she is exploring the fine line between loving others and being true to herself, but her lack of empathy or love for others is what ultimately had me losing interest in this exploration about halfway through.
Robin Rinaldi is certainly winning the public relations effort that she’s crafted; she’s getting loads of attention, which ultimately is what as a reader I think she sought for most of the 300 pages in her memoir.
But I can’t help but wonder how the public would have viewed a similar memoir written by a man. How would you feel about a middle aged man’s stories of cheating on his wife, bedding dozens of women with whom he had no emotional relationship, and living his life thinking only of his own needs and desires?
RELATED: Cheating Isn't The Deal Breaker You Thought It Was
Why are we supposed to celebrate Rinaldi’s tales, when I know we’d all recoil at a man’s version?
And what of her husband? Where do his rights to privacy and privateness lie? Rinaldi claims that he encouraged her to write her story because if she wrote it truthfully it would not only the story of their marriage, but the story of any marriage. However, I couldn't shake the idea that Rinaldi's motivation for the open marriage was as punishment for her husband's unwillingness to have baby with her.
As a reader, we put a lot of trust in a book's author. By the end of The Wild Oats Project, I felt as cuckolded as her husband; used and ignored for her own gain.
Around this time every year for a decade, my husband and I would throw our kids into the back of the car and commence the 18 hour drive to my parents' timeshare in South Carolina. For us, the actual road trip was as much a part of the vacation as was the destination, so we'd look for ways to make it enjoyable and memorable...and for ways to keep the kids entertained in those bygone days before laptops, iPads, and personal DVD players.
My kids were never big on "children's music" (thanks in no small part to the fact that we didn't actually play children's music for them on these road trips), but they were normal kids, and would often ask to hear their favourite song played over, and over, and over again. You really haven't road tripped through the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia until you've road tripped listening to the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack on repeat. Or driven the entire states of North and South Carolina listening to nothing but Dixie Chicks.
Eventually we moved beyond music and found ways to entertain an entire carload of family members with stories.
I have some friends who insist that their ears start to bleed as soon as they hear that slow drawl of Stuart McLean's on his Vinyl Cafe, but "Dave and Morley" stories are entertaining and accessible to everyone from pensioners to kindergardeners. We didn't think my eldest son was actually listening to them on an early trip until he asked us what size his jock was after we'd played The Jock Strap.
Any NPR fan will know all about audible.com, and their free trial policy is da bomb. Consider "Eleanor & Park" if you're traveling with tweens, or for younger kids, how about Roald Dahl's Matilda read by Kate Winslet? The entire family will enjoy Anne Hathaway reading "The Wonderful World of Oz", or for a longer trip start the Harry Potter series and see how far you get.
Are you feeling guilty about pulling the kids out of class to get a head start on your road trip? You won't if you spend that time listening to Stuff You Missed in History Class. Learn about everything from the Salem witch trials to Chinese foot binding...find a topic that relates to your destination for bonus marks!
Once my kids got a little older, they started to enjoy This American Life podcasts as much as my husband and I do. The American public radio show picks a different theme each week. Some weeks will incorporate fiction, journalism or entertainment. It's mostly true stories of everyday people, and the show is good about warning up front if the topic's not suitable for all listeners. Teenagers and parents alike enjoyed the podcast on Middle School...and we all learned a little from that one.
Last year This American Life spawned Serial, the hottest podcast of 2014. The twelve episodes are now complete, but if you missed it, start from the start to follow the story of Adnan Syed, a Baltimore teen convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend in 1999. This one's suitable for mature teenagers.
The other day in the car, my hip hop lovin’ teen reached for the radio controls as the Dixie Chicks started to sing “Landslide.” Miffed, I screeched at him not to turn the station, and instead he smiled and turned the song up. “This reminds me of our road trip to South Carolina,” he said. Come to think of it, those soundtracks were pretty sweet.