Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Scandalous Book Review: My Year with Eleanor

Author:  Noelle Hancock
Imprint: Ecco
On Sale: 6/7/2011
Pages: 304
Price:  $24.99

After losing her high-octane job as an entertainment blogger, Noelle Hancock was lost. About to turn twenty-nine, she'd spent her career writing about celebrities' lives and had forgotten how to live her own. Unemployed and full of self-doubt, she had no idea what she wanted out of life. She feared change—in fact, she feared almost everything. Once confident and ambitious, she had become crippled by anxiety, lacking the courage required even to attend a dinner party—until inspiration struck one day in the form of a quote on a chalkboard in a coffee shop:

"Do one thing every day that scares you."

—Eleanor Roosevelt
Painfully timid as a child, Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated herself to facing her fears, a commitment that shaped the rest of her life. With Eleanor as her guide, Noelle spends the months leading up to her thirtieth birthday pursuing a "Year of Fear." From shark diving to fighter pilot lessons, from tap dancing and stand-up comedy to confronting old boyfriends, her hilarious and harrowing adventures teach her about who she is, and what she can become—lessons she makes vital for all of us.

My thoughts:   This book is a bit of a departure from the book I normally review on Scandalous Women, although I suppose that Noelle Hancock could be considered a modern day Scandalous Woman in that she learns through the course of the book how to pursue her passions without fear and without censuring herself. If there's one thing that all the women I've written about have in common, it's learning to live without fear or to use the fear that they feel. Certainly there must have been times when both Anne Boleyn and Joan of Arc felt fear although they took pains not to show it. 

From the very first sentence, I found this book delightful and engaging. What an interesting premise, using Eleanor Roosevelt as a guide to pursue a 'Year of Fear."  I must confess, though, that I was predisposed to like this book simply because the name Eleanor Roosevelt was in the title.  She's long been a heroine of mine ever since I saw Jane Alexnder portray Eleanor in the TV miniseries Eleanor and Franklin.  Like Noelle, I admire how she managed to grow from a fearful child, adored by her alcoholic, suicidal father and despised by her beautiful, glamorous mother, into a force to be reckoned with.  Let's face it, FDR became who he was, partly because he was married to Eleanor.  He certainly didn't have much interest in the downtrodden before he married her, he was more concerned with getting into the right clubs at Harvard and following in the footsteps of his cousin Teddy.

I also related to this book because I know what it's like to be unemployed all of a sudden and realize that you've spent the better part of three years working so hard that you end up losing friends because you never seen them. Just as Noelle found inspiration in Eleanor, I think a huge number of people will hopefully find inspiration in her, even if they don't decide to climb Mt. Kilamanjaro.  Sometimes, it's just the little baby steps that have the most resonance, like learning the trapeze or performing karaoke (I give Noelle mad props for that one, that's something I don't think I'll ever be brave enough to do!). I also think that most readers can relate to having parents, who although they love and support you, still wish you were doing something more substantial with your life (basically what they want you to do!).

One of the things that I enjoyed about the book was the way that Hancock managed to weave Eleanor's story into the narrative.  It never felt like an information dump of facts and figures. She always managed to relate the anecdotes to whatever was going in her life, whether it was taking a trip to Hyde Park to visit Val-Kill or the Roosevelt estate, or relating tidbits about Eleanor's dysfunctional childhood. At the end of the book, not only did I want to go back and read more about Eleanor, but it also made me aware of ways that I can face fear in my own life. How many of us wish we had the courage to make peace with our old boyfriends, or to simply try something new?

It's to the book's credit, that it never felt preachy or like an episode of Oprah. I also adored the Eleanor quotes at the start of each chapter. I will think about this book next time I walk into a room and I don't know anyone.  I'll just ask myself "What would Eleanor do?"

Verdict - A charming and self-deprecating look at one woman's year long journey to self-discovery.


heathertlc said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one - it looks like a fun and insightful read!

Thanks for being on the tour.

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