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Review – Up For Renewal by Cathy Alter

Up For Renewal
by Cathy Alter
320 pages
published July 2008

Cathy emailed me and asked me if I would read and review her book. I was initially humored by the premise – a woman who decides to follow the advice in magazines (such as In Style, Cosmo, and O) for one year.

But the problem was, I don’t just shy away from memoirs and autobiographies, I run screaming like my clothes are on fire. I have read a few, but I generally avoid them. So I really thought about it before I agreed to read this book, but I was intrigued by the idea of following the advice of magazines because I haven’t bought a non-cooking magazine since before I was 18. I thought it would be comical to see where someone’s life ended up after following all the (what I think is) lame advice found in magazines.

I really liked this book! Cathy is honest with herself about why she’s at this low point in her life. She doesn’t use any psychobabble like, I don’t have good self-esteem. No shit, Sherlock. You’re behaving horribly. You’re letting people use you and walk all over you! I wouldn’t like myself either! Rather, she starts changing her behavior, and with that change her mind starts shifting.

Changes didn’t always have to be profound. Take, for example, Cathy’s attempt at learning how to use cling wrap:

I have a thing about cling wrap, aka the kitchen equivalent of a wire hanger. Both menaces share the exact same characteristic – the ability to completely fuck with you. Cling Wrap, wily, born of static, and with a gravitational pull toward its home planet, simply demanded too much work. Maybe I have poor motor control, but I just can’t deal with this runaway-train aspect. Aluminum foil is malleable, predictable, and to my aesthetics, so much prettier.

But this project was all about self-improvement. Perhaps learning how to encase a sandwich in plastic would also serve as a meditation on tolerance and acceptance.

When I read this, I thought that perhaps I should learn to work with cling wrap, too. It does make subtle changes in Cathy’s life.

Cathy has a great sense of humor and is able to keep the subject light while taking it very seriously.

The areas that Cathy works on are things I didn’t think are necessarily covered in “glossies”…making the story all that more interesting. Dealing with cling wrap happens in the first month when she decides to start eating better, partly by brown bagging her lunch. Other months consisted of doing things outside of her comfort zone, feeling more comfortable being the dreaded thirty-nine, decluttering her apartment, and dealing with the guy she’d doinked at the office (in her cubicle!).

I knew that Cathy was getting it; she was changing as a person, but it didn’t have as much to do with the magazines as it did with her own willingness and efforts to be a different and better person:

But instead of helping me feel good about myself, the sisterhood had merely provided the nod for what was already in my head, tickling my neuroses by manufacturing problems that weren’t even part of my world – but would be, if I continued to read the magazines as parables for my own journey.

Reading this book, I found myself wishing I was friends with Cathy, not to hear about her magazine transformation, but because I would love to be friends with someone who had the kind of guts and determination that it takes to change your life…that’s definitely something I respect and admire.

If you come to Northern California on a book tour, Cathy, let me know. 😉

Rating 86 out of 100.

| Tags: , , , 13 comments »

13 Responses to “Review – Up For Renewal by Cathy Alter”

  1. Literary Feline

    This does sound good, Trish–funny and insightful, two of the best qualities an autobiography or memoir can have. Great review!


  2. Jen Forbus

    Oh my GOD! The cling wrap thing is me all over! I swear every time I have to use the stuff! I think I may have to add this book to my TBR pile! Thanks, Trish!


  3. curlywurlygurly

    just spend the extra money and buy the ‘press and seal.’ it works and i don’t end up with cling film sticking to everything except for what i’m trying to wrap up. 🙂 i’m putting this book on my library list. thanks!


  4. Heather

    I’m not usually an “improve yourself” memoir kind of gal, but this one does sound pretty funny! Thanks for sharing.


  5. lisamm

    I’m a Press and Seal fan, myself. It costs a little more but is well worth it.

    This sounds cute and funny. I like the cover, too.


  6. Melody

    This one sounds like a good read, Trish! Thanks for the great review. I love the cover BTW. 🙂


  7. Jill

    I was just listening to an interview on NPR the other day about a woman who is following every bit of advice that Oprah gives for one whole year. When Oprah says, “You just haaave to buy these shoes, they’ll change your life!”, this woman went out and tracked the shoes down and bought them. Instead of learning something about herself though, she just sounded tired from all her shopping. This sounds much more introspective, but still entertaining.


  8. Becca

    This sounds like a really fun book. I like the cling wrap quote. If the rest of the book is humorous like that, I’ll definitely enjoy it.


  9. Lisa

    I read Helping Me Help Myself by Beth lisick, who followed self help books for a year. Then there is the living biblically guy and lady who did minimum wage jobs (I READ that and can’t think of the name of it!) Seems to be a trend to do something for a year.


  10. Dawn

    “it didn’t have as much to do with the magazines as it did with her own willingness and efforts to be a different and better person”

    I felt the same way about Noelle Oxenhandler’s transformation in *The Wishing Year*; she was open and willing for “good things” to come into her life, the wishes gave it structure (in the same way the magazine advice articles did for Cathy Alter perhaps)

    It sounds like a great outcome for her; I’ll add it to my wish list!


  11. Anna

    I’m not really into non-fiction books either, but I think I might like this one! Thanks!


  12. Jean

    I read Cathy’s book last month–Its laugh out loud funny in some parts and really introspective and touching in others. I’ve passed it around to my girlfriends who have also loved it. I would definitely recommend checking it out! Its a great read!


  13. rantsandreads

    I just finished reading this book tonight, and like you, I really liked it. I tend to run away from chick-lit, and in the beginning, this book felt like it was going in that direction. But I liked Cathy’s personality and writing style and I started caring more about her life more than her one year experiment with the magazines.


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