Wednesday, February 15, 2006


10-pages-in book review: Woman First, Family Always

I’ve been agonizing over this review.

About a month ago, I received an e-mail out of the blue, asking me if I’d be interested in receiving a book to review. I was so excited and proud to have been deemed worthy of solicitation! (Yes, I am easy to please.)

Before I get into the actual review of the book, I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts on the process. Maybe it’s because I’m a communicator by day and a blogger by night, but I’m fascinated by how bloggers have become a market worth targeting. Businesses are quickly learning that bloggers are valuable opinion leaders. We’re the ‘connectors’ in Gladwell’s Tipping Point model, the ones who build networks and share information. Bloggers have reach, and even those of us with only moderate readership have a strong voice. We’re turning traditional marketing models on their ears in many ways, and smart businesses are ready to take advantage of it.

It’s flattering to have been chosen to get a free book, but I’ve recently heard of bloggers being offered all sorts of cool stuff to review: DVDs of the Electric Company, free cleaning products (!), and even trips to Amsterdam.

And now the crux of my dilemma. I received the e-mail offer, and I said ‘Sure, I’d love a free book.’ There were no strings attached, no promises on my part to do any kind of review, let alone a good one. The publicity agent gave me some background info and a couple of jpegs, should I wish to incorporate them into my review. And less than a week later, my brand new book arrived.

The problem is, I didn’t really like it. In any other circumstance, I would have posted a scathing and sarcastic review of this book. I would have had a lot of fun mocking it. But I want to be nice, because they were nice and sent me a free book. So here we go.

I’m reading Kathryn Sansone’s Woman First, Family Always. Kathryn is an American mother of ten kids, and the book is her way of helping you live your life with the same level of success, satisfaction and happiness that she has achieved.

Kathryn was ‘discovered’ by Oprah (yes, that Oprah) when she attended a taping of Oprah’s show for her 40th birthday, and in the post-show chat had the opportunity to tell Oprah that she was staying fit even though six months pregnant with her ninth (!) child. Oprah was enamoured, so much so that she paid a visit to the Sansone family and even featured them in her monthly magazine, and shortly thereafter voilà, Kathryn became an author. She says, “[Oprah] referred to me as the role model of motherhood – quite a hefty title, but one that makes me think I might be able to affect a wider group of women with some practical advice that has helped me through the years.”

(pauses to gather thoughts and dial down sarcasm-meter)

The book is divided into three sections – Your Self, Your Marriage, and Your Family & Kids - and each section has 30 ‘reflections' ranging in length from a couple of paragraphs to a couple of pages. They are not quite self-help, but neither are they anecdotes; they fall into a bland and colourless netherworld between the two. For example, reflections in the “Your marriage” section include:

11. Don’t Nag
12. Argue – the Right Way
17. A Little Lipstick Goes a Long Way
19. Make Your Bedroom Your Sanctuary
20. Date Nights are a Must

Similarly, the “Your Family & Kids” section includes reflections titled:

7. Be an Emotional Coach
11. Mind Their Manners
19. Teach Kids to Manage Time
And even,
22. Select the Right Paediatrician for You.

As you might have guessed, I had trouble garnering anything helpful from this book. Sansone isn’t an expert – she doesn’t even have Dr Phil’s questionable qualifications. I’d forgive her lack of credentials in a minute if she had an engaging voice or a unique style to her writing – after all, you don’t need a license to mother, and she’s had a lot of experience. And it’s not the content I have issue with; it’s all reasonable advice. It’s just that it’s so sterile it’s devoid of any traces of humanity. It’s a self-help book written by a Stepford Wife.

A book written by a mother of ten kids has a lot of potential. I mean, I come up with stuff with only two kids, and she's got five times the source that I do. I'd've loved to hear how you manage laundry for 10 kids, or what mealtimes must look like, or even how you get from one place to another with that many people to corral and transport. What's it like delivering that 10th baby - do you need a sling to hold it in place for the last trimester? How do you make sure each child gets individual attention when they outnumber the parents five to one? But, unfortunately, rather than intriguing insight into the author or her day to day life, you get some platitudes and suggestions for living well.

She seems like a nice lady, she really does. And anybody who can raise ten kids has my respect. In the end, her key point that you have to love yourself and treat yourself well is a good one. Heck, I’d say 90% of the book is filled with good advice. And I’m really flattered that her publicist sent me the free book. So go ahead, take a read of it and let me know what you think. But I just couldn’t warm up to this one.