Thursday, February 21, 2008

Better Men Through Reading

A lot of us go around saying things like, "All the good men are taken." Or, "All the good men are gay." Or, my particular favorite, "All the good men are married or in jail." (The woman who cleaned an office where I used to work came up with that one.)

And since our thoughts tend to determine own realities, we often turn out to be right.

It doesn't help when we're getting reinforcement all over the map about these limiting beliefs of ours. Movies, TV, magazines, and much of what is called "chick lit" continually remind us that men are lying, cheating, sex-obsessed serial disappointers--and we're doomed if we try to live without them.

Which, I've learned, is nonsense.

But if you want better men, it's critical to know that they truly exist. You can do this by surrounding yourself with them, even if you have to do it by reading about them. In the past year, I've read three books to help you along:

-A Widow's Walk by Marian Fontana. Fontana writes a beautiful, compelling, sad account about her husband's death in the 9/11 attacks. Without ever stooping to sentimentality, she makes it clear that New York City Firefighter Dave Fontana defied every negative stereotype about men. By the middle of the book, the reader can't help falling in love with him.

-Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead by Phil Lesh. Lesh reveals himself to be a smart, gentle man with a social conscience. He manages to tell a satisfying story of a rock-and-roll life, without ever maligning anyone or making excuses for his own mistakes.

After several romantic disappointments, he writes, he fell in love with the waitress who used to bring him breakfast near his home in Marin County. The way he describes this woman, to whom he's been happily married for over 20 years now, flies in the face of everything you've ever seen on, say, Rock of Love with Bret Michaels.

My favorite details about Phil: He washes dishes and used to drive his children to school.

-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Sure, David's not a real person, but supposedly Copperfield is the most autobiographical of Dickens books (not that I'm a scholar on this subject). David is, to me, the ultimate man. He's earnest, intelligent, funny, and increasingly successful. He respects people regardless of their class. He genuinely esteems women and seeks them not just for their beauty but for their wisdom and character. To create such a man, I think Dickens must have possessed at least some of David's sensibility.