Helen Gurly Brown and Bridget Jones show us two very different sides of modern womanhood. 

The Feminine Mystique

If cynicism and self-importance were complimentary soaps at the Waldorf, Helen Gurley Brown would be even richer than she is today. The Junior League of Richmond should be kissed, ever so politely, for not inviting the New York maven to its annual Book and Author Dinner this spring.

If any secrets shroud what's left of a so-called feminine mystique, Gurley Brown does her part to make sure each surfaces in her new book "I'm Wild Again" (St. Martin's Press, $24.95) from the piquancy of faking an orgasm to the sheer delight of biting off a well-rubbed callous on your little toe. Surely, such wry advice is indispensable for every woman itching to claw her way to the top, right? But who wants to be there, where nothing is sacred and even less is left to the imagination?

At 78, Gurley Brown does not venture gently into anything, especially retirement. After seven books and countless Cosmos, prattle pusher Gurley Brown seemingly can't get enough of herself. Now that she's been out of the Cosmo editing loop for three years, it's likely she's just bored and needs an audience to validate her. Or maybe she cringes at the thought that there is no one to leave her legacy to, hoping instead to tease the masses of 18- to 34-year-old women she seems so desperately to despise. Whatever the case, she unleashes her observations on life, again, in "I'm Wild Again."

It's not that the book is completely without merit. There are those few episodes when Gurley Brown comes close to showing vulnerability — once she discovers letters to a lover from another woman that reveal Gurley Brown's relationship meant little; she's devastated by an article in the Wall Street Journal telling Cosmo had to let her go — at 74! — in order to get itself up-to-date. But still, her attempts at humor are less self-deprecating than sad. And ultimately we learn little about the true struggles and disappointments of the woman who helped make Hearst publications the empire it is today. "I had thought everybody loved me!" she whines. Even the most ardent reader loses sympathy — and interest. So Gurley Brown loves cream cheese and crackers, Harveys Bristol Creme, cashmere sweater sets and kitty cats. Her favorite word is pippypoo and she's the 10th most frequent guest who's appeared on "The Tonight Show." Whoop-de-do.

Just because someone is at the denouement of a highly touted career doesn't mean it's time to dish out snippets, much less advice or Gurley Brown-isms.

— Brandon Walters

When we last heard from Bridget Jones in Helen Fielding's 1998 "Bridget Jones Diary," our swell, swinging, singleton heroine had finally found happiness in the arms of sexy lawyer Mark Darcy and all was well with the world. The sequel, "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" (Viking, $24.95) picks up where the first best-selling novel left off, and true to form, it doesn't take long for Bridget's chaotic — and hilarious life — to once again spin out of control.

Jones' relationship with Mark begins to disintegrate when Rebecca, "the jellyfisher," ("You have a conversation with her that starts out all nice and friendly, then you suddenly feel like you've been stung and you don't know where it came from.") wraps her tentacles around Mark. Of course, the naked Asian boy that Bridget finds one night sitting in Darcy's bed with a rabbit in his lap, doesn't help the relationship any, either. Nor does a mysterious Valentine from Bridget's dry cleaner. But then all is well once Darcy helps to spring Bridget from a Thai prison.

Like the original, "The Edge of Reason" is written in diary form, with Bridget weighing in at the beginning of each entry with the vital stats of her life: 131 lbs. (gaah!), cigarettes 1 (v.g.), jobs 1, flats 1, boyfriends 1 (continuing good work). This conceit is less humorous than it was in the original, still, a few of the entries are worthy of a chuckle.

Some reviewers of the original "Bridget Jones" accused Fielding of promoting negative stereotypes about women. Bridget derides "smug marrieds," but wants nothing more than to join this group. Her constant obsession with her looks and weight surely mark her as shallow. And her lack of success at work (although she does land an interview with Colin Firth in "The Edge of Reason" — one of the funnier parts of the book) proves she is a nitwit.

Sure, Bridget Jones may have her flaws — but don't we all? This is precisely what makes these books work. Bridget Jones may be an exaggeration, but that is why the character is so laugh-out-loud funny.

Although "The Edge of Reason" lacks the sense of discovery one had while reading the original "Bridget Jones," it comes close to the first in both the story and laughs per page — no small accomplishment.

— Jessica Ronky Haddad


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