Note: Books That Matter is Tracking Wonder’s interview series that showcases influential thinkers’ and authors’ relationships with books that matter to them.
Mix verve, poise, an impassioned appreciation for applied science, and an ongoing curiosity in relationships, and you come a little closer to understanding what makes Wendy Paris distinct as a captivating author and a vibrant human being. She’s worked as a print journalist, an editor for Psychology Today (when I met her), and a mentor-editor at the OpEd Project that boosts the profile of under-recognized women thought leaders & experts.
In this Books That Matter feature, Wendy shares the books that changed something profound in her at different stages of her life, how she might be Holly Golightly-meets-the-Oracle-of-Delphi, and the one thing that she hopes people come away with from her new book, Splitopia (Atria Books).
Jeffrey: What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.
Wendy: Okay, this is going to sound sappy and self-happy–but, actually before I get to the ONE book—let me say that I could list a trove of books I clung to or felt enlightened by at different stages of my life. I think the book that “takes off the top of your head” changes, as you go through different ages, which is one thing that’s so great about books. There’s always one out there that speaks just to you, at that moment.
As a kid, I loved the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, and felt it connected me to some part of my almost mythological heritage. I loved the somewhat obscure Beany Malone series by Lenora Mattingly Weber. A friend and I both read it, and we’d talk about Beany on the bus to school, as if we knew her. I loved Anne of Greene Gables and got up to write a fan note to author Lucy Maud Montgomery, only to discover she’d long since died. As a young adult, I loved From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe. As a not-so-young adult, I loved (and still love) the essays of E.B. White and also the essays of George Orwell and the hilarious My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley.
But now, for the past 10 years or so, whenever I find myself emotionally drifting, feeling unpinned and discouraged, I pick up Embracing Your Potential by Terry Orlick, a psychologist who coaches Olympic-level athletes on their mental game. He uses sports as a measure and a metaphor of how we can take charge of our mindset and feel more powerful, or even “athletic” emotionally. I quote the book in my chapter on loss and coping and post-traumatic growth.
The two months before my book came out were really stressful. I felt totally alone out here, trying to promote my book without enough support. I’m promoting a book about divorce as a divorced woman, by myself. I started a morning practice of sitting on the balcony in the sun, reading a page or two of Embracing Your Potential, to help shift me into a more positive mental state. Then I’d go do yoga. Promoting a book can feel like a massive emotion management project.
What one detail do you still recall from that book?
I have on my wall this quote from a World Cup skier, Kate Pace, he interviews: “I am really enjoying getting into the state where I am expecting something good to happen.”
The book you’ve imagined living inside of is what?
I always sort of thought I was living in a Jane Austen novel. We’re all speaking very politely, with humor, and live in massive estates.
What character do you still imagine being or being friends or seeking counsel from?
I had a friend in New York who called me the “Holly Golightly of the intellectual set.” That totally stuck with me. Another friend said she thought I wanted to be the Oracle at Delphi. Some combination of these two seems apt. Also maybe a flaneur like Dorian Gray, but without the secret evil life/portrait.
What kinds of books most irritate you?
I don’t like the incredible, abhorrent violence in some contemporary novels. I don’t think it’s helpful to really feel our way into the most horrific human experiences.
In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of publishing?
I think we’ll see more independent presses, self-publishing and other kinds of segmentation in the publishing industry.
Which book would you want every woman or man to read? Why?
I would like everyone facing divorce to read my book!
What book are you most embarrassed or proud to say you have never read?
I haven’t actually read The Power Broker.
What is one thing that you hope readers of your book, Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well, will come away with?
A sense of hope for the future and an understanding that divorce does not have to be unequivocally awful or permanently damaging. An ability to feel compassion for themselves and their ex in this difficult time. The tools to keep their divorce out of court, if possible, and the self-knowledge to manage their role in the relationship. A really great life on the other side! I know that’s more than one thing.
WENDY PARIS is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Atria books/Simon & Schuster, March 2016). Before writing Splitopia, she worked as a print and electronic journalist for more than 20 years, covering relationships, culture, art, dating and marriage. Her articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Psychology Today, The New York Observer, The Guardian, Marketplace Radio, Travel & Leisure, Qz.com, Salon.com, Self, Jewish Week, portfolio.com and other outlets. She is the author of a humorous dating guide based on fairy tales, Happily Ever After: The Fairy Tale Formula for Lasting Love (Harper Collins, 2001; translated into 14 languages), and the co-author of the wedding-planning guide Words for the Wedding: 1000 Quotes on Love and Marriage (Perigee/Penguin-Putnam, 2011, 2000).