What I Was Doing Instead of Reading: On Kristin Newman's Memoir
I received What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding for free at my desk one day. (The beauty of working in publishing, right?) And I immediately got a good chuckle at the title. Oh, Ms. Newman--you clearly get me. I am a twentysomething woman with no foreseeable plans for reproduction. A quick flip between the front and back cover's reviews also sold me: "David Sedaris, but with more joy." "If Eat, Pray, Love were written by your funniest friend." And Kristin Newman, sitcom-writer, would seem to be the perfect storyteller for the comedic hijinks of her own scandalous life.
The prologue, too, delivered on its promises:
"I am not a slut in the United States of America. ... I don't kiss married men or guys I work with, I don't text people pictures of my genitalia, I don't go home with boys I meet in bars before they have at least purchased me a couple of meals ... I do not sleep with more than one person at a time, and sometimes, no more than one per year. In America.
But I really love to travel."
Delightful! Fun! Clever! I was on board--and quickly--to a number of exotic places where Newman would recall her splendid affairs with some of the most beautiful men around the world, even though sometimes the connection just wasn't there ["Aleg leaned over and screamed at me (it was very loud), 'I speak small of English!'" (38)].
Because for Kristin Newman, the key to love and travel is this: Doing the thing you're supposed to do in the place you're supposed to do it. She mentions this a few times, like a mantra, while also detailing other rules of traveling: the qualities you should seek in a traveling companion, how long to carry on an affair after the trip is over, how many men to juggle is too many.
But somewhere in the midst of it all, I got tired. I put the bookmark in between pages 132 and 133 and stuck the book in various places--my gym bag, my work shelf, my desk drawer--all the while planning to definitely pick it up and finish it. It was a quick read, right?
So, last night, in an attempt to start cleaning up my half-finished books of 2014, I decided to dive back in. In doing so, I quickly remembered why I struggled the first time around.
The entire memoir feels like one giant digression. Which, I guess, is sometimes a product of conversational tone. But within four pages, the following paragraph transitions occur:
"Anyway, our trip to Brazil happened before Marco came along..." (132)
"But back to Salvador." (133)
"So back to Cristiano." (135)
And then, blatantly, on the next page:
"A brief digression into the notion of 'bases.'" (136)
Oh my god. No more digressions, please! Are we in Argentina? Brazil? Who is Cristiano? Is Salvador a city or a man? When I was reading this book straight through, I couldn't figure out exactly what was causing the story to drag, but when I tried to pick back up in the middle, it became painfully obvious.
This book was full of too many escapades, too many characters I didn't care about. And, no offense to Ms. Newman intended, but I don't even watch any of the sitcoms she's written for, so I found it difficult to muster up any sort of curiosity about her life.
OVERALL RATING (within genre): 2/5 Stars
TL;DR: Although a memoir about independence, promiscuity, and travel has a certain allure (especially to someone of the female, childfree, twentysomething crowd), Newman's style and aimless narrative causes the book to feel like one giant digression, and before long, it becomes impossible to keep track of which man she bedded in which place--and it leaves you wondering why you should care.