Amy Sutherland’s What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage is a literary agent’s dream: high concept, self help-y, and including the name of a cute performing whale in the title. What started as a New York Times “Modern Love” column (and one of the Times‘ most-emailed articles) got snapped up and has stretched into this thin, lighthearted book on applying the techniques of exotic animal trainers to human relationships. Sutherland’s experience observing professionals in the field was so profound that, she claims in her introduction, “I have a peace of mind that comes from the world making so much more sense to me.” (The money from a movie deal probably didn’t hurt.) Along the way, she imparts some useful lessons, distilled from training philosophies. The mantra “It’s never the animal’s fault,” for example, tells us that behavior is just behavior and that we shouldn’t take it so personally. Another lesson gleaned is that nagging won’t get you what you want. To illustrate this point, Sutherland mentions a few too many times her husband’s habit of leaving his smelly bike clothes on the floor. Overall, her book offers a calming, less paranoid, and more detached view of romance and marriage than many relationship guides. So next time you find your mate’s underwear on the kitchen table, just remember it’s never the animal’s fault. -
About the Author
Janet Steen is an editor, writer and teacher. She has written about books, music, film, and other varieties of pop culture for the New York Times Book Review, Interview, Details, Us Weekly, Time Out New York, and Sports Illustrated for Women, among others.