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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
When was the last time you read a book that made you do something really important? Like picking up the phone to call an old friend? Warning: This book made me do that -- not once but four times. I Know Just What You Mean will appeal to any woman who has ever had a close friend, which is most of us. Starting from childhood, females have been drawn to other females. And, as we all know, it's not just a matter of having someone to go shopping with. I Know Just What You Mean digs deep into the reason for this.
Our best women friends are able to make us laugh and, also, allow us to cry. They can make us feel great about ourselves in a way that no one else can. The authors write, "A new friend can reintroduce a women to herself, allowing her to look at herself with a new pair of eyes and a different mind-set. The younger sister cast as 'daffy' by the family, is seen as 'funny' -- and fun -- by a friend. The melodramatic wife is welcomed as a rich storyteller. More often than not, through close friendships, women see themselves through another lens.... Flaws can be recast as strengths, self-doubts lifted by acceptance. Friends help define and motivate each other."
Too often, the value of women's friendships is put on the back burner. In I Know Just What You Mean, the authors have moved the subject to the front of the stove. Speaking of the authors, we can't go much further without mentioning them, because they are the reason this book sings. Ellen Goodman and Pat O'Brien have been friends for 25 years and are "fluent in the language of female friendship." Ellen and Pat, Pat and Ellen. A few pages into the book, they're old friends of ours, too. It's always a treat when famous women share the intimate details of their lives, and they do it with generosity and wisdom.
Both women are seasoned journalists. We're treated not only to their expert organization and their easy storytelling style, but also to their strict standards about what makes a really good read. Goodman told me they wrote the first 100 pages of the book, printed them out, and sat down to discuss. "We looked at each other, and we threw the 100 pages into the trash can," she said. Not good enough. "We realized that what we had to do was tell our story. That had to be the spine of the narrative. Why should anybody trust us if we couldn't tell our own story?"
If Ellen and Pat's friendship is the spine, then current events are the rib cage. They met at Harvard in 1973, and the book is colored by the exploding backdrop of the women's movement -- the surge into the workplace, the mommy track, the glass ceiling, and, in short, the complete overhaul of women's roles in America.
The subject of women's friendships is sliced and diced from a dozen interesting angles: the importance of "talk" (the telephone and now email); the difference between men's and women's friendships; schoolgirl friends; elderly friends; how women's friendships are affected by major life changes, such as a move, professional success, a new husband, a baby.
Each chapter -- there are 12 -- begins with a nugget told first by Pat and then by Ellen, or vice versa. They're ordinary women who have kids and husbands and divorces and job problems. Occasionally they have extraordinary experiences: covering the inaugural balls, for instance. Witnessing vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro's acceptance speech. We get to know the Indigo Girls one moment and Lesley Stahl the next. It's a colorful salon that includes Oprah, former Texas governor Ann Richards, Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, Eleanor Roosevelt. Rich, poor. Gay, straight. Famous, not. Politicians, doctors, poets, athletes.
"We're both seasoned journalists, and we thought these were the richest interviews we'd ever had," Goodman says. "We felt like we were invited into something special -- and they felt like they were invited into something special."
I Know Just What You Mean is a chatty girl's night out that you don't want to end. Treat yourself to it. And don't be surprised if you think of giving the book to four friends -- or at least calling them to talk because of it.
Sarah Finnie Cabot lives in Vermont with her husband and their four school-aged children.