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I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life through Events--the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life through Events--the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't

4.7 24
by Jennifer Gilbert

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is a warm, wise, and wholly original memoir of survival, renewal, and transformation, by one of New York City’s most successful and respected special events coordinators.

With her top-level events company, Save the Date, Jennifer Gilbert has worked with Fortune 500 companies, broadcast media giants, international


I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is a warm, wise, and wholly original memoir of survival, renewal, and transformation, by one of New York City’s most successful and respected special events coordinators.

With her top-level events company, Save the Date, Jennifer Gilbert has worked with Fortune 500 companies, broadcast media giants, international nonprofit organizations, and celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Bill Gates and beyond. Yet few of her clients or colleagues have known, until now, that Jennifer not only a self-made success: she’s also a survivor. After a random, near-fatal attack left her body in critical condition on a crowded city street, and left her with emotional wounds that would take years to heal, Jennifer embarked upon a journey to reclaim her life.

This is her story, in her own words: I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag, an intimate, poignant, inspiring memoir of perseverance, rediscovery, and hope.

Editorial Reviews

People (3 ½ stars)
“Packed with funny stories about bridezillas and demented captains of industry, this is a fascinating tale of how we regain joy in the aftermath of unspeakable horror.”
Dani Shapiro
“This is a beautiful and brave memoir, full of hard-won wisdom. I read it in one sitting. It speaks from the heart and to the heart.”
(3 1/2 stars) - People Magazine
"Packed with funny stories about bridezillas and demented captains of industry, this is a fascinating tale of how we regain joy in the aftermath of unspeakable horror."
“A savvy, often funny account of the ups and downs of building a business; a penetrating look at how [Gilbert] overcame the psychological scars of the attack; a warm and happy ending. You’ll laugh with her, you’ll learn from her, and you’ll be glad you made her acquaintance.”
“Packed with funny stories about bridezillas and demented captains of industry, this is a fascinating tale of how we regain joy in the aftermath of unspeakable horror.”
Gretchen Rubin
“Breathtakingly honest, funny, and surprising, I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is the unforgettable story of how, after a traumatic encounter in her twenties, Jennifer Gilbert found her way back to happiness. I couldn’t stop reading.”
Kirkus Reviews
The story of a dynamic New York event planner who forged a new path for success in the wake of tragedy. "When everyone else was standing around gasping, I went to my fix-it place," writes debut memoirist Gilbert of her grace under pressure when handling last-minute snafus at galas and weddings. Yet for many years, this first female recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award lived a double life. On the outside, she wore power suits and bright red lipstick, presided icily over the all-female staff at her company, Save the Date (even earning the dubious distinction of making notorious Vogue editor Anna Wintour "look like a pussycat") and threw lavish parties at the best Manhattan clubs. Inside, she carried shame and fear, the dual burdens of surviving a horrific, random attack. Gilbert's recollections of that day in 1991 when she knocked on a friend's apartment door, only to look up and see a man charging toward her with rage in his eyes, are hair-raising enough to make even the most trusting person look over her shoulder when walking down the street. This scene provides a backdrop for the many changes she experienced during the next 20 years, as she mourned the loss of her optimistic younger self and embarked on a career trajectory that allowed her to enjoy life through others' celebrations until she could accept that she deserved her own joy. Of course, she eventually found true love and happiness, but with a series of Jane Austen–esque twists. What distinguishes Gilbert's memoir from the inspirational survivor pack is her willingness to share the bumps along her road to recovery. The story doesn't go predictably from devastation to bliss; she makes mistakes, suffers loss, endures heartache and punishes herself by dieting and over-exercising. A mostly likable memoir that shows we can choose to be more than the sum of those events that are beyond our control.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.12(h) x 0.85(d)


What People are Saying About This

Dani Shapiro
“This is a beautiful and brave memoir, full of hard-won wisdom. I read it in one sitting. It speaks from the heart and to the heart.”

Meet the Author

Jennifer Gilbert is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Save the Date®, the New York–based special-events company. She was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, received Working Woman magazine's Entrepreneurial Award of Excellence, and her company was voted one of its top 500 woman-owned businesses. An in-demand speaker, she has appeared at numerous schools and industry events, and her work has been featured in People magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and InStyle Weddings, as well as on Fox and CNN. She lives in New York City with her husband and their three children.

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I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Events, the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Cecita More than 1 year ago
I go back and forth between three and four starts. I enjoyed reading this book--for the most part. I felt the beginning was compelling. Somewhere in the middle and end it got a little dull. I enjoyed reading about how she got over such a trauma but then felt she went on and on about her fabulous parties and her fabulous purchases. I guess the author is showing her Manhattan socialite colors: Hamptons, Tribeca, Upper East Side. Too much talk about her million of dollars. She even mentioned buying virgin land in the Bahamas because it was her dream and solace but doesn;t mention it again. It is not a bad book, but sometimes the beginning and end feel disconnected. But I do recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I first found out about I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag, and saw that it was written by an event planner, I knew I had to read it. Part of my major was events and meeting planning and when I learned that Jennifer Gilbert is a famous event planner, it became a definite must read. Until I started reading it, and read some reviews, I had no idea it was going to be such an intense piece of writing. It definitely is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. Personally I cannot imagine going through such a tragic and horrific event like what Ms. Gilbert did. Several times during Ms. Gilbert’s description of the attack, I had to put the book down because I started to cry. When I think about the sad and scary times and events in my life, nothing compares to what Ms. Gilbert went through. Her descriptive writing is so powerful it felt as if I right by her side, trembling and crying out for help. Right from the beginning Jennifer is more than unequivocally open and honest about how the attack affected her and all those around her, including her family, friends and employees. She shares her journey of recovery, sometimes moving forwards and sometimes moving backwards, rebuilding herself from the inside out. It is crystal clear to see that Jennifer is a fighter and a survivor. A predominant message that I received from Jennifer’s story is that when we lessen, dismiss and sweep under the rug, negative emotions and events that one experience’s – destruction of oneself will arise. Jennifer ended up hiding, and burying deep down, the physical and emotional evidence of her attack. It took her many years of emotional healing to finally go outside without layers and layers of clothing hiding her scars. A perfect example would be going to the beach and not 100% covering up her bathing suit. Unfortunately I can relate to this because growing up my parents (who got divorced when I was nine) sometimes painted a clear picture for me to avoid talking about things. To say that this is unhealthy is an understatement, and I will be sure to never be like this with my children. I read this book in less than two days and was 100% inspired by Ms. Gilbert’s drive and dedication to learn to love herself again, and let go of the walls she built around herself. This love blossomed to one for husband and three beautiful children. Jennifer’s recovery has brought to the forefront of my mind that it is possible (quite painful though) to walk through the most incredible and horrific fears, live to tell the
RBF27 More than 1 year ago
AMAZING BOOK!!!!...such a powerful message of perseverance and strength. I read it in one night..could'nt put it down. A definite must read!!
SuzeLP More than 1 year ago
This was a quick and easy read and Jennifer is obviously a brave woman who overcame a horrendous experience.  I guess I was looking more for the funny stories of weddings and events and how she overcame those trials more than an autobiography. But I finished it and liked it. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely amazing!!!  Life is about struggles and never giving up.  I recommend this book to everyone.  Life is what you make it!!  
JSchisler4 More than 1 year ago
I am a fairly new 'reader', I was always the one who would rather wait for the movie, and only read when I had to for school. But over the past few years I have finally started reading for enjoyment and I have to say that this book was amazing. I am not a person who reads memoirs (I've tried several), I just can't seem to push through them. But my sister-in-law INSISTED I read this book. I'm so glad she did, because it was written in such a way that I couldn't put it down. With everything she goes through she somehow still manages to make you laugh and cry, it was written brilliantly. I am amazed at her story and her courage to tell it, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an open, honest, heartfelt, sweet, touching, happy, sad, lesson learning, thought provoking, page turner!  Jennifer is a gifted, contemporary writer and completely inspiring.  I would enjoy reading more of her work!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked this book initially because I loved the title and the cover caught my eye... on page 19 the story caught me by surprise... I  could not put it down!  Jennifer Gilbert  is brave and inspirational. I could not put this book down! Thank you Jennifer Gilbert for sharing your journey so beautifully...
VIPAUD More than 1 year ago
I read this book in just over 2 hours and couldn't put it down. Ms. Gilbert's writing made me feel like she was telling me this story while sitting in her living room having coffee together. Her style is warm and inviting, and draws you in immediately. But, truly, it is the events in the book that are riveting enough to keep you turning pages until you realize you've read the whole book! Her overall message is one that everyone MUST hear, and at various points in their life - I know I really needed it! - and the book leaves you very inspired and motivated to grab life by the horns! A wonderful read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
loved this book. i highly suggest you read it. the story is sad and inspiring.
LVD123 More than 1 year ago
I read this book in two days and could not put it down. Jennifer's story is compelling and inspirational. So many of us get blocked by set-backs and our own insecurities and therefore we just can't seem to find our own way. Then you read a story such as this and you realize what it means to overcome and not only survive but to thrive. Jennifer lets you into her psyche as she fought her way back from the most brutal of attacks. The reader understands what she is made of as she navigates her way through healing, building a business and finding love. The obstacles and set-backs she encounters along the way only prove her resilience and demonstrate that she understands her life is a gift and clearly her purpose is to spread her message in order to inspire others.
sherpashelley More than 1 year ago
After reading this book and then hearing Jennifer Gilbert speak at a fundraising event I am truly glad to have had the chance to meet her in person and tell her what a wonderful job she did on this book. This book spoke to me on so many levels from so many experiences and periods of my life that I felt an immediate connection to the book. In fact, I was so engrossed from the beginning, I read it in one day. As Jennifer said, there are many threads to this book and those threads weave a life of the expected and unexpected. How she was able to thread her own life will always be an inspiration to me. Even though our paths will only cross this one time, I will never forget her, or the words in her book. I feel that this book was very therapeutic, funny, inspirational, down-to earth, practical and honest. What I especially love is how she is a very approachable, warm person and easy to talk to. In her book she seemed this way and it was nice to see how she really is like that in person. I wish her the very best and this book will become a thread in the life I weave for myself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To say I LOVED "I Never Promised you a Goodie Bag" would be an understatement. I started and finished it all in the sam day. I gave it to my mom and sister to read. My mom and I just had an in-depth conversation about the book. It is a book that is great for all age ranges. I am so excited about the book that I am going to give it to my 88 year old grandma. It is an inspirational story for all women. Mrs. Gilbert's life story and adventures along the way are so moving. There were several pages I folded down in the book. For example, the quote that started the section Red Lipstick I liked: "We do not think our way into action, we act our way into new thought. Also, the ending made me cry a little bit with happiness and just an overall wow about the book. I could go on forever, but I don't want to tell the story of the amazing book. This book reiterated my desire to pursue the event planning industry after graduation in May! I would 100% a million billion trillion times recommend this book to anyone!
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
When Jennifer Gilbert was just 22 years old, she was attacked by a crazed man who stabbed her repeatedly with a screwdriver. He had followed her from the subway to her friend's apartment and brutalized her right outside her friend's apartment door. This event begins her memoir I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag- A Memoir of a Life Through Events- the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't. Jennifer screamed and pounded on the door and when her friend Andrea opened the door and saw what was happening, Andrea panicked and closed the door. The man still came at her, and she used all her might to avoid being stabbed in the head. Andrea opened the door again and Jennifer scrambled into the apartment, with the attacker on her heels. Andrea ran into her bedroom and locked her door. Finally the man gave up and left, but Jennifer was in bad shape, losing a lot of blood. Later she found out that there were four other women cowering in their bedrooms in the apartment, but no one came to her aid. Remarkably, she didn't hold it against Andrea, trying to understand how frightened Andrea was too, but their friendship didn't last. Jennifer's parents and sister brought her home and tried to comfort her, friends and neighbors stopped by, but it didn't help. Her view of the the world and her place in it had been shattered, and now she was labeled "victim". She moved to Boston and stayed with an old boyfriend, but was stuck in a state of fear and inertia. She couldn't work, focus, or leave her apartment. Then she decided to fight back. "Where was that girl and why had she given up? I had let the attacker frighten me out of the city I loved and into a deep hole that I had dug for myself to hide in. This was not my fabulous life. This wasn't why I had fought so hard to survive that day. If I was going to be afraid to live, then that man might as well have killed me. I was lost and alone and scared, and I was headed down a road of not just feeling nothing, but being nothing." She decided to work on her career and applied for jobs in event planning; she received two offers, one from Bear Stearns and one from a small events planning company. She chose the small company because she would be getting a commission on any event she booked and because of the freedom her boss gave her to help build the business. Corporate clients were cold called, and she pestered them until they gave her a chance; she was relentless in her pursuit, finally getting Salomon Brothers as a client in 1992. Gilbert was great at her job, and her "AA-type personality" served her well. No detail was overlooked and she became well-known to caterers, party venues and hotels. She learned "not only how to function in stressful moments, but also how to make those moments less stressful for everyone else involved." I worked in marketing for a mall, and events planning was part of my job, so I very much enjoyed reading how Gilbert solved problems (a bride locked in the bathroom crying, a venue that promised it would have a liquor license by event day didn't, running out of beer at a Salomon Brothers party at Tavern on the Green) with her can-do attitude. Eventually Gilbert started her own events planning company, Save-the-Date, and because of her attitude and reputation, was successful. Her love life was another story. She had some long-term relationships, but none worked out. The only steady man in her life was her friend Bennett, who loved her and was convinced that they should be together, but Jennifer couldn't see it happening. The title of the book comes from her idea that goodie bags are over. Her description of wealthy, high society women climbing over each other to get a bag that has nothing more than "a granola bar and a bottle of shampoo" had me chortling in recognition. I've seen that happen time and again, and I'm with Jennifer on this- get rid of the goodie bags! What I took away from this book was the resiliency of the human spirit. Something horrible happened to Jennifer Gilbert, but she was determined not to let it stop her from living her life. That experience colored everything that came after, but she worked hard to overcome it and live "her fabulous life". You can let things in life defeat you or you can fight back and make a better life; it is all up to you. It's a lesson many of us can learn.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being a recent college graduate and the same age that Jen was when she was attacked this book and her story really hit home to me. I thought it was a great book that taught me how to stay strong through the tough times in life. It showed me that if you work hard and love what you do you can do accomplish anything! This book was really inspiring to me, as like Jen, I hope to become a successful event planner. This was a great quick summer read that only took me 2 days to finish! I even passed the book along to my roommates. I recommend it!
bhamblonde More than 1 year ago
I first learned of this fabulous book through an article in People magazine. Heading out for vacation, I ordered myself a copy. I never wanted to leave my beach chair once I started reading! Jennifer describes her life as "Before and After". Before the attack that nearly took her life, and After as she struggles to move on as a survivor. Her story will make you think hard about what you say and what you do for people suffering from tragedy or loss. I will never again say the words "At least". ("At least he didn't hurt your face", "At least you weren't raped") I never thought about how hurtful those words could be. Jennifer tells a story of survival and triumph - over her pain, her fear, and anything else that held her back. She goes on to create a very successful event-planning company (Which I also thoroughly enjoyed reading about - it's a career I wish I'd pursued in my own life!), and a fulfilling home life as well. She is an inspiration, and I'm thrilled that she's shared her story of survival with us. Learning about how she recaptured joy in her life certainly brought joy to mine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first heard about this book through an article in Marie Claire. The article was an incredible read in itself, but I had to know more. The book did not disappoint. I was totally absorbed by it. I read it so quickly, I practically inhaled it. I couldn’t put it down. This memoir is right up there with Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild (another amazing read). It’s a story of transformation and courage — of facing the most violent, terrifying experience anyone could imagine. Not only does Jennifer Gilbert have an amazing story to tell, she’s also a great writer. She’s sharp and witty, as well as sensitive and insightful. Throughout the book, the author was a fighter and a survivor, but she was also able to recognize her own flaws and grow deeply as a person in the process. Not everyone can do that after such a painful experience. You can tell that years of self-reflection went into this book. The main question the book struggles with is this: How can we live in a world where there is no guarantee of safety, where terrible things can happen at anytime? How can we accept the things we cannot control and continue to experience joy and have hope? These are not easy questions, but the book offers compelling insights that are profound but also very relatable. Along with the story of overcoming the violence she experienced, another major aspect of the book is her event planning business. She had so many entertaining anecdotes that wowed me. I have a deep respect for entrepreneurs, and I really appreciated hearing about how she went after it and persevered. This book is a gem, and it must have been a tough one to write, but the author did a superb job, and we are lucky to have it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I read it last weekend - I couldn't put it down. I laughed and cried - sometimes at the same time! Jennifer is an inspiration.. I am giving copies of it to all of my friends!
TheBravoB More than 1 year ago
A poignant story of a woman who has who has seen, suffered, revived, thrived, and celebrated. You will be shocked, you will cry, you will laugh, and you won't be able to put this book down.Ms. Gilbert doesn't seek pity, she seeks to share her experience in a voice that marries the strength of a survivor, the knowledge of a mentor, and the candor of a best friend.
nk2 More than 1 year ago
I started this book and did not want to stop until I finished it. Her story is so real, raw and poignant, and even though her experiences are very personal, I was able to relate to so much of the book and her story. I laughed, I cried - the book was a roller coaster of emotions. As you travel through the authors journey with her, you can hardly believe she has lived through so many challenges and conquered them and come out truly on top. The story is full of hope and optimism, with a very honest voice. You feel as if you are friends with the writer and want to hug her and cheer her on! Readers from all over (even outside of NYC) will relate to the writer and the story. I bought the book and sent it to friends all over the country and they have all loved it. I can't wait for my book club to read this book! It is the perfect summer read because you can't stop reading it, but it has depth and a message. You will love it!
nycwithlove More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down! My mother and I read it in a day!
marleneJM More than 1 year ago
I was blown away by this book. I could not put it down, as it was gripping and I wanted to find out what was going to happen to Jennifer. She has been through such an ordeal, yet I found her very relatable and whie I havent been throughwhat she has been through, it really helped me to think about my own life and take some responsibility for things I have done. This was a great read, gripping yet funny. Highly recommend.
Jane1965 More than 1 year ago
I could not put this down. I expected an event planning book and this was a surprise. The combination of tragedy, humor and wisdom makes this the must read for the summer. All will find jennifer to be an inspiration.