Book Review: How To Be Married by Jo Piazza

One genre (is that the right term?) of books which I thoroughly enjoy are those which explore the world or history through one specific lens.  I'm thinking Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, No Impact Man by Colin Beavan or The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.  Jo Piazza's book, How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage, carries on in this vein and offers a fantastic round the world tour of the institution of marriage.  I quite enjoyed it.
Initially I was worried that I wouldn't really be able to relate much to Jo, a world-traveling journalist who loves her fast-paced, high-stress New York lifestyle.  The more I read--and the more self-reflection Jo performs--the more commonalities emerged.  I actually found her quite accessible in the end--and fairly hilarious, too.  Note:  If you don't like swears be prepared.

After meeting the man of her dreams--but who has little in common with the other men she's dated--Jo is worried about: getting married/being a wife without giving up her identity and independence and falling seriously ill with an inherited genetic condition.  This book is the story of making peace with both.

Jo, while traveling for pleasure and on work assignments spends the first year of her marriage--the "wet cement" year--asking people she meets around the globe to share their insights about what makes a good marriage, what makes a marriage last.  She goes into the project "believing that somewhere someone has figured out the secret to the perfect marriage."  Instead she learns that there is no one way and no hard-and-fast rules.  It reminded me of gardening--there are unlimited ways to be successful and only a few habits that are certainly destined for complete failure.  Jo finds that the same goes for marriage.  There are certainly themes that generally indicate a strong marriage, but it becomes clear that "everyone, no matter how good their relationship, struggles to make it work."

It was pretty fascinating to me how varied the type of marriage and love there are in the world.  They were so beautiful in all their forms.  It was delightfully eye-opening.

Jo learns about the importance of every woman feeling beautiful, sexy underwear, maintaining mystique, and peeing with the door shut from women in France.  She is smitten with the deep connection, sisterhood, and community from the plural wives of Kenya, even if she has a hard time wrapping her mind around it at first.  She discovers the necessity of "me-time" and taking care of yourself in Israel.   The Danish makes Jo realize the value of a comforting home environment filled with fun and uplifting people as well as the importance of time disconnected from smartphones and laptops and the hazards of unnecessary complaining.  In India, she learns how to live a life of gratitude without saying thanks all the time.  And more.

Jo's diagnosis with muscular dystrophy--the same disease slowly taking her father from her--is an unexpected education for her.  Just like when they try to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, the experiences shows Jo that she must learn to accept help when she needs it, how to share her worries and struggles with her husband rather than try to take on the world alone, and that in a relationship there comes a time with each partner must be the strong one, the helpful one, the one holding up the other.

It gave me much to think about in my own marriage--and in my life, generally.  I am so thankful for Matt it is beyond saying.  Still, I think I picked up a few ideas as I traveled along with Jo.  Entertaining and helpful--that's a win-win.

The book also really, really drives home the importance of international travel---or exposure to a diversity of cultures.  We--humanity-- have so many of the exact same worries and concerns, passions and triumphs.  Yet simultaneously we're all dramatically different in how we relate to and view the world.  It is just fascinating to me.  I think we have a  lot to learn from each other.  There are so many ways of being.

Disclaimer:  I got a copy of this book for free through the Blogging for Books program.  The review and opinions here are my own and were not influenced by that fact.


  1. ...that sounds like my kind of book too...I love The Year of Living Biblically...and No Impact Man...

    ~Have a lovely day!

    1. Well, yes, if you enjoyed those two you might check this one out. I love the my-life-as-an-experiment-angle. So fascinating. And, I guess, I probably think of my own life as an experiment albeit without a single focus.


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