BlogHer Talks to Jeffrey Zaslow
By Rita Arens on January 24, 2012
BlogHer Original Post
Editor's Note: We sincerely regret the passing of Jeffrey Zaslow on February 10, 2012. We enjoyed his work and his commentary. Our deepest sympathies go out to Jeffrey's family and friends. -Rita
BlogHer: In your opinion, what’s the comparable moment in a man’s life to when a woman finds her wedding dress?
Jeffrey Zaslow: I don’t think there is a comparable moment for most men involving an article of clothing. If our culture determined that men had to search for some special, expensive outfit to wear on their wedding day, I’m guessing most men would make their selection in fifteen minutes to an hour. It wouldn’t be a weeks-long process, like the bridal-gown search has become, with friends tagging along and weighing in. Maybe a groom would bring his fiancé and say to her: “Whatever you think looks good on me, that’s what I’ll get.”
But there are moments in a man’s life that separate who he was from who he is going to be. Women stand on the pedestal in the Magic Room at Becker’s Bridal and think of all the moments of their lives that led them there. Men may have that same sensation when they propose marriage, or when they hold their offspring in their arms for the first time, or when their fathers die.
BlogHer: Did it seem like the experience deepened or lessened for an older bride (first wedding) versus a younger one? Is it better the longer you wait for it?
Jeffrey Zaslow: Meredith was the bride in The Magic Room who would be marrying for the first time at age 40. She first went to a chain bridal store to shop for a dress. She told me, “I had to stand on a pedestal with a woman half my size and half my age.” She found it demoralizing.
But of all the brides, she may have been most exuberant about the comfort to be found in her upcoming marriage. When she was in her twenties, she had made lists of what she wanted in a man. She thought she wanted a high-powered jock, even though she hated sports: “a guy’s guy doing guy things.”
She never thought she’d end up marrying a low-key graphic designer who is a “foodie” like her. But she told me: “I came to realize that, most of all, I wanted someone to support me emotionally – not necessarily financially, someone to share a bowl of popcorn with. I wanted to do the dishes in the kitchen and look out the window and see him cutting the grass.”
Unlike younger brides, Meredith had this knowing maturity and a great appreciation for the possibilities in marriage. She asked her father to walk down the aisle very slowly with her. “I’ve waited a long time for this,” she said. “Let’s make it last.”
I’m not sure it’s better to wait too long. It looks like Meredith may not be able to conceive children naturally. But in the older brides I met, I saw that there are advantages for a bride who knows who she is and has the experience to better know what she wants in a man. (You can find photos of Meredith and her middle-aged bridal party at www.magicroombook.com)
BlogHer: It seemed like the Becker family sacrificed a lot in terms of family for the store. Do you think the store will stay with the Beckers? Or did you smell change while you spent time there?
Jeffrey Zaslow: There’s definitely pressure on Alyssa, now 25, who is the fourth generation Becker to work in the store. Her great-grandmother founded Becker’s in 1934, her grandmother logged four decades there, and now her mother owns the place. Alyssa has studied fashion in Paris and New York. She told me that the tiny town of Fowler in rural Michigan may not be enough for her.
Still, I can see her remaining there.
In the book, all of Alyssa’s friends are getting engaged and she’s waiting for her boyfriend Cory to decide if he wants to commit to a life with her. Two weeks after the book came out, on the night of the book launch party in Fowler, Cory did propose. On page 237 in the book, there’s a photo of Alyssa trying to catch the bride’s bouquet at a wedding. For his proposal, Cory cut out the part of the photo showing the bouquet and put an engagement ring in there. It was totally romantic.
He’s a small-town guy who says he’s happy living in Fowler. So maybe now that he and Alyssa are marrying, she’ll start a life there and be comfortable continuing the family legacy.
BlogHer: How did the process of researching this book feel different than your other books that focused more on one individual than a group?
Jeffrey Zalsow: When I coauthored The Last Lecture with Randy Pausch, the book was about him, but I had to talk to several dozen people around him to help understand the arc of his life. I spoke to his wife, his mom, his sister, his colleagues, his students. The same was true when I wrote books with Capt. Sullenberger, the pilot who landed in the Hudson River, or with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. It was important that I interview all the people around them.
The Girls from Ames was about a group of eleven friends, and to understand them and their 40-year friendship, I spoke to more than sixty people around them. SO I’m used to big crowds.
The Magic Room was different in that I was writing about a place – a store and its history – and a room in that store. All the characters had just one thing in common: each found her way into the Magic Room, either as brides or as members of the Becker family. The brides in the book didn’t even know each other. In fact, most of them met at the book launch party after the book was published.
When writing the book, the challenge for me was weaving together all these stories from different women, wrapping their lives in with the story of Becker’s Bridal, and doing it in a way that also spoke to the love the rest of us wish for our daughters. My goal was to use these brides to help readers understand how our culture has embraced love and marriage – and wedding dresses – over the years. I wanted readers to be thinking of their own lives.
The brides were so articulate and open, as were the Beckers. They guided me in ways that helped the project blossom, and all the different parts became one whole story. I’m very grateful to all of them.
BlogHer: How did you choose which brides to feature in The Magic Room?
Jeffrey Zaslow: I didn’t want to write a book about bridezillas, or about the frenzied search for a dress. I resolved to pay less attention to brides I met whose motives seemed somewhat frivolous. Instead, I wanted a cross-section of women whose paths to The Magic Room were not necessarily easy, but who had given great thought to the love in their families.
The eight brides I chose are all pretty different – ages, backgrounds, jobs. I was drawn to all of them because their stories were moving and compelling. I do think I could have selected eight others and their stories would have been equally touching and meaningful. More than 100,000 brides have gone through Becker’s since 1934. There are a great many stories there still to be told.
Perhaps someday, a decade or two from now, I’ll return to the store. What sort of brides will I find there then? I picture those future brides as little girls today, looking in the mirror of their bedrooms, wondering what the future holds for them.