A review of Three of the Best: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Everything by Candace Lewis & Margaret O’Sullivan

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Three of the Best:
The Modern Woman’s Guide to Everything
by Candace Lewis and Margaret O’Sullivan 
ABC Books
ISBN: 9780733323645, December 2008, 240pgs, paperback, rrp$24.95

I have to admit upfront that I’m not big on self-help books. The advice that they tend to provide is too pat, and often a little shallow: like the kind of article you might read quickly for relaxation, and then forget instantly in a woman’s magazine. That said, we can all use a bit of advice on how to improve ourselves. Besides, after a heady novel, there’s nothing quite like sliding into the warm innocuousness of “how to firm the upper arms,” or “a guide to keeping the skin soft.” Three of the Best was written on the principle that life is too short to have extensive choices. So authors Candace Lewis and Margaret O’Sullivan have done a kind of survey of a range of issues that modern women face, and have chosen the three best ways of addressing those.

As you might expect with such a broad remit, it’s a wide sweep or random sampling under the headings of fit, beautiful, peace, fuel, survival, downtime, and standup. It couldn’t be simpler, but it’s certainly easy to read and remember. For example, under Fit, you might find things like the three best tips for good heath – drink more water, move more, and eat more real food. Sounds like reasonable resolutions to me. For beautiful, there are such things as avoiding aging, make-up tips, and how to have great hair (they don’t mention making sure you’re born with decent genes).

The book is absolutely full of tips, from how to create a relaxing environment, to recipes for simple meals, how to stay passionate (I won’t give you those tips, in case they don’t work), how to shop on line, do a reverse park (and boy do I need that one – I read it and forgot it immediately, but fortunately there are only three things to remember so I’m going to re-read it when I finish this review), read food labels, maintain a work-life balance, and even how to do first aid.

It’s a nifty guide, and in its pretty old-fashioned cover, conjures up Mrs Beeton. And it’s true. There are too many choices of everything from which lip colour suits me best, to which recipe I should cook tonight. Simplicity makes sense.

If Three of the Best tends just a wee bit towards the facile, that’s probably just due to the nature of its subject. It isn’t easy to cover the details of how to live properly with just three key points. The book is well written enough though, and doesn’t focus too much on the outside: there are plenty of tips to ensure that you’re giving enough attention to your family, your brain, and your soul.

All in all, Lewis and O’Sullivan have done a very clever job of distilling just about everything you need to know about life into seven key areas, and then providing three things that you need to know on that topic. If you need more than that, well you probably are too serious a person anyway.

If you know someone who loves magazines, this is the perfect gift, as it’s more portable, and more pithy, and easier to refer to. Choice is nice, but having someone else tell me what’s good for me is fun, and you never know, I might even learn to reverse park properly, or at the very least, have more moisture in my hair. It’s worth a try.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.