September 30, 2010

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Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work, by Tim Gunn with Ada Calhoun (2010, Gallery Books, 258 pages)

By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com

There is something inherently comforting about Tim Gunn.

Sure, the man is always dressed to the nines and seems unruffleable even when he is exclaiming over the horrors of someone’s lime green creation. But, just as you feel when you order a grilled cheese on rye or make a mug of hot chocolate with the little marshmallows, when Tim Gunn is around, you get the sense that things won’t go wrong.

Perhaps it’s “make it work,” his all-encompassing advice to the designers of Project Runway. “Make it work” isn’t just “get the job done” or “make sure what you do is perfect,” it’s something like “starting from this moment with what you now have to work with, give it your absolute best effort and believe in the outcome.” It’s like the “you go to war with the army you have” saying but less defeatist. As with his other most uttered phrase — “carry on” — it projects confidence and stiff-upper-lip-ness, but with optimism.

You read Gunn’s Golden Rules, which looks like it’s going to be a book of advice but reads like a shockingly honest autobiography, and you get the sense that “make it work” is Gunn down to his very core. He tells us about his romantic disappointments and the friction-filled relationship with his parents but he also makes it work with his tales of being a contented adult (asexual, for the most part, he tells us since a love affair gone wrong years ago) and a loving uncle. He talks about celebrities but, while it occasionally feels dishy, it never feels mean-spirited. Somehow, he makes dishy work — this isn’t gossip, this is illumination of the point that if you’re going to have people carry you down the stairs (cough, Anna Wintour) then you need to be able to own it and get used to the idea that people will see you carried down stairs.

Gunn’s golden rules — among them: get inspired if it kills you, know what to get off your chest and what to take to the grave, be a good guest or stay home — offer practical advice, bigger-picture life lessons and fun gossip. The chapter on being a guest includes a story about not being afraid to keep portions small (Michelle Obama does it), a gentle criticism of the way Martha Stewart overdoes the make-it-yourself and a gracious way to extricate yourself from a party at which unexpected guests have arrived. (I would love to be invited to Tim Gunn parties and I equally love that he, like me, will go but also wish he could be at home, bum in chair, eyes on television.)

Gunn’s Golden Rules is a speedy, charming read. He is the man you think he is and the book gives you the him you think you’d get if you could go to coffee with him between rounds of offering Project Runway contestants advice about sleeves or the taste level of their garment. Fix yourself a mug of cocoa and relax into some dishy discussion of making it work. B —

Amy Diaz