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The Year I Stopped Shopping, Had Lots of Sex, Cooked Street Pigeon . . .

It’s one kind of memoir that won’t fall out of publishing-world favor anytime soon: Do something kooky for a year (from transvestitism to aggressive promiscuity) and then write about lessons learned. A look at four new entries in the thriving subgenre.

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NOT BUYING IT, Judith Levine
Experiment and Rationale
Lefty intellectual and her life partner, Paul, buy “only necessities for sustenance, health, and business” for a year.
Darkest Hour
The author, a part-time Vermonter, misplaces her beloved SmartWool socks. “My socks are lost. So am I.” Also, almost forced to ski without wax.
Unexpected Pleasure
Pays off her $7,956.21 credit-card bill.
Most Flagrant Cheating
In Burlington, buys a $97 pair of pants in a “greenish jacquard silk-polyester blend.” “Reader, I am fallen.”
Ironic Life Lesson
Consuming may drive you crazy with work and desire, but abstaining can drive you crazy with boredom: “I’ve contemplated Nirvana and longed for Prozac.”


THE YEAR OF YES, Maria Dahvana Headley
Experiment and Rationale
NYU student agrees to date every mime and cabdriver and septuagenarian who approaches her.
Darkest Hour
Meets a homeless man claiming to be Jimi Hendrix; makes out with him just to spite a passing cop. “And maybe it was disgusting.”
Unexpected Pleasure
Wears a see-through makeshift bra to a club; winds up being French-kissed and fondled, possibly by Marilyn Manson.
Most Flagrant Cheating
Waiting for a date at a strip club, refuses to give a lap dance to a teenage boy who mistakes her for a stripper.
Ironic Life Lesson
True love comes where you most expect it—right at the end of the book.


SELF-MADE MAN, Norah Vincent
Experiment and Rationale
In massively hyped (but quite good) memoir, journalist passes as male—dating, visiting a men’s-movement group, even joining a bowling league—for eighteen months.
Darkest Hour
After frequenting a local “titty bar” where “despicable” bikers get quick blow jobs, “I just couldn’t make myself go anymore.”
Unexpected Pleasure
A player in her bowling league scores a perfect 300: “It was almost mythical . . . crystalline in its perfection.”
Most Flagrant Cheating
Eventually reveals herself to everyone, including a woman who’s about to sleep with her. The woman does it anyway.
Ironic Life Lesson
Women can be just as irritating, cruel, and boring as men are. Dating them as a man made her “a momentary misogynist.”


THE SCAVENGER’S GUIDE TO HAUTE CUISINE, Steven Rinella
Experiment and Rationale
Author spends a year re-creating recipes from Le Guide Culinaire, master chef Auguste Escoffier’s bizarre 1903 encyclopedia—even hunting down the exotic animals himself.
Darkest Hour
Rinella finds himself “stranded in an unheated house in minus-thirty-degree weather, trying to trap English sparrows.”
Unexpected Pleasure
The street-pigeon recipe is a hit at an end-of-book feast. “The flesh was as tender as a Reese’s peanut butter cup. And it was almost as sweet.”
Most Flagrant Cheating
Violates Escoffier’s strict “no substitutions” clause by resorting to Italian truffles instead of Périgord, an antelope’s bladder instead of a boar’s.
Ironic Life Lesson
Biodiversity makes for some great dinners. If we kill off exotic species, then we won’t be able to eat them.


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