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SINGLE LIFE

Mail on Book Review Is Defensive, Offensive

March 02, 1990|EVAN CUMMINGS | Evan Cummings is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

A tongue-in-cheek book review of "How to Date Young Women (for Men Over 35)," written and self-published by R. Don Steele of Whittier, appeared in this column on Jan. 19.

Steele defined younger women as those between the ages of 18 and 24.

My critique of the book stated that, as a single woman over 35, I hardly needed to be reminded that older men often prefer dating young women, revealing that I, too, can be petty, shallow and envious, especially since I was once one of those young women from whom older men begged company.

I did not imagine that there would be such a strong reaction from what I assume are die-hard Steele fans. Letters came from California, Arizona, New Jersey and New York. Such an outpouring deserves a response.

It matters not one whit to me whom people choose to date. I have enjoyed the company of older men and younger men, doctors, writers, tinkers, tailors and candlestick makers, and have found each delightful in his own way.

It was the lascivious "how-to" slant of the book that offended me and half a dozen over-35 males to whom I loaned the book. Contrary to the assessment of some of the gentlemen letter-writers, my reaction was not that of a personally and professionally frustrated matron.

A man from New Jersey insisted that I had played a "downright dirty unrespectable trick" on the author, misinterpreting what I had read.

The book is not Faust. It was not difficult to read, understand or interpret. Passages to which I referred were quoted verbatim et literatim.

The most interesting letter--a three-page, hand-printed letter on Harvard Club of New York letterhead--came from a man who lives in Palos Verdes Estates. He compared my book review with the actions of a hunter: "After he had stalked and shot a deer, he stood above the carcass, and with glossy, bulging eyes, he pumped about 10 additional rounds into the dead body with a glee that left everyone silent and sickened for the rest of the day." Criticizing a book and killing a beautiful animal are not comparable. I have never hunted in my life.

The letter writer then suggested that I phone him so that we could have lunch and, with "a few margaritas, who knows, maybe . . . relive some of that glee." Perhaps Steele's book wasn't able to bag him a young woman yet.

Mr. Harvard Club of New York also criticized my writing style, which he says is grammatically awkward. As any erudite man should know, writing style has changed in newspaper reporting since the 1950s, when he was living out presumably halcyon days in the Ivy League.

His primary concern, however, seemed to be centered on my use of the word "nymphet," a descriptive word I used when referring to Steele's advice that men not show visible signs of lust when approaching these young women: "Nymphets," I wrote, "apparently don't react well to hanging tongues or incessant slobbering." Mr. H.C.N.Y. insists that the word "nymphet" refers to prepubescent girls.

In ancient mythology, nymphs were among the lesser goddesses, maidens living in the mountains, forests, meadows and waters. Extrapolated, this term has become synonymous with a waiting, beautiful or sensuous woman.

He argued that my use of the word implies that Steele is encouraging the abuse of very young girls. Trust me: When you're my age, an 18- to 24-year-old woman seems like a nymphet by comparison.

He further stressed that my critical "distortion" is "the basis for all ignorant prejudice and consequent ill-fated actions" in the world today. Equating a singles column that criticizes a manual showing older men how to pick up young girls to the world's prejudice is an insult to people who have truly suffered the inhumanity of bigotry.

Finally, he closed with "that you may have wasted your youth on silly boys may be the sad fact." (He doesn't know that in one's youth, silly boys are the best kind.)

"Perhaps," he continued, "you would like a man to refer to in these times of trying need. I remain, of course, as always, at your service."

In typical "good ol' boy" fashion, he castigated me by attacking my desirability quotient. The obvious inference is that a woman who takes Steele to task must be sexually frustrated, in need of a real he-man. Shoot me if I get that desperate.

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