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Book Review: "College Bound and Gagged"

A Stand-Up Comic/Psychotherapist's Take on College Apps

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Book Review:

"College Bound and Gagged" by Nancy Berk

Courtesy Nancy Berk Media LLC

A new genre of college application advice books has emerged recently - a hybrid of practical advice and stand-up comedy, designed to set anxious parents at ease. You'll find them in self-published stacks at parent education talks and, when they're done really well, written up in major magazines. They're typically written by a multi-career-hyphenate author, such as Nancy Berk, a blogger, author and stand-up comic with a Ph.D in clinical psychology. The prose is arranged in bullet points and blog-type entries, with a one-liner every few lines. And their bios always include a sentence like this: A cross between Mindy Kaling and Dr. Spock, blah-blah has just written "Blah." In this case, Berk is compared with Tina Fey and Dr. Phil of Oprah fame, and the book is "College Bound and Gagged."

Parent Ed Talks & College Apps Advice

In "College Bound and Gagged," the full goal, besides making parents laugh, lies in the subtitle, "How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind." What it sounds most like, though, are those parent ed talks at the high school, where anxioius parents shiver in a chilly school auditorium, nervously clutching SAT and FAFSA paperwork as a witty speaker mixes apps advice with jokes. You can feel your stress levels drop with each laugh and even if the jokes aren't necessarily all that great, you're grateful. Afterward, you join the line of relieved parents to shake hands and - what's that? The author has a table full of books, nicely bound in that self-published way by Blurb or Lulu, perhaps, so you fork over $15.95 and take one home. Berk's book is published by Nancy Berk Media LLC and it's available through her website, as well as Amazon.com.

A Pittsburgh mother of two, blogger for Huffington Post, MORE Magazine and other publications, and frequent public speaker, Berk has gone through the apps wringer with her own kids. She's done the college tours, sweated over her kids' SAT prep and watched longingly as the all-important envelopes arrived = while her kid was away and she'd been forbidden to open anything. She hits all the main points in these 170 pages and offers up tips on organization, motivation and college visit survival. Everything is presented in chunky bits - bulletted lists, blog-type entries and dotted call-outs that warn parents, for example, not to wear fanny packs, tube tops or tube shirts on campus tours.

But the constant barrage of witticisms will either delight or annoy. A section on college visits, for example, includes five parent stereotypes, including the Hipster (who sounds more like an unbuttoned-shirt-wearing lounge lizard than any definition of hipster I've run across), the Tourist and so on. The chapter on test prep includes four parent stereotypes, including the Drill Sergeant, the Desperately Creative Parent and the Obnoxious Other Parent. And the "let's get started" section includes, yes, five parent stereotypes, including the Truth Teller, the Doomsday Storyteller and the Aggressive Competitor.

That said, I laughed out loud at the teen thought-process flow chart for when a parent tries to initiate the college dialogue. "If I ignore them, will they leave? Yes - proceed with preferred activity. No - Exhale loudly... roll eyes."

It's a fun little book - and Berk's talks are probably wildly entertaining. If you're looking for straight dollar value, with a high ratio of practical advice per page, there are plenty of other, more useful books, including "How to Survive Getting Into College" from Hundreds of Heads and "Write Your College Essay in Less Than a Day" by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross. But if you're looking for laughs amid the tips, then you might enjoy this.

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