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Author Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer (herein "Dr. Ruth") is generally considered to be a household name, as she rose to fame in the early 1980s with her live radio program, Sexually Speaking. In fact, this was my own first exposure to Dr. Ruth: my friends and I would listen to our respective radios late Sunday nights, and during our Monday lunch period, we would share what we had learned the previous night. Dr. Ruth's humorous yet completely honest responses to her callers was the best sex education any of us could have asked for. The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life, and Joie de Vivre provides a look into eighty-seven years lived by the famous sex therapist. Yet as the subtitle suggests,The Doctor Is In purports to be more than a memoir. Rather, Dr. Ruth uses her personal experiences as an opportunity to encourage her readers to live a life filled with joie de vivre--that sense of exulting in the joy of being alive.
The fact that Dr. Ruth cultivated joie de vivre in her own life is somewhat remarkable given her backstory. At the age of ten, she was sent from her native Germany to Switzerland--accompanied by numerous other Jewish children--never to see her father, mother, or grandmother again. Post-Switzerland, she followed other displaced Jews to Palestine, where she assisted in the growing fight for the independence of Israel. In Palestine, Dr. Ruth was told that she could no longer use her German first name, Karola, and so she became known by her middle name, Ruth. It was also in Palestine that she met and married her first husband, although his work took them to Paris. They eventually divorced, and when Dr. Ruth married for the second time, it was she who brought her then-husband to the United States. She divorced again, but not before having her first child, Miriam. Dr. Ruth, who had no high school education and had only enrolled in some college classes in Paris, went on to obtain a graduate degree in Sociology and a Doctorate of Education from Columbia University Teacher's College.
As Dr. Ruth shares these stories, she also imparts her advice. For example, the lesson from the chapter on her marriages (there were three--third time was the charm) was "open yourself up to love." Each chapter includes a message, such as "Always Move Forward" and "Recognize That It Is Never Too Late." Within the chapters themselves, Dr. Ruth continues to offer truisms from her long life, including "focus on the present," "embrace your passions," and "actively combat boredom" (note that as a sex therapist, she believes the latter is particularly important both in and out of the bedroom). Yes, some of her suggestions are a bit clichéd, but Dr. Ruth's tone is fun and light-hearted, and her personal history lends a bit of gravitas to what she is saying. What I found more problematic was the organization--or lack thereof--in the book. Dr. Ruth jumps around wildly, shifting between past and present, from one loosely connected story to the next. It is unfortunate that her co-author, Pierre A. Lehu, who is also her publicist and author of twenty-five of his own books, was unable to reign in Dr. Ruth's stream of consciousness.
In addition to her tendency to ramble, Dr. Ruth also comes across as having a bit of an ego, talking about the brilliant "Westheimer maneuvers" she has been able to pull off, the celebrity status she has acquired for herself, her ability to be a "rainmaker," and more. Still, despite these issues, Dr. Ruth accomplishes her goal of conveying joie de vivre to her audience. The one thing I truly found to be deficient in this book was the lack of photographs: most memoirs have them, and Dr. Ruth even emphasizes the importance of having pictures in her life, so their absence seems glaring here. But photographs or no photographs, the joie de vivre of this octogenarian sex therapist shines through the pages of The Doctor Is In.
© 2015 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.