Book World: Brooke Burke's memoir, 'The Naked Mom,' dances around reality

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 11:42 AM

At first glance, "The Naked Mom" does not look like a book that the average harried mother will embrace. Perhaps it's the nudity.

Yes, on the cover there's Brooke Burke - former bikini model, current co-host of "Dancing With the Stars" and now published author - all smiles and no clothes, tucking her knees in front of her body just strategically enough for prominent placement at Barnes & Noble. And there's the book jacket's promise of what this pseudo-memoir will deliver: fearless revelations, savvy advice and soulful reflections. Go ahead, ladies. Refrain from rolling your eyes. Can't do it without pulling a muscle, can you?

Indeed, it's hard to believe that this onetime Maxim cover girl, a woman who counts Denise Richards and Tori Spelling among her close friends and admits to having her own "glam squad," genuinely understands what it's like to handle day-care drop-offs, post-baby weight gain and toddlers who scream way past bedtime. Yet somehow, "The Naked Mom" turns out to be an often enjoyable, albeit frothy, read, one that presents Burke as a mostly down-to-earth mother of four who also happens to hang out with celebrity ballroom dancers for a living.

The book admittedly has a split personality; it can't decide whether it wants to be a memoir, a self-help title or a hardcover version of a mommy blog. But it's just fun and breezy enough to qualify as a guilty pleasure, one that also touches on practical matters, like how to condition your hair with guacamole. (Look, we said breezy. We did not say potential National Book Award winner.)

Burke, who is also co-chief executive of the Web site Modernmom.com, openly admits that she had some help with her first foray into authorhood. In the acknowledgments, she thanks former Washington Post reporter Tamara Jones for acting as her writing partner. It's hard to know where Jones's help ends and Burke's talent begins, but based on Burke's blog and her Twitter feed - which boasts 1.7 million followers - the celebrity mama's voice remains intact here. And that voice rings most true when Burke is at her bluntest, such as her appraisal of the goal of work-life balance: "Balance," she says, "is bull [expletive]. End of story."

She also writes with wry humor about managing her four children, two of whom she had with her first husband, plastic surgeon Garth Fisher, and two of whom are the product of her relationship with fiance David Charvet.

"When Shaya hit his terrible twos," she says of her youngest, "his tantrums were so over the top that we once actually had to leave a zoo because we were disturbing the wildlife."

At moments like this, any reader can empathize with Burke, no matter what her dress size. She seems real. She seems funny. She seems like a woman you could trade potty-training tips with while waiting in line at Buy Buy Baby.

But then reality intrudes, and Burke starts to write like a sexy celebrity with sexy celebrity friends living a sexy life in Malibu that sounds pretty dreamy compared with the reality experienced by most Americans.

She begins sentences with: "I was going through a hellish period of my life several years ago, and I'll never forget the insight and advice I got from my makeup artist." Or she recalls what she said to a personal trainer shortly after delivering her first child: "This is not a time to be experimenting here. I need to be in Belize posing on a beach in a bikini in three months." (Oh, who hasn't said that postpartum?)

It's a classic case of celebrity tone deafness, and it undermines the book. I wish an editor had suggested she remove those sections, along with some of the sidebars and silly lists that pop up throughout the text. Readers want to know how a person like Burke juggles motherhood and a busy professional life, but they probably don't care that she includes Joss Stone and Sade on her playlist of songs to calm a chaotic house.

Some will pick up "The Naked Mom" purely to search for juicy backstage tidbits about "Dancing With the Stars." There are a few here and there; Burke writes at length about her experience as a contestant, and ultimately the winner, of the seventh season, noting that she wanted to be kicked off so badly at one point that she nearly cursed on live television when voters gave her permission to return for another week. She also insists that Kate Gosselin, who managed to clodhop her way through part of the 10th season, was "genuinely warm and likable" when the cameras were off. We'll have to take her word for it.

Burke confesses that she grew up equating beauty with stupidity. With "The Naked Mom," she may not have written a work that rivals Tolstoy, but she proves she's hardly stupid, even if that shot of her on the cover might force some intelligent people to hide her book when they're reading it on the Metro.


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