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Bookshelf: Looking for love with Webb, Eisenberg

"Data: A Love Story" by Amy Webb (Dutton,

"Data: A Love Story" by Amy Webb (Dutton, January 2013) Credit: Handout

Meet Ophira Eisenberg and Amy Webb, two recently married ladies with very different memoirs about finding love -- one of rip-roaring chaos, one of obsessive control.

Eisenberg is a stand-up comedian from Calgary, Canada, now hosting a trivia show on NPR; "Screw Everyone: How I Slept My Way to Monogamy" (Seal Press, $16 paper) is the tale of her sexual coming of age. This alarming process lasted about 15 years, screeching to a halt only when she accidentally fell into the hands of Mr. Right.

"Accidentally" is the key word in Eisenberg's approach. As she explains in the introduction, "If we were talking about food, I'd be considered 'adventurous,' in wine circles, 'unpretentious,' and in dating terms, 'a slut.'"

Eisenberg's '80s adolescence sounds much like my '70s one -- "It is possible to get good grades AND take acid" -- with a different soundtrack. She dates a bass player whose band covers U2's "With or Without You"; she meets his successor at a Midnight Oil concert. Infected by Australia fever, the lovers plan a trip Down Under, only to break up before departure. She decides to go alone, then falls madly in love with an older man just before she leaves. Before all is said and done, she is forced to flee Canada altogether.

Bingo! In the Big Apple destiny awaits, hiding just behind a Middle-Eastern cokehead and a guy with a Garfield obsession.

There are few sentences in this book that aren't funny; Eisenberg remains unapologetic yet lovable all the way through. You wouldn't expect this story to end with 1,000 origami birds and a secret wedding, but you'll be smiling when it does.

On the other side of the personality universe lies Amy Webb, international reporter-turned-Internet consultant. Like Eisenberg, Webb gives a lot away in her introduction, titled "This isn't a typical introduction. Start here first!" Such instructions to the reader are a hallmark of Webb's persona. "Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match" (Dutton, $25.95) tells how she put her geeky inner control freak to work in pursuit of romance.

Webb returns to the States from Japan because she fears she'll never find a husband over there, then meets a seeming soul mate in the airport on the way. The relationship takes her to a new town and a new job, but falls apart just around the time she is laid off and learns her mother is dying.

Feeling anxious, she tries therapy, arriving at the first session with binders containing spreadsheets charting "every major and minor moment of my life, in chronological order" and "all the panic attacks I'd had, noting time of day, location, immediate response (did I black out, or did I just feel anxious?), events leading up to the attack, and what happened right after. I mapped some of that data looking for trends, and I color-coded the results I saw."

The therapist suggests she take the binders home and keep them in "a very private place."

This is where Eisenberg and Webb overlap: crazy, but self-aware. Both know just what you're thinking.

Impressed by rumors of the scientific algorithms used by matchmaking sites, Webb signs up for several. When posting unflattering photos and her professional resumé doesn't work, she goes into battle mode. She develops a 72-item list and 1,500-point rubric to quantify what she is looking for in a man, including an Apatow/Seinfeld scale for evaluating sense of humor. She purchases office supplies. She researches the history of online dating. Then she creates several male profiles to "game the system" and find out what the other girls are doing.

It turns out they have profiles that use words like "fun" instead of words like "HTML." Instead of looking like somebody's "schlubby Aunt Esther," they are cute, often blond and show skin.

Once she has scientifically deduced what everyone else already knows, as well as put on some makeup and lost a little weight, Webb takes one more step. She expands the geographical region for potential mates to a 100-mile radius.

Guess who lives 99.3 miles away?

On the Eisenberg/Webb scale of dating types, most of us fall somewhere in the middle -- but in the end, I'm not sure procedure matters. You try this, you try that, you stop trying, you hope you get lucky. And a little light reading while you wait never hurts.

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