Honore de Balzac said that marriage is a science. But anyone who has ever planned one knows that weddings are an art. Fortunately, there are numerous new books to help you create your own matrimonial masterpiece.

Real Weddings: A Celebration of Personal Style is a tribute to that diversity. With description that leaves you feeling like you were the guest of honor, Bride's magazine's managing editor Sally Kilbridge tells the personal stories of 16 couples on their special day. Mallory Samson's colorful photographs capture each intimate detail, while painting the big picture of these perfect parties. It's a treat to read about the love stories and behind-the-scenes planning that led to weddings inspired by home, heritage, summer, and fantasy.

How do you keep the terrifying ring of the cash register from deafening the lovely ring of wedding bells? That's what Deborah McCoy answers in her book, The Elegant Wedding and the Budget Savvy Bride. This step-by-step guide shares secrets and strategies to saving money without sacrificing bridal bliss. McCoy, a wedding consultant who owns a bridal salon, starts with ten commandments of wedding planning that underscore the need for forethought, education, and common sense. Along with advice on everything from engagement rings to honeymoons, The Elegant Wedding and the Budget-Savvy Bride provides checklists for vendor contracts, questions to ask yourself and the professionals you hire, and handy budgeting sheets. By showing you how to prioritize and organize, McCoy backs up her simple but comforting theme: Being tasteful will save you money.

Of course, footing the bill is just one of the challenges of planning your big day. In The Couple's Wedding Survival Manual, Michael R. Perry details many more and offers some funny, yet helpful, suggestions for managing the madness. Operating under the assumption that, the human capacity for bickering knows no limits, Perry offers up his final word on topics like in-law management, guest list etiquette, and hassle-free honeymoons. Best of all are his frequent reminders to keep things in perspective. "You can have an all-kazoo orchestra, a minister with halitosis . . . and a limo that smells like formaldehyde," writes Perry. And at the end of the wedding day, you'll still be married which is, after all, the goal.

It is not just the happy couple that needs a sense of humor as they walk down the aisle. Bridesmaids, who traditionally have little say in the dresses they wear, must keep their chins up as they drown in those expensive taffeta terrors that sometimes make Cinderella seem underdressed. Despite the bride's good intentions, don't you just know you'll never wear that frightful gown again? Cindy Walker comes to the rescue with 101 Uses for a Bridesmaid Dress. Among the places where these frilly frocks are always in vogue, says Walker, are a Tara Revisited party or during your stint as guest host of Wheel of Fortune. Donna Mehalko's wicked illustrations do justice to the book's sublimely silly tone. With tongue-in-cheek recycling suggestions, including everything from a vicious scarecrow to a deluxe sleeping divan for your cat, 101 Uses for a Bridesmaid Dress is a great present for a bride to give her tolerant attendants.

Besides making the bride look good, what are a bridesmaid's duties? Emily Post will answer that and many other etiquette questions in the latest edition of Emily Post's Wedding Planner, Third Edition. The latest version serves as a companion to the bridal classic, Emily Post's Weddings. This interactive wedding planner guides you through the ins and outs of creating the big day with to-do lists, cost breakdown sheets, pockets to store contracts and a calendar, and an address book to store all vendor information. Who should attend the rehearsal? What are the hidden costs to look out for in contracts? Do you need to invite unmarried significant others? Author Peggy Post also guides you through the legalities and proprieties of each step along the bridal path.

Emily Post is among the experts quoted in Vera Lee's Something Old, Something New. An unmarried girl should not go alone on overnight trips with any young man, even with her fiance, says Post in Lee's lighthearted look at matrimony. Famous folks as diverse as William Longfellow and Dorothy Parker weigh in with their entertaining opinions and advice on the institution of marriage. Experienced bride Zsa Zsa Gabor says, I personally adore marriage . . . I even cry at weddings. Especially my own. But Something Old, Something New is primarily a fascinating glimpse into marital history and customs from all over the world. If you are going to be showered with rice, it's nice to know why traditionally the grain has been a symbolic wish for a large harvest of babies.

With the stress and confusion that planning a wedding can bring, Lee's book is a wonderful reminder that getting married should be fun. But staying married is hard work. Marg Stark's What No One Tells the Bride presents an honest look at the difficulties that naturally ensue after a couple takes the big plunge. Stark shares her own experiences, and those of 50 brides she interviewed, to offer real-life scenarios of for-better-or-worse. Sidebars provide the ultimate girl-talk confessions and advice, revealing the ambivalence, misconceptions, and disappointment that can sometimes follow you down the aisle. What No One Tells the Bride is not whiny or male-bashing. Stark herself is happily married with no regrets. Her book is frank, yet optimistic and helpful, advising newlyweds to, talk about the exquisite joy there is awakening every day with the same person . . . and enjoy the way marriage surprises the soul.

Emily Abedon is a writer in Charleston, South Carolina.

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