Making out with Matt Damon, and other confessions by Faith Salie

Faith Salie isn’t the most famous graduate of North Springs High School in Sandy Springs — that would be a three-way tie between UsherRaven-Symone and John (“Bo Duke”) Schneider.

But, she insists, she is the only one of the four who can claim the title of “Miss Aphrodite.”

(Salie will talk about Miss Aphrodite and other rites of passage during an appearance in Atlanta on May 2 at SCADShow.)

Miss Aphrodite is the beauty pageant at which the young ladies of North Springs (now North Springs Charter School) struggle to distinguish themselves as representatives of their school and the goddess of love.

The Miss Aphrodite tiara demonstrates that Salie, now 45 and a smart-mouthed New Yorker, a correspondent on “CBS News Sunday Morning,” a comedian and a regular panelist on the public radio game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” did indeed spend her Wonder Years in the land of the magnolia.

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To the readers of her new memoir, “Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much,” she explains that a beauty pageant is not an unusual activity for a Southern high school girl. Further, she adds, if you don’t understand that, “your people were probably on the chilly side in the War of Northern Aggression.”

These snapshots of Atlanta life in the 1980s and her self-deprecating humor are among the charms of Salie’s book. Then again, there’s the obvious question: How do you manage self-deprecation when you’re a media celebrity, attractive, successful and a Rhodes scholar?

Peter Sagal, the host of “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” sums it up in his blurb: “If it is a comfort to you, as it is to me, to find that somebody as smart, sophisticated, funny, accomplished, graceful, witty, and (not incidentally) drop dead gorgeous as Faith Salie is, inside, a weird, sopping mess of crippling insecurities, just like you are — then keep this book close at hand.”

The book is at once a joke fest (she calls her preparations for an Internet dating service meetup a “tête-à-tête offensive”) and a bittersweet confessional about the results of marrying the wrong person.

Quite frequently, the two moods share the same paragraph. “There have been dark hours and deep losses and that’s how life is,” she said, in a conversation from her Manhattan apartment. “Funny unexpectedly bumps up against the deeply sad all the time.”

The combination makes the book a better story, and shows that Salie doesn’t accept easy answers. For example, being a slave to approval is a bad thing, she acknowledges, but loving approval isn’t wrong. A desire for approval triggers many of our most constructive behaviors: getting good grades, writing good jokes, winning beauty contests.

And Salie doesn’t intend to stop striving. Of her competitive instinct on the radio show, which includes a “lightning” quiz on current events, she says, “I study for this show like Tracy Flick on Adderall.”

(Tracy Flick is Reese Witherspoon’s over-achieving character in the 1999 movie “Election.” And that’s typical Harvard-educated Salie. She knows how to reference Proust and Reese Witherspoon in the same conversation.)

Salie, a Boston Catholic, lived in Atlanta from age 6 to age 18 — “long enough to release me from my horrible Boston accent.”

While she claims to be more of a Southerner of expedience than a native, she also says, “There’s a soft spot in my heart for Atlanta.”

Salie returned to Atlanta in February when “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” was performed in front of a live audience at the Fox Theatre, and she had the opportunity to tutor Sagal, the show’s host, on the correct use of the term “y’all.”

“Trisha Yearwood gave me props for that.”

Even more recently, while the dogwood petals were drifting through the March breeze, Salie was host at the InVenture competition at Georgia Tech. Her mother, who is a central character in the book, and whose cancer death (in Atlanta) is its central tragedy, called those drifting petals “Atlanta snow.”

“It’s such a beautiful sign of spring,” Salie said. “She loved that. And to see them now, and to be a mother (myself) makes my heart ache.”

Salie’s treacherous journey out of the wrong marriage, into the right one, and finally into a long-delayed motherhood is the backbone of the story, with plenty of adventures along the way.

The story is candid and yet she provides hardly any detail of heavy petting with Matt Damon when they were both at Harvard. A missed opportunity?

Perhaps. Or perhaps her roots are showing. After all, a Southern lady doesn’t kiss and tell.

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