Monday, May 30, 2011

Next week

Next week: Chelsea Handler's Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me.

The Happiness Project

RUBIN, GRETCHEN. The Happiness Project. New York: Harper, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-06-158326-1. Pp. 296. $14.99.

Gretchen Rubin makes a noble effort over the course of one year to be a happier person, and has inspired many others to do the same. Her plan is very meticulous, organized, and well-researched (the lady went to Yale for undergrad and law school, so...). Which may be why I couldn't get into this book. It certainly got me thinking about a lot of things, but I don't think I can make charts and ponder "eternity" (what does that mean?) for an entire month. Which is fine, according to Rubin. Everyone is going to have a different kind of happiness project. What's fun for some, isn't fun for others. Interestingly, Rubin and I do think the same things are fun: reading. I guess that's just one thing, but it's important because we think of reading (and writing) in the same, obsessive way. Nevertheless, Rubin left me cold for one reason. Poor girl doesn't have a sense of humor (she does acknowledge this, but that only adds to the humorlessness of the book). I found her tendency to quote Samuel Johnson, Tolstoy, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux on every page kind of, well, pompous. As the magnificent Keith Richards would put it, "it's all the blah blah blah".

Rubin's Happiness Project is organized into eleven categories, including marriage, parenting, and friendship. The author works on each of these for a month, doing simple, sometimes minuscule chores in order to be a better wife/mother/friend. The twelfth month is a boot-campy, go back and do-it-all-at-once type thing. It's probably the shortest chapter. Maybe she didn't make it. Anyway, for each month, Rubin sets up several small tasks, such as gathering all her friends' birthdays so she can send birthday e-mails. While for many of us, this would only take a minute (who has time for friends anyway?--Hi Joey, I've owed you an e-mail for over a month, probably. I miss you, does this count??), but for Rubin, this is a massive undertaking. She does seem to go to an awful lot of cocktail and dinner parties.

I should really reiterate how much this book can get you thinking. Maybe not on every page, but I think it did make me more thoughtful when it comes to living with Koch. I actually tried one of her suggestions and called him at work to tell him about something stupid I'd done. His response: "So why are you calling to tell me this?" Fail. But that's not the only thing. And I did notice that he cleaned out the cat box even though it wasn't necessarily his turn. But more importantly, I realized that I have been working on my own Happiness Project of sorts without necessarily realizing it, and that is very reassuring.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Next week

Next week: Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.

The Dukan Diet

DUKAN, PIERRE. The Dukan Diet. New York: Crown Archetype, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-307-88796-2. Pp. 279. $26.00.

To give this diet a proper test-period, I'll have to wait another month before I can officially say that I've lost a good deal of weight by following its guidelines. Because the whole point of the diet, really, is not only to lose weight, but also to keep it off permanently. Let me just say this: I lost five pounds in one day, and have not gained it back yet. That was almost a week ago, and I haven't eaten a proper portion of carbohydrates and Koch made himself a pizza tonight and I had to watch him eat it and then I ate a genetically modified chicken breast that could feed a family of four to compensate and oh dear God kill me.

Here's how the diet works. The "Attack Phase," which is really a purely motivational phase, involves losing an enormous amount of weight in a very short period of time, less than a week. This extreme weight loss then motivates you to continue the diet until the day your previously-over-weight body expires. This initial phase involves eating nothing but protein: low-fat meat, eggs (limiting yourself to two egg yolks a day), and non-fat dairy products. Let me tell you, doing this for one day was rough, given that my meals tend to subsist of a vegetable, some chicken, and a pound of melted cheese. Knowing the strength of my cheese-addiction, I went out and bought a bag of shredded fat-free cheddar cheese, which, when melted, adopts the same consistency and tastelessness as old chewing gum. Unfortunately, I didn't learn this until my lunch hour at work, when I stuffed my face with a quarter pound of turkey topped with this awful stuff. Also, a quarter pound of turkey with a little bit of melted, fat-free cheddar cheese will not provide you with a satisfying meal. You will then wander around the deserted university where you work, looking for something that adheres to the rules. The only thing you will find is a bag of "beef nuggets" in a vending machine. In my case, I chose starvation. Then, five hours later, when you go home, you will throw two eggs, another quarter pound of turkey, and some more fake cheese into a pan and then eat the monstrosity that you've created. I'm telling you all this, because Dr. Dukan does not.

Anyway, the next day I was five pounds lighter than I've been in the last five years. The trick now is to not gain it back. This is hard too. It involves eating only two servings of carbs a week, one serving of cheese a day (that's a third of my usual intake!!), and one serving of fruit a day. It's rough.

As far as reading material goes, this is classiest-looking diet book I've ever seen. It also seems to have been designed to deter male user-ship. Maybe this diet doesn't work well on men? Someone look into that.

And, although too repetitive to be read straight through, which is what I did, this book made me laugh more than Tina Fey's memoir. Dr. Dukan isn't intentionally hilarious, he's just so damn French. The North American edition begins with a special preface thanking America for saving France from the Nazi Occupation, on behalf of Dr. Dukan's Jewish father. Dr. Dukan is thus offering us the Dukan Diet in compensation. Pretty weak. Then, in the preface, he describes the patient who inspire the diet, who was "obese, jovial, and tremendously cultivated" and whose chair "creaked under his weight" when he sat down. I don't think this snide remark would have been acceptable for an American nutritionist to put in his diet book. But coddling his patients isn't Dukan's style. Most people have "found in food an easy 'escape valve' through which they can release excess tension, stress, and life's all too frequent disappointments". Whoa. Also, "People who have lost weight know instrinctively that on their own, and without any support, they will not be able to preserve this victory". Here are some of my other favorite blunt Dukavisms: "too much fat, apart from our inevitable disgust, would pose a major risk to the cardiovascular system"; "To my mind, [chewing gum] is extremely useful in the fight against weight problems...I do not usually chew gum myself, as chewing is inelegant"; "If you have lost [25-35 pounds], you will have to relearn how to use your body, which you once considered, and understandably, as just another weight to carry around and a burden to your freedom".

In a months time, I will let you know if I've regained the weight I lost. I do know that Koch has turned into a giant slice of pizza wearing an orange t-shirt. I may not be able to resist...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chasing Fire

ROBERTS, NORA. Chasing Fire. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011. 978-0-399-15744-8. Pp. 472. $27.95.

I have to admit that I got pretty worked up reading Nora Roberts's latest novel. The woman's oeuvre consists of almost 200 titles, 400 million copies of which are currently in print. God help us all. While Roberts is not the worst author I've had to read for this blog, her values are, to say the very least, misguided.

But first: this is a novel about a fire jumping base. Fire jumping (I'm explaining this because I didn't know it existed until I read this book) is the fire fighting practice of parachuting out an airplane and into a forest fire. It requires extensive training and a great physical condition.

The novel's heroine is fire jumper Rowan Tripp, golden haired, blue eyed, who can clock in a 5k at fifteen minutes, twenty seconds (a time, by the way, that would qualify her for the Olympics). She's tough and smart (I think this is mentions at least 120 times over the course of the novel, in case we dare doubt it's veracity). She's an alpha female. Which means that she's a woman who behaves like a sexist man. Herself a natural blond, she calls another blond she just met "Barbie"; she encourages her trainees by saying things like "you look like a bunch of girls strolling in a park". How does a girl stroll through the park? And how exactly is she different from a man strolling through a park? When "Barbie" struggles on an obstacle course, Rowan taunts her with "Do you want to jump fire or go back home and shop for shoes?" All this, and we're only on page 25. Of course, Rowan's behavior must be deemed acceptable because she's just a woman with an "attitude". Unfortunately, I still managed to be as offended by all this as I would be had Rowan been a man. Readers may be reassured to know that the men in the book are equally chauvinist. "Women suck" is something of a mantra in this novel.

Apart from outright sexism, getting into bar fights is the other half of the novel's honor code. The one night the entire team goes to a bar together, no less than three bar fights break out, leaving a number of the crew members unable to jump fire for the next few days. Do they get fired because of this? Nope, because they were defending their (or a woman's) honor. Apparently, if one's job is heroic and dangerous enough, one can get away with almost anything. Just like what Bush was saying when we invaded Iraq!

Of course, one should give Roberts's readership the benefit of the doubt. People aren't actually going to read Chasing Fire and turn into a hoard of Rowan Tripps. Still, such a widely-read author should refrain from planting the idea that woman-hating and bar fights are a necessary good in American society today.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Next week

Next week: Nora Roberts's Chasing Fire.


FEY, TINA. Bossypants. New York: A Reagan Arthur Book, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-316-05686-1. Pp. 277. $26.99.

"I hope that's not really the cover. That's really going to hurt sales". You said it, Don Fey, Tina Fey's dad. What a sight it is, seeing row upon row of Tina Fey's memoir in the bestseller section, her adorable face staring out at me, her head cradled in those furry manhands. If it weren't for the cover, her book would be number one. Oh wait.

This is how funny Fey's book is: Kris and I sat down to watch Karate Kid 3 in sync with Rifftrax and I ended up reading through the whole thing. By the way, can you believe the kid in KK3 was almost thirty when they made that movie? Did he drink the waters of eternal youth when he was thirteen?

I'm stalling. I set out to write this blog so I could roast books, not drool over them. What's the point of writing a review when everything I have to say is positive, or, at worst, neutral? My one complaint is that Fey mentions her scar (six-year-old Tina, slasher, alley behind family home), saying, "I only bring it up to explain why I'm not going to talk about it". Then she talks about it for two pages. Two hilarious pages, I may add. Then there's my favorite part. A man driving by shouts at thirteen-year-old Tina "Nice tits". Her response? To yell back "Suck my dick". My hero.

Maybe the worst part about reading Fey's memoir was this: When Fey reproduces some of the awful things people say about her on the internet, I literally took them personally. I read that chapter and felt as if someone had just said the exact same things to me. It was creepy. I don't aspire to be Tina Fey, or do what she does. But I immediately assumed that whoever hates Tina Fey hates me. Because, you know, I'm an adorable, hilarious woman with an Emmy-award winning television show in which I star across Alec Baldwin.