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read now, ask again later

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 by kate

You wouldn’t think a story about cancer would be very funny, but author Jill Davis takes a sometimes morbid diagnosis and isn’t afraid to show the humor in it.

“Within a week of my mother’s diagnosis, she started interviewing caterers for her own postfuneral luncheon.”

Emily, Davis’ main character in “Ask Again Later,” uses her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis as an excuse to quit her high-stress job as a lawyer, leave her boyfriend and move back home. While it seems as though she’s running away from her life, Emily is slapped in the face by her past.

Davis cuts up her story into bite-sized segments so it’s easily digestible. Chapters such as “Wacky Sock Day,” “Sharp Right Turn” and “Funeral Food” seem silly, but are all layers, uncovering Emily’s quirky traits and the lives of others around her – her bachelor father who eats blue popsicles for breakfast; her batty mom who counts towels and tosses out those that aren’t part of a perfect set of six or eight; and her sister – a very pregnant socialite.

Davis has the ability to personify the simplest object, perfectly describing how people are faced with loss. “There is a wooden tray covered in felt. Cuff links sit there tarnishing, not knowing he’s dead.”

You find yourself bonding with Emily and her silly, irrational self. Her one-sided conversation with a baby about her enlarged pores: “He smiles. He knows stuff. He burps, and in that burp, I’m convinced, was a message: Try alpha hydroxyl.”

Emily shares illogical rationale that weirdly makes sense. “I’ve never had a mammogram, and I stopped doing self-exams after my mother was diagnosed, because I was afraid I’d find something I didn’t want to find.”

Davis, a former writer for the “Late Show with David Letterman,” has a witty voice that interweaves loss and mortality with love and a dash of crazy.

I picked up what I thought was chick-lit and finished a heartfelt exploration of a human facing the past and dealing with loss.

Barbie just has good genes

Thursday, April 10, 2008 by kate

Rethinking Thin” is chock full of scientific diet studies, translated into understandable English. It’s not your normal fluff diet book. New York Times science writer Gina Kolata digs deep into the bowels of dieting, citing studies that affirm what people struggling with their weight have believed for years: Being fat is not always a choice. One study examined adopted children and found that those whose biological parents were overweight were also overweight, regardless of how heavy their adoptive parents were.

Kolata weaves studies with society’s pressure to be thin and the mental anguish that overweight people endure. She also cites studies that show how difficult it is to keep weight off, and research that shows that childhood obesity is unavoidable, regardless of health education and health-food options at school.

For anyone struggling with their weight, this book is a relief. It tells you that you’re not crazy and that sometimes your body has a mind of its own. But Kolata almost victimizes fat people, ignoring the fact that some people are overweight simply because they eat too much.

Kolata’s point is a good one: Give up trying to reach that unattainable number, and focus on being healthy and happy with yourself.