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doggy dooty dupes depression

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 by kate

Bruce Goldstein’s “Puppy Chow is Better than Prozac” vividly describes a manic depressive’s mental prison.

Goldstein, a 27-year-old New Yorker with Crohn’s disease (“I was constantly conscious of my colon”) and a mean case of bipolar disorder, loses his girlfriend, his job, his identity and his mind.

“It had been six weeks since the knives in my sink tried to kill me.”

After therapy, lithium, Prozac and Paxil did nothing to quiet the ”charismatic cutlery” calling to him from the kitchen, Goldstein decides the only way to salvation is through salivation – the slobbery love of a bundle of fur.

Ozzy – a black Labrador named after heavy metal’s “Prince of Darkness” – forces Goldstein out of the house and into the world, if only for dooty duty.

“Before Ozzy came along, my spirit had been on empty. Now he was my everyday energy attendant. He filled up my soul with unleaded love and prosperity. My once temperamental tank now overflowed with pride and joy.”

Three-fourths of this book is not enjoyable – it’s scary. Goldstein is almost too good at taking you into the mind of a manic depressive and it’s not a place you want to be.

“The key to getting through the morning was to keep moving. If I didn’t get dressed immediately, I was in trouble. I’d sit down and start thinking. It didn’t matter what. Or where. As far as I was concerned every chair in my apartment was an electric chair.”

The book is heavy and dark and deeply depressing. But all that is necessary for you to see just how Ozzy turns Goldstein’s life around. And humor is a key element in surviving this mental memoir.

“Raising a puppy was like being drafted into the army. Except in the army they let you sleep.”

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Tori's new mommy memoir

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 by kate

Tori Spelling is apparently ready to dish about diapers, according to People. The 35-year-old 90210 veteran is reportedly writing a tell-all about raising son Liam, 1, and newborn Stella, publishers Simon & Schuster say. The memoir is tentatively called Mommywood and is set to be released next April.

But Tori isn’t the only celebrity to dabble in the world of writing. Kevin Nealson and Jenny McCarthy have also decided share their parenting perspective, while Tony Danza, Goria Estefan and Trisha Yearwood have cracked open their crock pots for us.

Check out other celebrity selections:

Julie Andrews, Home
Jules Asner, Whacked
Lewis Black, Me of Little Faith
Jimmy Buffett, Swine Not?
Tony Danza, Don’t Fill Up on the Antipasto
Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio (Nov.)
Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Estefan Kitchen (Oct.)
Tom Farley, The Chris Farley Show
Michael J. Fox, Always Looking Up: Meditations on Optimism (Sept.)
Nina Garcia, The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own
Magic Johnson, Magic Moves (Dec.)
Judge Greg Mathis, Inner City Miracle (Sept.)
Jenny McCarthy, Mother Warriors (Sept.)
Kevin Nealon, Yes, You’re Pregnant, But What About Me?
Maria Shriver, Just Who Will You Be: Big Question, Little Book, Answer Within
Ted Turner, Call Me Ted (Nov.)
Trisha Yearwood, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen

Previous Post: Some Assembly Required

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seaside eccentrics and an autistic boy

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 by kate

Quirky, Cape Cod characters populate this coastal whodunit, though you don’t know exactly what the mystery is until the end.

Lynn Kiele Bonasia starts off every chapter in Some Assembly Required with instruction manual mumbo jumbo – the main character, Rose, was a successful writer of appliance manuals. The blurbs either make profound sense in relation to the story and characters or no sense at all – and sometimes I couldn’t tell which:

“Due to the nature of the product, we cannot accept a return on a unit that has been used. – from the Solution ComfortSeat Instruction Manual.”

“We accept no responsibility for crash damage. – from the HeliHobby RC Nitro Powered Helicopter Instruction Manual.”

“Risk of entanglement: Keep hands away from moving parts. Tie up or cover long hair. – from the Global Machinery Company Finishing Nail Gun Kit Instruction Manual.”

“Reactive forces, including kickback, can be dangerous. – from the Stihl Chain Saw Safety Manual”

“Sometimes the agitator will crack. – from How to Remove a Washing Machine Agitator on ehow.com”

Some Assembly Required follows Rose, a 39-year-old who quits her job writing manuals for appliances and moves to Cape Cod after learning that her long-time boyfriend cheated on her.

“Instructions. Rose hadn’t just written them, she’d followed them all her life. It was only when she realized she knew all too much about ceiling fans, curling irons, and cappuccino makers, and nothing about relationships, or life, for that matter, that it was time to move on.”

At first you may think this is your typical beach read about a middle-aged woman, her hot fling and the salty summer air. But then you meet Noel, an autistic boy who connects a community through his artwork:

“Autistic savant is what they call them nowadays. Just say Rain Man and everybody knows what you’re talking about. They used to call them idiots. Show me an idiot who can paint like that.”

Then Rose meets Simon, Noel’s alcoholic uncle who theorizes that God is also a drunk: “It explained everything .... It explained why sometimes He was just plain missing in action, facedown on a cloud somewhere, letting down the masses … If you looked back on history, you could see the times when God was on the wagon, times of significant human achievement: Egyptian times; the Roman Empire; the Han Dynasty; the Renaissance, when He was cranking out quality product like da Vinci and Michelangelo; or the sixties when he was sending men to the moon. And you could see when He was off during the dark times, the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, the Reign of Terror, the Hundred Years War. … And just maybe He was sleeping it off in a celestial gutter the morning the towers came down in New York.”

Bonasia melds humor and heart in an artfully-painted profile of a small town and its eccentric inhabitants.

This debut novel is more medium-bodied fluff that doesn’t make you feel so guilty about indulging in a summer semi-sizzler.

Previous Post: Cancer on $5 a Day

Robert Schimmel: I never thought cancer would be a career move

Thursday, July 10, 2008 by kate

After I posted my review of Robert Schimmel’s “Cancer on $5 a Day,” the stand-up comedian sent me a message:

“As a comedian, I never had the urge to write a book before. Most of my other comic friends have books that are basically their stand-up routines transcribed. Not that they aren’t funny. Just wasn’t my thing.When I was in treatment, I remember what it felt like to meet and hear about others that survived what I had. It was uplifting and gave me hope. At first, when I started writing the book with Alan Eisenstock, I thought that if this book made a difference in one person’s life, then what I went through wasn’t for nothing. I changed my mind. One isn’t enough. Thanks for helping me accomplish my mission.

Sincerely, Robert Schimmel

Read my review of "Cancer on $5 a Day"

a profound funny man

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 by kate

Except for purchasing pot, comedian-turned-cancer-patient Robert Schimmel doesn’t really delve into the monetary cost of cancer in “Cancer on $5 a Day,” but he does cover the physical and mental toll it takes.

In the midst of starting his own Fox TV show, Schimmel got the news that he had stage three non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

“Talk about life throwing you a curve ball. Yesterday I fantasized that in six months I’d be known as Robert Schimmel, sitcom star. Today I’m fantasizing that in six months I’ll be alive. Amazing how fantasies change. Wasn’t long ago that my fantasies involved me and two women in cheerleader outfits.”

Schimmel doesn’t use humor to stay detached from the situation. He delves right in, stirring the pot with a stick of humor. He shares sad, touching moments, but still sees the humor in situations. Be warned that Schimmel can be very real, very descriptive and down right dirty. But it’s worth it because he’s also fresh, poignant, interesting and inspiring.

“Cancer. Cancer. … What’s strange, but not surprising, is that when I hear the word, my first reaction, my initial instinct, is to go for the laugh. It really is. I don’t plan it, don’t think about it. I just go for it. I realize instinctively that even though I’ve just been told I have cancer, I haven’t been told that I’m going to die. And to prove it, I’m going to do the one and only thing that shows that I am very much alive: I am going to make the audience laugh.”

Anyone facing cancer should read “Cancer on $5 a Day.”

This book is not just a jumble of one-liners. Schimmel goes through all the gory details of dealing with cancer: mouth sores, chills, constipation, hemorrhoids, migraines, extreme weakness. You’ll even learn about merkins, which are wigs for … down there … that apparently date back to the Elizabethan era.

Schimmel tries every alternative treatment he can find, including Reiki, crystals, acupuncture, yoga and meditation. And he comes away from the experience with a new outlook on life:

“Keep your sense of humor, no matter what.
Create a purpose, a focus, and never take your eyes off it.
Figure out what’s important to you. What’s really important.
Be open. Try anything. You never know.
Love. You need love. Tons of it. A s***load of love.
Sometimes you need to be selfish.
You need support. You’re in this alone, but you can’t fight it alone.
The most precious thing you have is time. Don’t waste it.
You’re only human.
And, finally, once again –

Schimmel manages to make you laugh at a terrifying, deadly disease, making the humor heroic. He gives a straight, frank, funny account of a man not giving in. The language is rough and some bits are dirty, but it just adds to the honesty of the situation.

I never thought I would recommend a cancer book as a summer beach read, but Schimmel has changed my mind. “Cancer on $5 a Day” is an easy read that is both powerful and touching.

Jen Lancaster takes a Book Break

Thursday, July 3, 2008 by kate

Jen Lancaster has tried Atkins 11 times. She is the kind of girl that would figure out you can drink 12 glasses of wine – not eat anything else – and still stick to Weight Watchers. She still loves Barbie dolls and books that are pink.

And while Jen loves her work as a writer, she admits, “It would be nice to have a water cooler.”

Five years ago, Lancaster was laid off from her job as an associate vice president at an investment research firm. Now she’s a successful writer. How’d that happen? “I got lucky.”

“Getting from having a great corporate job, to being laid off, to being a writer, I mean, there were five years of suck in there. Things only started really getting good about a year ago when I got my first big royalty check. ... That’s one of those things that you don’t think of when people become a writer. Like, oh, suddenly you’re rich… No. Not even a little bit. For the first two to three years that I was writing I still had to temp. It gave me sort of a wealth of stories and a lot of my temp jobs were so boring that I could actually get a lot of writing done. But getting from there to here wasn’t just overnight success. I’m starting to hear rumblings from people like ‘Oh, she’s an overnight success!’ Really? You should have said that to me three years ago when I was getting coffee for people and having high school graduates lecture me on how I was stapling things wrong. It sucked.”

“It is about the worst get rich quick scheme in the entire world.”

“I got laid off and I couldn’t find any work. I think some of it was my own ego or hubris – there was just stuff that I wouldn’t do: I’m not taking anything for less than 6 figures. And I didn’t realize that, hey, the economy’s changed. It’s October of 2001 and people are not hiring and the dot com economy is over. So after a year of not being able to find anything, I just lost it. I couldn’t get retail jobs. I couldn’t get waitressing jobs. … How do I go from being a superstar, having not done anything wrong except being in the wrong place in the wrong economy, to not being able to get a waitressing job? I began to post these frustrations on blogs, people started to read it, and then I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can make money this way.’”

“So I just began to write and write and write. I wrote every single day, and after about 6 months, I thought, ‘I have enough content here to really get people to start reading this,’ and I started sending links places and posting stuff on Craigslist with links back to my site.”

A literary agent discovered Jen’s work online and contacted her. She worked with Jen for a year, putting together a book proposal that sold, “And here I am.”

“I’m a lot happier. When I was a corporate person I never realized that I wasn’t happy. I thought – I’m doing exactly what I should be doing and I’m advancing the career ladder like I’m supposed to. I worked all the time and I never had time to do anything else. So when I would get a few minutes here and there I would buy things for myself. I surrounded myself with stuff, equating that with being happy. And it really wasn’t the case. Now I think that I enjoy my life a lot more. And I’m just overall much happier.”

“Writing a book is kind of the very best celebrity you can get because people know who you are on a bookshelf, but they have no idea who you are in real life.”

Lancaster’s latest book on the shelf, Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist’s Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her A** Look Big or Why Pie Is Not the Answer, is about her on a diet, but with a sassy spin.

“I’m actually calling things out for saying this is hard. … Every time people go about losing weight, there’s always the ‘why am I f***ing bothering’ mode and all of us give into it and I just don’t think that you see that in other weight loss memoirs people are all steely-eyed, gritty and determined. I gave up like 900 times. People don’t talk about giving up and then manage to find a way to be somewhat successful.”

“And what I think is different, too, is that I don’t come from a place of self loathing. A lot of people lose weight not because they hate themselves, but because they want to feel better. And I don’t think people really address that. I’ve read every weight loss memoir that has come out recently and most of them are really sad. I don’t think a lot of people write upbeat stories about coming to terms with who they are. It’s such a funny subject but so few people tackle it with humor.”

“What was really fun, though, was that by the time I was wrapping up doing the bulk of what I had to do for the book, I found that I would rather work out with Barbie or do something healthy than actually sit down and write, which was kind of cool.” (That’s right, her trainer’s name is Barbie.)

“I can run a mile now … it takes a while and there are some breaks…”

Her trick to staying motivated? “I always find a nemesis. That’s like my big fitness plan – any time that I go to work out, I find someone who I’m going to pit myself against.”

But Lancaster wasn’t always pleasantly plump.

“I grew up really thin. I was always really thin and I was always so body conscious when I was younger, when I was thin, thinking that I wasn’t. And then as soon as I became heavy, I was like, ‘This isn’t so bad. I have to buy bigger pants, but I can also eat cake.’ I think part of it, that I never really minded getting heavy, is when I was younger and much thinner, I got a lot of attention to the point where I didn’t like it.”

The extra weight made Jen feel more protected.

Lancaster’s next book, Pretty in Plaid, was going to be about her childhood, until she realized it would basically be about “me forging Girl Scout badges.”

“Originally it was just going to be a whole collection of childhood stories like very David Sedaris or Dustin Burrows. And then I realized I had a really good childhood. There was no bad touch or anything. And I did not have enough stories to fill it, so now it’s going to be kind of a prequel to the first book. Short stories done with a narrative arc. It should be funny. It should just be a funny book.”

What books does Jen like to read?

“Honest to God, what I normally pick to read is whatever’s on the front table of Barnes and Noble, whether its fiction, nonfiction. I probably read 200 books a year. I have time. I probably buy 300 books a year because I have a problem with that.”

Some of Jen’s favorite authors include Candice Bushnell, Emily Giffin, Tom Robbins, Jennifer Weiner, Stacy Ballis and David Sedaris.

Her secret indulgence? Stories about southern women. “They are such a different species than me.”

If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader, Jen says. “Get your hands on everything. When I meet someone that says they want to be a writer, and they don’t read – It’s like wanting to be a chef and not liking to eat.”

“And if you, in fact, want to have a writing career, having an established blog is not a necessary step. It’s not something that you need. Don’t put every piece of your life online. Save it. Because what I’ve really seen on the web lately, is people are giving more and more self disclosure because they are so anxious for people to come to their site and read about them that they’re really exposing a lot of parts of them that I think is a little unnecessary – to the point that they’re train wrecking themselves.”

“Do the research and find out what it is that publishers want. Look at the trends. Go to Barnes and Noble and see what’s on the front table and see what people are writing, and then do it. It’s not enough to want it. You have to do it every single day. And it has to be something that compels you.”

“My day doesn’t feel right unless I get something on paper.”

And her new book? Just keep in mind, “It’s not War and Peace.”

Read my review of Jen Lancaster's "Such a Pretty Fat"

damn, girl, these panties be huge!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 by kate

Jen Lancaster's Such a Pretty Fat
No other weight loss book will make you so hungry. Softened butter and mounds of fresh shaved Parmesan cheese are sprinkled throughout Jen Lancaster’s “Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist's Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her A** Look Big, or Why Pie Is Not the Answer.” Lancaster likes food. And she likes herself. It’s a new concept: A happy, heavy woman.

“Yeah, my midriff is fat, but it’s not blobby, dimple, rippling fat. It’s … pretty fat, if that’s possible.”

This isn’t a heavy woman with low self esteem who doesn’t feel worthwhile until she fits into her skinny jeans. This is a book about a woman who just wants to be healthier. It’s a refreshing, funny spin on your typical weight loss book.

“I’m so tired of books where a self-loathing heroine is teased to the point where she starves herself skinny in hopes of a fabulous new life. And I hate the message that women can’t possibly be happy until we’re all size fours. I don’t find these stories uplifting rather, I want to hug these women and take them out for fizzy champagne drinks and cheesecake and explain to them that until they figure out their insides, their outsides don’t matter.”

This is as much about Jen figuring out her inside as it is about her working on her outside. While this is a book about trying to lose weight, Jen doesn’t actually start losing weight until halfway through. She focuses on the part of weight loss that people need the most help: starting. To officially start her diet, Jen faces how much weight she has actually gained when she steps on the scale after years of avoidance.

“I don’t weigh this much. I can’t weigh this much. I’m a cute ex-sorority girl, not some six-foot-four, corn-fed linebacker from Nebraska. … This weight is wrong. Wrong. I’m not a professional wrestler. Or a baby beluga. Or a barrel full of butter. I step on and off a fourth time.”

Lancaster stumbles upon self discoveries that women can connect with. “A month ago I was fat and happy. But ever since I made the decision to drop a few pounds – way less easy than it sounds, by the way – I’ve become obsessed with my size, and in so doing I’ve inadvertently allowed my inner critic to have a voice. And you know what? She’s a b****. Like now when I see my underpants in the laundry, I no longer think Soft! Cotton! Sensible! Instead I hear her say Damn, girl, these panties be huge.”

Then Jen decides to photograph her weight loss journey: “How the f*** did Jabba the Hutt get into my bedroom, and why is he wearing my pearls?”

Jen's empowering whit is uplifting, and she isn’t afraid to tell the world she listens to Ricky Martin, The Spice Girls and “Barbie Girl” while working out.

Lancaster doesn’t glamorize her results. She doesn’t make it sound easy, gloss over her failures or tip toe around the fact that she’s heavy. She makes her failures funny:

“The bike sold the very first day, largely due to the ad I posted: TWO FAT PEOPLE ADMIT DEFEAT. … Please buy our bike and get it out of our house so it’s no longer a daily reminder of how we failed in our quest for fitness. Also? We’re tired of dusting it. P.S. It will fit in an SUV, but we can also deliver it for an additional fee, although do you really want two sweaty fat people having simultaneous heart attacks in your stairwell? P.P.S. Naturally, we’ll need cash because we’ll probably use the money for pie.”

But this isn’t about failures. It’s about getting back up every time you slip up. This book will motivate you to make healthier choices and help you quell your inner critic.

Lancaster doesn’t focus on the numbers, she focuses on her feelings. “Despite all this dieting and working out, I’m not yet thin. … But I can carry laundry up two flights of stairs, and I can run for the phone or on a treadmill. I don’t sweat when I eat anymore, and when I do eat, it’s not cookies for dinner. My blood pressure is now normal, my cholesterol is out of the danger zone, and I don’t even have to take Ambien, because obesity no longer causes my insomnia.”

Lancaster is tough, yet vulnerably honest. If you want a bikini body by August, this may not be the guide for you. But, if you want to feel good about sporting that bikini no matter what size you are, go ahead grab a copy.

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