I wrote down everything I read and began writing my own first novel...

This blog aimed to contrast what I was reading in in 1975-79 with the same month, week and day, 30 years later in 2005-2009. I'm leaving the blog up in archive mode, blogging in real time on Live Journal--and still writing novels.

Lynne Murray's Live Journal and Bride of the Dead Blog

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Our Obsessions, Ourselves

October 16-25, 1975

Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
(Read once more with pleasure)

Constant Reader, Dorothy Parker, New Yorker pieces 1927-33)

Mademoiselle Chanel, Pierre Galante: translated by Eileen Geist & Jessie Wood
Skimmed, I vaguely remember good photographs

Extreme Remedies, John Hejinian

Dolphins, Jacques Cousteau & Phillippe Diate

Homeward and Beyond, Poul Anderson

Lovecraft, Sprague de Campe

The Tomb and Other Tales of Horror, H.P. Lovecraft

Oct 16-25, 2005

I'm Not the New Me, a Memoir, Wendy McClure

A Fat Girl's Guide to Life, Wendy Shanker

Before I picked theses books up, I had Wendy McClure and Wendy Shanker mixed up. Well, actually I thought they were the same person, and at first I was confused that Shanker's website http://www.wendyshanker.com/
didn't have McClure's hilarious satire on Weight Watchers cards, which you can read at http://www.candyboots.com/ .

I gotta tell ya--reading the books together cleared that up in a hurry!

Wendy McClure writes for Television without Pity. She seems to be about 30.

Wendy Shanker has done stand up comedy on television as well as articles for many women's magazines. She seems perhaps in her mid-30s. Five years can make a difference in that decade of life! In my own defense against ditziness for getting the two confused, I'll say that the two books came out at the same time and were often reviewed together.

I'm Not the New Me, a Memoir, Wendy McClure

I started with this book because I had found her satire on the 1970s Weight Watchers cards so funny. Indeed at the end of the book, in the acknowledgements, she states: "Thank you, Weight Watchers, International, for influencing me in a way that certainly neither of us ever expected. And for not, you know, suing me." I am Not the New Me, p. 308.

Why should they sue her? Her book is a WW marketer's wet dream. (Hereafter I'm going to refer to it as "WW" because I don't care to waste keystrokes on them.)

Oh, McClure makes fun of 1970s WW recipe cards, but I'm not surprised that a publisher pounced on this one like a cat on a hot tinned mackerel.

Let's review" She's 30ish, writes for a popular-with-plugged-in-youth website, she's got her own "dieting progress" website with all kind of quirky, funny scenes from the life, and she's essentially endorsing female bonding through a venerable diet organization with a major marketing budget and a vested interest in attracting younger consumers…. Hmmm…. That's the kind of math publishers like to do.

McClure's charm notwithstanding, I had to stop reading for awhile. I felt a mixture of anger, sadness and queasiness. The writing may be appealing or amusing but the actual effect is saddening.

It's one thing when McClure free-associates over the lame, puke-in-Technicolor '70s recipe cards. I laughed. You can read it free at the candyboots.com site referenced above.

But when I realized that I had paid money for a book that was essentially a love affair with a national diet plan, I had to put the book down. I got nauseous for real.

Fortunately, I picked up--

Review of A Fat Girl’s Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker

Shanker's journalistic background and in-your-face feminist attitude cleared out some cobwebs immediately.

Plenty of research suggests that obesity—at least as it's classically defined—is not nearly the death sentence that most media outlets and weight-loss companies would have you believe. Half of have the battle is won when you start reading between the lines. You have to look for alternative opinions because they don't get a lot of publicity. NO ONE MAKES MONEY FROM TELLING YOU YOU'RE FINE THE WAY YOU ARE. The Fat Girl's Guide to Life, p. 113 [full caps from LM.]

Okay just one more quote, the nausea receding…feeling better now:


Shanker gets a bit bossy in her prescriptions for a healthy life as a "Fat Girl" (as opposed to a cringing lower case "fat girl"). But there are so many people trying to tell us what to do and eat and think, it's refreshing to find a bossy young woman telling us, "Think for yourself, goddamn it."

Eventually I did go back and finish I Am Not the New Me. McClure is a skillful and sensitive writer. I suppose what haunted me the most—possibly because I'm around the same age as McClure's mother—is the way that both mother and daughter justify the mother's TWO stomach stapling operations, and then blame the mother for regaining all the weight after each. McClure states:

My mom was getting fat again. The surgeries could only do so much; unlike the kinds of gastric surgeries that came later, there was no intestinal bypass….and it was possible to stretch the stomach over time. I Am Not the New Me, p. 144.

First of all this is classical blaming the victim. Second, gastric surgeons change techniques often—essentially experimenting on their paying clients. This also allows them to say, "Oh, those old operations were flawed." There is no proof whatsoever that the current crop of operations will have any different regain rates than the old. Weight loss surgery of any kind is essentially creates surgically enforced bulimia and anorexia--when they talk among themselves, bariatric surgeons admit as much. The effect is the same with both older and newer operations, and it does not make a naturally thin person out of a fat person.

McClure's mother sounds like a very gentle, long-suffering person, and I hated so much to see her blamed for regaining weight, or for eating ice cream because it was all she could keep down without vomiting. McClure asks her mother (who is a therapist) if she felt okay about having two gastric surgeries and then regaining all the weight each time. Her mother essentially tells her--

...she says she wished she hadn't, of course. She says it was goodjust to do it. There was a time she'd convinced herself that she was just too far gone, and the fact that her body had this potential to change, that despite everything it could follow the logic of science, that therefore she was still a part of the world, part of everything. I'm Not the New Me, p. 297


McClure certainly took risks, first in web journaling openly on the internet about intensely personal life, and now in exposing the same things in book form. Her honesty is engaging, but the way that she clings to weighing herself as a barometer of self-worth drives me totally up the wall.

Mainly I felt like handing McClure a copy of A Fat Girl's Guide to Life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

As the Feng Shui-s

The "Re" line doesn't seem to have much to do with the books I read--or maybe it does.

I liked the way it sounded saying it out loud. [Ya know,"As the feng shways----never mind.]Written down—not so much!

Come to think of it, maybe it does have something to do with the books I read this past week. Both of which were by women who garner laughter when they read their pieces out loud, and who couldn't get a laugh out of me reading their books. I wanted to laugh...but no. As for what I was reading in 1975--mostly more serious, but not all!

October 10-18, 1975

The First Circle, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (hardly begun--never finished)

This may have been the point at which I realized I'm never in this life going to finish any of those long Solzhenitzyn books. I did read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, but that was short.

Behind the Mask, Louisa May Alcott
American Gothic, Robert Bloch

Oct 10-18, 2005

Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs, Cheryl Peck

I admire Cheryl Peck's positive view about her own body and lifestyle enough that I feel bad about not laughing at anything in this book. Many readers found it hilarious. I also understand the author reads the pieces in various gatherings to appreciative audiences. I am always mystified when people laugh at things I read out loud--there definitely is a "presence factor" that can work in favor of a reader. Maybe Peck's personal magnetism when reading would lend these pieces something that I did not find on the plain black-and-white pages.

I wanted to enjoy this book because the author is a large, in-charge, middle-aged lesbian from Michigan. Those are all things I want to like. I applaud the attitude and I did enjoy some of the pieces, like her touching reminiscence of how her grandmother made all their dresses when she and her sisters were growing up. But I grew distinctly irritated at her sisters, whom she identified with nicknames like Wee One, UnWee—I can't go on. The nicknames in the book were gratuitously precious, and really annoying to me.

Maybe there is no easily discernable "why" one person finds something hilarious and another does not. Here's a sample from the title piece, just in case you may like it:

If you took a poll of fat girls, you would knock on a lot of unfriendly doors before you would find the jolly, fun-loving sport who would answer, "Heck, yes, I love to sit down in a lawn chair that breaks, dumps me on my ass in front of all my friends and leaves me to wonder, how am I ever going to get back up?" Kristin would not be one of those women.
Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs, p. 156

What took the humor right out of the title essay, and irked the hell out of me was how all Kristin's friends unmercifully teased her about this episode. Not amusing to me, and not the sort of friendship I find appealing.

Big Girl's Guide to Life, Bunkie Lynn

A forty-something, self-described Big Girl with attitude, Bunkie Lynn was raised in the American South, now living in Nashville, Tennessee. I have heard from many Southern women that "fat" is a particularly rude and obscene word to say right out there in front of everyone, so saying "Big Girl" makes sense.

The humor is heavy on sarcasm, and evidently she's a successful speaker who entertains her audience in person. Any amusement I might have taken from the author's strategies was heavily diluted by her underlying assumption that she (and every Big Girl by extension) really SHOULD diet, and dieting would "solve" the weight problem—if it wasn't such a major pain in the ass. She just won't and she's now accepted that.

Myself if something has NEVER worked for me, I am no longer so quick to blame myself, and begin to wonder whether that strategy wasn't flawed. But Bunkie has never come to this conclusion, and in the course of blaming herself and taking blame from others in her life, she spends a lot of time (and unforgivable "Big Girl" jokes, aka fat jokes) outlining the supposed binges that Big Girl indulge in, and anyone who tries to stop them should expect to be flattened by an enraged Big Girl. Sigh.

The incorrigible appetites of fat women are a myth, and I just don't find it funny. Your mileage may vary. Here's a sample:

…When it comes to the pain in my load-bearing joints, I have two choices: I could lose weight, which according to my orthopedist would reduce the stress on those puppies at a 4:1 ratio (but the process would cause me to become an axe murderer); or I can maintain my current weight and take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as the good Lord intended, with an occasional pain pill thrown in for good measure.

Being the intelligent Big Girl that I am, I realize my limitations. If I succumbed to a weight loss program, I'm starin' down 15-25 in the slammer for chopping up everyone around me who is eating foods on my forbidden list. A much wiser choice is to keep those NSAIDs refilled and memorize my orthopedist's phone number. Don't you agree? Of course you do. The Big Girl's Guide to Life, p. 84

Bunkie Lynn doesn't mention, nor does her orthopedist seem aware that "losing weight to reduce stress" in 98% of the attempts, results in regaining—often more weight than was originally lost. How good is that for the joints, eh? Anyway, I'm glad she's decided to maintain the weight she has, rather than losing some that might come back with reinforcements! If the orthopedist is doing such a good job, hasn't he ever heard of physical therapy, or does he just prefer to blame the patient?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Going all over the map without leaving home

October 4-9, 1975

Burr, Gore Vidal
(Didn't finish) I like his short essays, but somehow his full-length novels never have held my interest.

October 4-9, 2005

Where Fat Girls Haven't Gone, Staci Backauskas,
I'm always on the look out for fiction with plus-sized protagonists. In this book, heroine, Giletta Montrose, a truly big beautiful actress with attitude takes on reality TV. The title refers to the name of the series wherein she gamely attempts various stunts that "fat girls never do" such as: kayaking in the Hudson River, parachuting from an airplane, dancing in a music video, and competing in a beauty pageant where all the other entrants are standard-beauty-contest-zero-sized.

The reality show format gives the book a "what next?" quality as Giletta constantly skates on the edge of humiliation and physical injury (in one scene on real ice skates!) She always manages to pull it off and look fabulous, with more than a little help from "gal Friday" production assistant, would-be screen writer Madison, who alternates narrating chapters. A full review of this book and fat fiction in general coming in a week or so to my web site.

Fat. The Anthropology of an Obsession, Don Kulick & Anne Meneley, Ed.

Fascinating series of essays by anthropologists about the wildly diverse meanings of fat in different cultures. The Peruvian fat-sucking vampire legend described on the back cover sounds like tabloid fare, until you read Mary Weismantel's essay, White, where she describes the deep sorrow expressed in these Andean folk legends. The vampire is a white predator--earlier versions had him riding a horse, now it's mirrored sunglasses and SUVs. He kidnaps and drains native people of the fat that keeps them alive, discarding their damaged bodies so he can grow wealthy from the last drops of their life force. The legend arises from a population living on the brink of extreme hunger on a daily basis. It doesn't take an anthropologist to see how these stories express the feeling of their very bodies being stolen to make others wealthy.

This book is a banquet of wildly diverse, entertaining, and profound explorations of the meaning of fat and body size in many cultures.

One such essay, Anne Meneley's Oil , explores the significance of extra virgin (and other!) olive oils in Tuscany. This article has changed my life! Never again will I touch that "light" olive oil-- evidently it's the dregs sold to the fat-fearing American market as "lite". Aiiiii!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rainbows, crystals and enlightened crickets

September 26-October 4, 1975

Rainbow: The stormy life of Judy Garland, Christopher Finch
An excellent biography of Garland--one of the few books I bought to read over again.

The Crystal World, J.G. Ballard
Very tedious, a cross between Camus and Edgar Rice Burroughs with a dash of Conrad for atmosphere finally finished on Oct after 3 days. I do remember that this book was about everyone, everything turning into crystals. Not exactly fast moving.

September 26 to October 4, 2005

Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism, Jacqueline Ilyse Stone
This is a scholarly book I might not have attempted it, if it hadn’t been written by a very close friend. She suggested that, as a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist, I might find it easier to start with Chapter 6, which contains the biography of Nichiren. So I read the first chapter and then the sixth, and found it very rewarding. I’m not enough of a serious scholar to read it straight through. It may take me awhile to finish the rest because I have to let it sink in as I read!

By the way, the original enlightenment idea, essentially, is “. . . the proposition that all beings are enlightened inherently. Not only human beings, but ants and crickets, mountains and rivers, grasses and trees are all innately Buddha.” Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism, p. 1.