Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More About Your Fat Ass

Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting by Gina Kolata

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Man, I feel like such a chump. I've been swallowing the line on dieting for years without question, and this book really blows it up. The author reviews the past several decades of research on obesity and dieting and lets us in on the results -- diets don't work and your weight in genetically predetermined. You heard me. All that fat shaming and blathering about lack of personal responsibility that is done by public health folks, diet gurus, and Dr. Phil? Not relevant. The reason the vast majority of people can't keep weight off after dieting is that your body is working against you to get you back to whatever weight is your "set point." We have decent control over maybe 10-20 pounds. And you know what else? It's unlikely that being overweight has a significant effect on your health or longevity.

I've just blown your mind, haven't I?

The author, who's a science writer for the New York Times, does a good job of reviewing the research and explaining the different studies. The writing is a little technical at times, where she explains how scientists uncovered various hormones, peptides, and DNA. She also talks about the resistance the media and other researchers have had to certain studies that refuted the conventional wisdom about obesity. She explains this by pointing to the vast amount of money that dieting advocates, obesity researchers, and government entities stand to lose if the "obesity epidemic" is disproved.

Here's the deal: While improving your food choices and getting regular exercise can have a positive impact on your health, they probably won't make you thin. So if we can stop beating ourselves up for being fat, ugly, and unlovable, if we can make peace with our size and use all that time and money we spent on dieting for something else, if we stop letting people tell us we should be ashamed of ourselves...that'd be something, huh?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Love Your Fat Ass

Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body by Kate Harding

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book puts forward the life-changing idea that perhaps you ought to accept your fat self and put away the mirage that one day you will be thin and perfect. The authors, who are both fat-acceptance bloggers, go some way to dismantle misinformation about the health risks of fat and the so-called obesity crisis. Their first and major point is that diets don't work. The vast majority of people are unable to lose weight and keep it off for more than five years, so why are we being continually told that it is our first duty as fat human beings to shed the weight? They advocate the idea of "health at every size": don't be fooled into thinking that you can't be healthy as a fat person, don't let your doctor blame everything on your weight, listen to your body when it comes to eating, find an exercise that you actually like to do, and don't assume you are unattractive or unlovable because of your weight. To accept their ideas would be a major shift in outlook, but incredibly life affirming.

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The Differences

Stones from the River Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A moving account of Germany before, during, and after WWII, told from the point of view of the residents of a town near Dusseldorf. The main character is a woman with dwarfism named Trudi. The story touches on the nature of physical difference and belonging and looks at how German civilians dealt with the realities of Nazis and the war. It's a beautiful book -- delicately told -- compassionate and touching.

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For the Ladies

Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was an amazing look at five marriages from a feminist perspective:

-Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle
-Effie Gray and John Ruskin
-Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill
-Catherine Hogarth and Charles Dickens
-George Eliot and Geoge Henry Lewes

The author gives a brief account of each courtship and marriage and views much of what has been said previously about the couples through a sort of corrective feminist lens. Many of these people knew each other and we get to compare how they've conducted themselves--in very different ways--in essentially the same time and place in history. Very readable.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Irish Hell

Angela's Ashes: A Memoir Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I took an almost instant dislike to this book, and I'm not sure why exactly. I suppose it was like approaching an over-hyped movie. Titanic or whatever is never going to live up to the way it's been talked about, so there's sort of no way to enjoy it. But it didn't help that virtually everyone in the book was a child abusing ass. Aside from a priest the author met once, an uncle, and a kindly hospital janitor, everyone McCourt encountered--his parents, clergy, teachers, employers, doctors, relatives--were constantly screaming at him, beating him with sticks, neglecting him, blaming him, taunting or witholding. I suppose it's a simplistic way of appreciating a story, but it's hard to care about it when you're wishing all the characters straight to hell.

Meanwhile, McCourt's description of it all struck me as sort of flat. That's probably not surprising, but it makes it difficult to relate to him, too, despite his having almost no one on his side. My feeling is that if you're going to write the book of your ghastly childhood filled with unrelieved misery and neglect, that you should be offering us some perspective about it. This seemed to me just an unenlightened reliving of the damned thing, which serves no one but McCourt's therapist. Maybe he got some relief from just writing it down. I at least hope he is resting in peace now.

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The Magic of Summer

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a long but very enjoyable book. It tells the story of two men who are trying to bring "practical magic" back to England during the time of the Napoleonic wars. The author lends the story a sort of biographical credence with footnotes on the history of magic (within the world of her novel) and descriptions of one magician's service to the Duke of Wellington fighting the French. It's a fun read and I'd definitely recommend it.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Target Women

Talking with a coworker yesterday about Sarah Haskins reminded me how much I lurve her. Check her out:

She does ones about yogurt commercials, jewelry commercials, cleaning product commercials. She's a lady-ist delight. Search "Target Women Sarah Haskins" for all the awesomeness.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


OK, so I've been dreaming lately about being self-employed. Starting a business, working from home, peddling crap out of the trunk of my car . . . something like that. And, because I'm enamored of the shuffle option on my iTunes, I've decided that music should tell my fortune. We'll give it three chances to tell me where I should invest my life savings. Good times, eh?

1. If I Wuz U -- P.M. Dawn
Well, right off the bat the hinky spelling the title would seem to suggest that I wouldn't be doing any editing.
"Mirror mirror whatcha got for me?
Since I'm you and you're just so me
I know they've lost themselves instead
I know that destiny's face is red
I can see my rainbow's real sweet"

Oh, P.M. Dawn, you hippie weirdos. (I don't even know how this album got on here -- did it come with my computer? Does that happen?) Perhaps this choice just reflects my own lack of direction. But I don't like the idea that destiny's face is red. What does my destiny have to be embarrased about?!?

2. Come to Me -- Otis Redding
Otis wants me to come to him and be his love for he loves me so. He sounds kinda sad. Do you represent my potential sugar daddy, Big O? You know I'm not that kind of girl. He's down on his knees, though. Sigh.

3. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood -- Neko Case
Great, more obfuscation and ambiguity:
"Of the fox confessor on splendid heels, And he shames me from my seat"

Whatever dude, was the question too broad?

Fine, maybe we should just do a yes or no question. I really like the idea of running my own junkyard. Is that a good idea?

1. Mule Train -- Maddox Brothers & Rose
"Clippety clop clippety clop clippety clippety clippety clippety clippety and so on, etc."
"They'll keep going 'til they drop"

Hmmm, are you saying it might be fairly monotonous drudgery? That's not what it seemed like on Sanford and Son.

2. Right is Right -- Rufus
"Right is right, wrong is wrong." What is WITH all this equivocation. I asked for your opinion. God.

3. My House Has Wheels -- Southern Culture on the Skids
Well, that's irrelevant, but I do love a trailer. Do you think there's money in junked trailers? Winfred, S.D., would beg to differ.

Well, I believe this reading was inconclusive. If it'd been the Magic 8 Ball I was asking, it would have said "Ask Again Later." So screw it.

P.S. Send any questions you would like to put to my collection of 3,540 songs. Maybe you'll have better luck.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Soul Train Processional

I guess I need to shut up about how Minnesotans don't dance:

That is some Abeln-quality performance, y'all. Does anybody know how I can hang out with these people? Please don't tell me they're all from out of town.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Take This Job

Dude, d'you get that at the DMV?

It's my first day back at work, and I spent a lot of it sort of in shock. "Wait . . . this is my job? This kinda blows." I know. I'm such an ungrateful wretch. I should be glad I even HAVE a job. This is no time to be unenthusiastic. Now is the time for bright eyes, bushy tails, and ass kissing.

Also: I was so relieved when I finally found this "career." It took me a very long time to get around to it. The thought of trying to convince various hiring entities to take me seriously in some other format seems like a wearying, discouraging odyssey. Lord, preserve me. Literally. Just cook me down into a jam and seal me up with some parrafin. I could use the down time.

I think I should probably work for myself. I have trouble with authority anyway. Of course, if I was my own boss, I'd probably hate myself even more. But it seems like the sheer terror of having no safety net at all could give birth to some serious entrepreneurial brillance. Or homelessness.

If only I had the genes or temperament to snag me a sugar daddy. . . if only I could feel comfortable letting someone else take care of me. Stupid feminist work ethic.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I'm off this week due to some cost cutting at work, but it's kind of a gift, the time to myself. I've been filling up the days with some different stuff. A mix of purposefulness and lounging. Good times! Yesterday, I took a ride on the Midtown Greenway:

I've been meaning to go check it out, and it doesn't disappoint. Such a lovely trail with gardens and green space, and even a Freewheel Cycle/Sebastian Joes ice cream at the back of the Midtown Global Market/old Sears building. You don't even have to go up to street level. I can now say that I've been over the Martin Olav Sabo bridge, and keep my Twin Cities cred:

The interesting thing about the Greenway is that west of Hiawatha, where the path is below the level of the street, it's difficult to know where you are. You have to rely on the signs for the exit paths and the street names on the bridges overhead. The grade is far enough below the street that you can't really see landmarks, except for all those new condo buildings in the LynLake area. The whole thing is sort of it's own separate world. A pretty, quiet, green, separate world. Very peaceful.

My biggest task this week has been a diet that I've assigned myself -- The 20-Day Rejuvenation Diet Program by Jeffrey Bland. The theory behind it is nothing too revolutionary: mostly whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats. It cuts out common food allergans like dairy and wheat (things it's hard to do without for 20 days!). But I'm trying to get to the bottom of some ongoing gastrointestinal distress and chronic fatigue. I'm trying to see if "detoxing" a bit might help me out or give me some hints about what might be going on.

But DANG this thing is complicated. There are very specific menu plans for every meal for all 20 days and very few of the dishes are repeated. I'm buying groceries like a crazy person and cooking like half of every day. If I was working this week, I don't think I could manage it. My strategy now is to slack off a bit on the menu plans but just make sure I'm eating the "approved" foods. I am feeling a bit better, so I think it's worth the effort. But, you know, a girl's gotta leave the house sometimes.

The Final Word

My boyfriend Jay Smooth, not surprisingly, has a insightful analysis of MJ:

Isn't he dreamy?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


A Thousand Splendid Suns A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I listened to the audio book on a road trip over the 4th of July weekend. It's a heartbreaker, but I was glad to have "read" it. It focuses a lot on the issues of women in the last four decades in Afghanistan, so .... harrowing. Especially the years under the Taliban. Not that this is nonfiction, but I assume it's not too far from the truth. I'd recommend it.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Lady Detective

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #1) The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a entertaining, quick read. The main character is immensely likeable and the story or series of stories are tidy but intriguing.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Starving to Death

Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia (P.S.) Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a rather brutal book about the author's many years of bulimia and anorexia. She doesn't spare any details about the self-destructive behavior and it's consequences. It's a difficult read partly because it's easy to see yourself and most women in her thought processes about eating, weight, and self-worth. I don't really know any women who don't think that way to some extent, which is horrifying. It's, of course, also hard to follow her excrutiatingly detailed and horribly prolonged efforts to kill herself through starvation and malnourishment.

The thing I didn't like was that that was all we got. The book ended before her final hospitalization, so we didn't follow her through her more lasting recovery (we did get some of the initial hospitalizations). We don't get to hear what ultimately helped her to pull out of the mess she was in. It's like when your girlfriend spends weeks detailing the trouble she's having with her partner and you're all enraged on her behalf, then the two of them make it up and you don't hear another word. You're left with all these feelings and worries, and they are blissfully happy, but aren't sharing their secrets with you anymore.

Hornbacher's been accused of writing book that provides all sorts of "tips" for aspiring anoretics. It seems like that impression would have been blunted if she'd just let us in a little on her recovery.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Cure for Irony

This guy is like the smartest person I've ever even heard of:

Also: my new boyfriend.

Friday, March 6, 2009


I said goodbye to my nearly 18-year-old kitty today. I was hoping not to have to make the decision, but he was a tough old bird and who know how long he would have hung on? He wasn't eating and couldn't move very well.

I'm sure going to miss him.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Sassmaster Review of Books

Epileptic Epileptic by David B.

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is probably the longest graphic novel I've read which is probably to the author's credit as it must have been a ridiculous amount of work, but it can be taxing on the reader. The story, about the author's childhood to young adulthood with his family and brother with epilepsy, is worth telling, and he has a unique take on it. His parents search for help for their son among an astonishing range of esoteric religions, cults, alternative medicines, healers, diets, etc. is mixed with his own hyperactive imagination. As a child, the author fixates on war and violence-prone historical figures such as Ghengis Khan. His drawings show us his rich, but lonely, interior life, filled with ghosts, fantastical creatures, and reimagined reality. Despite the implied anxiety, he manages to make this bizarre landscape feel homey and comforting. The density of the drawings and the length of the book means it's hard to appreciate fully the extent of his work. But it's a worth a look

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Aww, the Daily Show gave S.D. a shout-out. Thune's in the house!

Oh yeah.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Surprise Party

OK, so Suspiciously Pleased and I planned a party for our January birthdays, along with Elvis (or El, as SP calls him. They're tight.) The Muse was also part of our tribe, as all four of us have birthdays within a week of each other. (Capricorns rule!)

So just as the joint starts hoppin', we are shocked (Shocked!) by the appearance of Molldoll (the original Sassmaster) fresh from Florida. She voluntarily donned socks and flew to Mpls for her sister's birthday. Aww...

Once the screaming and jumping about had subsided, many party-goers wanted to be photographed with the King, especially SP in her Ann-Margaret outfit:

Some got a little frisky.

E. was looking especially fine that night.

SP made red velvet cupcakes that spelled out the names of the birthday kids, but rowdy party-goers began using them for anagrams. Damn Scrabble players....

There was jamming with, why yes, that IS an actual stand-up base. And a ukelele on the left. Yes, it IS sad you weren't there.

Elvis couldn't resist the impromtu jam:

There was dancing

Including reenacting of scenes from Viva Las Vegas by SP and her man:

And a spot-on E-personation:

C's new lady seemed to like us, despite her wary look here. We thought she was awesome.

Near to the end of the night, some minds were opened. In a complete reversal of policy regarding cold weather, Molldoll went out and frolicked in falling snow without a coat. And of course, demanded that we photograph her:

She even threw snow around with bare hands:

Is this the same chick that bitched about 50 degree weather in May for a solid week?

Aw look, she brought the sun with her.

Somehow, ck and the Muse escaped the camera all night, so here's an older one of them:
They make a mean cannellini dip, y'all!
Thanks for the good times, everybody! Let's do it again real soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pipe Down

Are we moving toward a yelling-based economy? I realize that my health, interests, and general crankiness qualify me as an honorary old coot, so I'm probably nobody's target demographic. But it seems like transacting commerce is requiring a lot more hollering than it used to. I stopped in at Jimmy Johns the other weekend, and the music was deafening. I had to yell my order two or three times to be heard. Same thing at Chipotle. And Starbucks does that thing where they want to "get something started" for the people in line, which means shouting "medium decaf latte" over the heads of strangers. I dislike it.

I know some restaurants actually pursue the noisiness with hard surfaces and open kitchens. The Rainforest Cafe had that whole damn fake jungle going on with the screeching monkeys and such. (My GOD was that annoying.) Apparently the hubbub acts on us like hallucinogen, making us think we're at the center of a "happening," when in fact we are just at Chili's happy hour, bitching about work. Do people enjoy this stuff, really, or is this just a phase we're all going through? Are they trying to make us anxious so we'll eat more? I think it's working.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Shut Up, SNL

Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live was an engrossing and sometimes infuriating read. SNL is an undeniable force in pop culture, launching career after career and influencing the cultural memes, but I still had a hard time dealing with the self-important tone of the authors and the people they interviewed. The overall impression was that they'd been participating in a cult that still held them and the rest of us in thrall. And Lorne Michaels = Jim Jones.

The book was fun for the bits of insider-y gossip it offered--everybody thinks Chevy Chase is a dick, George Steinbrenner was a terrible host--though many of the interviewees stuck to generalities without talking about specific people or sketches, which kept you wondering who or what they were talking about. You got the history of the controversies, the deaths, and the cycles of "good seasons" and "bad seasons," the network beefs, etc., etc.

Long-time writer James Downey gave some revealing interviews. He's known for writing a lot of political sketches and getting into a huge feud with one of the NBC execs. When Norm McDonald started anchoring Weekend Update in the mid '90s, Downey wrote most of his material. That always seemed like one of the most unfunny things in the history of the show to me. Not surprisingly, Downey and MacDonald had extreme contempt for the audience, more interested in doing what they thought was smart humor than getting laughs. In the book, MacDonald says, "I have more faith in me and Jim that I did in any audience. I just like doing jokes I like, and if the audience doesn't like them, then they're wrong, not me." I suppose many "comics" have that attitude and some express it regularly (hello, Carlos Mencia), but it always seems stunning to me.

That passage sort of crystalized the whole book for me, though, because it addresses the central question: Who and what was (is) this show for? Clearly it was breaking ground when it began (as they will never let us forget), but when the participants reminisce and celebrate and fulminate, they talk endlessly about the pressure, the ideas, the performances, the opportunity, the relationships. It's all inside baseball -- the rarefied air of their club. Many describe the show as a intense training ground for performance and celebrity. Which makes sense: they set it up so only a week's work goes into each show. It's performed live. If they were trying for perfection, they'd do it differently. As a member of the audience, what it amounts to is a weekly exercise in watching people improve their craft. Often it's funny and great and, just as often, it's kinda lame. The book's tone was one of reliving the glory and assuming immortality. But the glory isn't for us, it's for them and their careers. They kinda need to get over themselves.