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Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic"
Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic"
by Natalie Boero
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but problematic, 13 July 2013
What is fascinating about this book is the vivid and detailed information that San Jose State University sociology Associate Professor Natalie Boero provides about what it's like to be fat. Especially interesting is her experience with Weight Watchers and Overeaters Anonymous in Chapter 3. She went to their meetings and conducted interviews. She analyzed and reported on the various degrees of success and failure experienced by clients. She compared and contrasted the two approaches and exposed the underlying assumptions. In short, Weight Watchers uses a diet-based, point-counting formula while Overeaters Anonymous follows the Alcoholic Anonymous approach.

Boero labels their differing approaches respectively as the "normative pathology model" and the "unique disease model." She thinks that Weight Watchers see women as "emotional eaters...prone to excess." In the Overeaters Anonymous mindset, obesity is a "chronic and incurable disease" best treated with a 12-step social program.

Also fascinating was Chapter 4 in which Boero looks into bariatric surgery and finds it wanting justification. She makes a strong case by showing that even after surgery many people were still obese and others became obese again. Even the successful clients were not home free since they had to maintain a strict diet lest they extend their stomachs making it likely that they would gain back the weight they lost. She argues that it is a serious question about whether "gastric bypass is more akin to a surgically enforced eating disorder than it is to a surgical cure for obesity." (p. 121)

I think the book would have reached more readers if Boero had begun with these chapters since they are eye-opening and interesting. Chapter 1, which is mostly about the politics of obesity associated with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "Healthy People" publication, is so heavily qualified and painstakingly wrought that it's annoying to read. Nonetheless she makes a good point when she argues that "moral entrepreneurs" have framed the rise in the average weight of Americans as an epidemic so that they might benefit financially by providing treatments. I have no doubt that this is correct.

Chapter 2, which is on the media's bias against fat people, was less than enthralling and not entirely convincing. While there certainly is a bias in favor of the thin and beautiful in the media, that is not necessarily the media's fault. People in general prefer to see and hear about the thin and beautiful. Blaming the media for the bias of those who consume media isn't entirely fair.

But what I found problematic is that Boero concentrates on the political and sociological aspects of the "epidemic" so intensely that she fails to acknowledge the real public health problem. She focuses on how unfair it is to denigrate people, especially women, for being fat seemingly without realizing that the health risks that come from carrying around all those extra pounds are real and need to be addressed.

I also didn't care for her designation of the public health problem as a "postmodern epidemic" fueled by "moral panic" and "chaos." It's a theme that she repeats over and over again throughout the book. A postmodern epidemic (as I came to understand by reading this book) is a socially constructed epidemic, and its cure is not medical but social. For Boero that cure comes in the form of the Health at Every Size movement whose principles include "Accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes."

It's hard to argue with that except for the fact that overweight and obese people in the vast majority of cases are at greater risk from a variety of health problems including diabetes, heart attacks and cancer than are those whose weight is closer to the norm. This has been overwhelmingly documented in hundreds of studies and in the actuary tables kept by insurance companies. The fact that SOME people can weigh more than what is considered normal does not change the truth that carrying too much fat is dangerous to your health, and by the way, limits your lifestyle choices.

When she criticizes the media for not giving more exposure to the minority of scientists who think being overweight is okay or at least not that big a problem she reminds me of climate change deniers. On page 98 she even takes a stab at "conventional scientific wisdom" making me wonder how unconventional scientific wisdom might stack up. Again, the fact that SOME authorities deny the health risks of being fat doesn't change the reality.

But Boero tries. She writes, " its most basic level, the obesity epidemic is about women." (p. 55) The fact that women more often than men try to lose weight (according to Boero 80% of bariatric patients are women) doesn't alter the fact that the public concern about obesity is about health.

And if it isn't about women it's about attitude. She reports (p. 101) that what the "size acceptance community" wants to do is not so much help people lose weight but to work to "change a fat phobic society." In short, Boero seems to dislike the idea that people are personally responsible for being fat. She sees poverty and prejudices against minorities and other cultures as a major factor in the epidemic, and in this she is no doubt correct at least in part. Poor people lack easy access to health care and they can't afford whole, fresh foods and must get the vast majority of their calories from denatured and highly processed foods. However she doesn't mention the fact that greater health care costs that result from people being fat must come out of somebody's pocket. Should the obese pay higher health insurance premiums? She doesn't address this question.

The book is not without its entertainment value. I got a kick out of all the sociology-speak and the jargon (some of which is encountered above) to which we can add this gem, which includes the use of "foreground" as a verb: "Postmodern epidemics clearly foreground both the positive and negative aspects of medicalization." (p. 5) For balance (perhaps) Boero uses "regain" as a noun as in "Most of these people had experienced regain some time after their surgery..." (p. 80) In the bariatric chapter we encounter "redundant skin" and "long-term pouch care," which returns us to the reality of the obesity epidemic.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

The Bhagavad Gita (Classic of Indian Spirituality)
The Bhagavad Gita (Classic of Indian Spirituality)
by Eknath Easwaran
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, natural translation with an insightful preface, 7 July 2013
This is an especially natural and graceful translation somewhere between poetry and prose by a man who really understands the message of the Gita. This can be seen from reading Eknath Easwaran's wise and penetrating Preface written especially for this, the Vintage Spiritual Classics Edition, edited by John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne for Vintage Books.

Easwaran shows that the differing paths to self-realization and liberation that the Gita presents are a comprehensive whole. "The thread through Krishna's teaching, the essence of the Gita, can be given in one word: renunciation. This is the common factor in the four yogas" (p. xxxviii). Easwaran goes on to explain that what is being renounced is not material, although on first blush it seems that way. What is renounced are the fruits of action. Renunciation is not only the essence of karma yoga, but the essence of the bhakti, jnana and raja yogas that Krishna presents as well. The key is an amazing spiritual and psychological insight into human nature: we are miserable when we are concerned with the results of what we do, but we are freed when we devote the fruits of our work to God. What is renounced is also the delusion of a material self that acts, the famous slayer and the slain. Unlike some other, rather foolish, translations that try to find some artificial substitute for the word "yoga," an endeavor entirely alien to the Gita, Easwaran embraces the understanding. He writes, "the Gita is Brahmavidyayam yogashastra, a textbook on the supreme science of yoga" (p. xxxvi)

It is also clear from what Easwaran writes in the Preface that he understands meditation and the path of moksha gained when one is beyond the pair of opposites that dominate our material existence. Easwaran knows because he himself is a long time practitioner of meditation, which is one of the ways of liberation (raja yoga). So many writers on spirituality and on the practice of yoga really do not know meditation, but Easwaran clearly does. Easwaran also understands that the insights of the Gita can be found in other mystical traditions, including those of Meister Eckhart, St. Catherine of Genoa, Ruysbroeck, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and others.

Easwaran also makes the important point that the Gita is not the sole property of any one point of view. "The Gita does not present a system of philosophy. It offers something to every seeker after God, of whatever temperament, by whatever path" (p. xxxv).

Easwaran writes, "to understand the Gita, it is important to look beneath the surface of its injunctions and see the mental state involved. Philanthropic activity can benefit others and still carry a large measure of ego involvement. Such work is good, but it is not yoga. It may benefit others, but it will not necessarily benefit the doer" (p. xxxix). This represents a profound insight into the nature of karma yoga, an understanding that comes only after years of study and practice.

Finally Easwaran knows something others don't know (even though this is central to Krishna's teaching), that the Gita, through the practice of yoga, frees one from the fear of death. When one "realizes that he is not a physical creature but the Atman, the Self, and thus not separate from God...he knows that, although his body will die, he will not die...To such a person, the Gita says, death is no more traumatic than taking off an old coat." (pp. xxiv-xxv).

There are ten pages of notes that follow the translation in which the shades of meaning of various concepts like dharma, karma, yoga, sannyasa, etc., and some other ideas are discussed. There is a guide to pronunciation and a glossary of Sanskrit words. This quality paperback is handsomely designed from cover to font, and the translation is one of my favorites.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"

After The Wedding [DVD] [2007]
After The Wedding [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Mads Mikkelsen
Price: £8.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Enormously affecting; deeply human, 5 July 2013
I may be getting too sentimental in my old age but this film was so touching that I actually cried through quite a bit of it. What I found so touching was how essentially good almost all the characters were.

The central character Jacob Pederson (Mads Mikkelsen) despite a nearly constant scowl on his face or a look of deep concern and perhaps worry is a man who really cares about right and wrong and other people. This is a sharp change from his misspent youth when all he cared about were...well what many of us cared about, having a good time. Now he runs an orphanage in Mumbai.

While Jacob is the central character the most interesting character and the one with the biggest heart is the very rich Jorgen Lennart Hannson (Rolf Lassgard). Jacob has gone to Denmark to convince Jorgen to support his orphanage. It isn't clear that Jorgen will do so. He has choices for charity. But when Jorgen invites Jacob to his daughter's elaborate wedding, things change.

I won't say any more about the plot since it is such an interesting and surprising plot. What I will say is that when Jorgen learns who Jacob really is in relationship to his family (and vice-versa!) he does something so caring, so surprising and so correct and so magnanimous that it will warm the cockles of the coldest heart and bring to tears the most cynical of viewers.

And then we are back to Jacob and how he deals with what Jorgen has concocted. And he too does the right thing even though it completely changes his life and costs him something dear to his heart..

I wish I could be more concrete. But see the film and I think you'll agree that this is the kind of movie that will make you feel good about people. It's a shame that it's rated "R." Perhaps if you have a tweener or even a bright 10-year-old you can watch it together. And you can talk about it. It is a great relationship film, and a great film for teaching young people about the real choices in life that can come up

The acting was excellent. Mikkelsen brought the strength of character and a justified pride to the role of Jacob while Lassgard was warm and real and smart as Jorgen. Both Sidse Babett Knudsen, who played Jorgen's wife, and Stine Fischer Christensen, who played the bride, were intense and so vivid I felt I could touch them. (The intense close-ups on the eyes and faces--and I mean intense--made the actors almost leap off the screen.) But most of my praise must go to Susanne Bier who wrote the story and directed and to Anders Thomas Jensen who wrote the screenplay. The story and the movie are simply brilliant.

--Dennis Littrell, author of the movie review collection, "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"

In Organic We Trust [DVD] [2012] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
In Organic We Trust [DVD] [2012] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Kip Pastor
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £9.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely worth viewing, 4 July 2013
Director Kip Pastor talks to a lot of people in the organic food business including those passionate about organics to those skeptical of the value of organic foods. He shows us how fast and large the industry has grown and he shows us why.

He shows us that people are concerned about their health and they want to eat right. But most people have no idea what "organic" means. The rules for being organic are arcane even mysterious and yes they do spray. But what they spray is apparently less toxic than what Big Agriculture sprays.

One of the things I learned is that there are levels of being organic both in terms of size (small organic farms are being gobbled up by the big guys) and in terms of just how "pure" the farmers are. I also learned that the label "organic," even the green and white "USDA organic," on a food does not guarantee that the food is better than something conventionally produced. However I think organic is on average superior, and this video supports that belief. And that is basically (and vaguely) what some of the people Pastor interviewed thought. More nutritional? Maybe. Maybe not. Safer? I would say very likely.

How boring or interesting is this video to the average viewer? Probably only so-so. To someone clearly interested in knowing what organic is all about? Interesting. Should you as a home ed teacher show this to your class? Yes.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

The Transition Diet: How to Transition to a Vegetarian or Semi-Vegetarian Diet
The Transition Diet: How to Transition to a Vegetarian or Semi-Vegetarian Diet
by David Yager
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.28

3.0 out of 5 stars Skeptical reading required, 4 July 2013
I love the idea of people being largely vegetarians, and I hope this book for all its faults can help increase their numbers. Vegetarianism is good for our health and good for the health of the planet.

As for Yager's touting of dairy products (grass fed and raw) I have my doubts. He cites studies purporting to show that consuming milk and milk products reduces the instance of heart disease and the production of excess mucus. He cites studies that seem to show that eating full fat dairy products is good for your health and does not lead to being overweight. Of course there are many other studies that come to the opposite conclusion. Who should you believe?

There are two problems with these studies. One is cherry picking and the other is finding out who sponsored the study. In the first case consider this. If somebody in the dairy industry does some studies on what effects their products have on people and they don't like the result they can do another study. In fact they can do many studies. Sooner or later a study might (due to chance perhaps) give them the result they want. Along with a lot fanfare and glossy ads they publish that result.

Now consider the position of the researchers doing the studies. If they come up with results the sponsors don't like they know it is unlikely they'll get funding for any more studies. So bias can easily slip into the studies. And of course the bias is likely to favor the people paying for the study.

Yager talks a lot about mucus, and to be honest I had a lot of trouble understanding him. For example he writes:

"When someone skips a meal or doesn't eat for a whole day the excess mucus and toxic material stored in the cellular spaces and intestine floods into the bloodstream making them ill." (Location 388) When Yager says "someone" he apparently means someone who has been eating a crappy diet. Nonetheless I find this statement a bit fantastic. I'd love to see a single study supporting this claim.

I don't even know whether Yager's central claim that a transition diet is necessary to go from being a typical American carnivore to being an ovo-lacto-vegetarian is true. He cites no actual studies. I looked through the studies he does cite near the end of the book and none that I could see have anything to do with supporting the idea that people need a "transition diet" to keep mucus and toxics from flooding the blood stream when going to vegetarian diet. As an experiment nine years ago I went from a flexitarian diet to a vegan diet without the slightest transition and not only didn't I have excess mucus but I had less. I also lost twenty pounds in a matter of a few months and in fact looked a little gaunt. I have since reverted to a diet that is largely vegetarian (and gained ten pounds, alas).

Some foods can cause excess mucus in some people (according to what I have read in various places) but almost all these "authorities" cite dairy foods and wheat as the culprits whereas Yager thinks "cooked grains, potatoes, mayonnaise" and "olive oil" are the likely causes. (386) (But he uses olive oil in his recipe for Ratatouille. So I guess some is okay.) Maybe Yager is right about this; however he cites no studies to support his claim.

Excessive production of mucus in upper respiratory can range from annoying to life-threatening but the most likely causes are air borne allergies, air pollution, viruses, and bacteria. From what I understand excessive mucus in the bowel does not flood into the blood stream (as Yager has it) but is eliminated as part of the feces.

Yager says that the idea of a transition diet came in part from Arnold Ehret. I never heard of him so I consulted Wikipedia. Here's a bit of what the Wikipedia article said about him: "Ehret asserted that the body was an air-gas engine, not dependent on food for energy...Ehret further believed that white blood cells were the result of ingesting mucus-forming foods."

I would say "enough said," but I'll add that Ehret died in 1922 at the age of 56.

Yager thinks that seeds and nuts are unhealthy for humans. (483) He writes "Nuts and seeds are low in living water content and very high in fat and protein which is the opposite of mother's milk, the first food of humans, which is very low in protein and fat and high in living water." (504)

The comparison is true (relatively speaking) but the idea that seeds and nuts are unhealthy foods is ridiculous. True some people are allergic to some nuts and seeds, but the vast majority of people are not. From an evolutionary point of view we know that fruits are a natural and healthy part of the human diet. After all, our non-human ancestors lived in trees. We know that they also ate nuts and seeds and a lot of them. Furthermore, "mother's milk" while ideal for a baby is not the best food for adults.

So what would have to be shown is that humans are different than our ape-like ancestors in such a way as to make nut and seed eating not good. Noting that "Humans are not birds nor rodents..." Yager avers that humans are "a spiritually and mentally more advanced life form than animals and therefore they require a food that supports their advanced spiritual and intellectual capacity." (497)

He continues: "The purpose of a nut or seed is to reproduce its kind as it states in Genesis of the Bible. Birds and other animals do eat them but they are adapted to do so. Humans are meant to care for and propagate fruit trees and vegetable plants throughout creation by saving the seed and planting it." (514)

By the way, what he means by "living water" is water "that has been activated by a living plant, human or animal, with living enzymes, vitamins and organic minerals." (497)

Yager writes, "Nuts and seeds are mucus forming because the body must produce extra mucus in order to protect itself from the toxic nature of the substances they contain." (512) If this is true it is also true that the mucus which is always in our intestinal tract is eliminated with bowel movements. Yager claims that mucus and toxins from the intestinal tract enter the bloodstream. This may be true in people who are ill. More in keeping with what I understand is his statement: "The vegetable fiber in salads and steamed vegetables will clean out the mucus and toxic matter in your intestine." (1623)

Perhaps this sums up why Yager thinks a transition diet is necessary:

"Eating a diet high in vegetables and fruits without a prior period of transition can be damaging to the vital organs because highly toxic substances like fermented mucus, pesticides and drugs, which are stored in the fat cells and the intercellular spaces, will be suddenly released, flooding the bloodstream, which can damage the eliminative organs and even cause death." (2520)

I wish he had cited some studies to support this statement!

There is some interesting information in the book about such things as the pH value of many foods and some yin and yang notions about food including a fruit classification chart according to traditional Chinese medicine. Interesting is a study he cites showing that capsaicin from hot peppers "is an effective inhibitor of in vitro (test tube) and in vivo (in living organisms) growth of pancreatic cancer cells." (6707)

All in all this is the kind of book that must be read carefully and with a healthy application of skepticism.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

King Corn: You Are What You Eat [DVD] [2007] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
King Corn: You Are What You Eat [DVD] [2007] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Bob Bledsoe
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £8.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Low key but very revealing and interesting, 30 Jun. 2013
In this interesting and informative documentary two young men, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, return from the east coast to the Iowa farm country of their ancestors in order to find out what it is like to be a corn farmer in America. Their plan is to plant an acre of corn and follow that corn to market and see what happens. They want to know what life is like for the farmers and they want to know how the corn is processed and eventually consumed. What they find out is mixed.

They learn about the high yields that are possible today with the variety of corn that dominates corn production in this country. This plant has the property of being able to grow close to others of its kind, thereby increasing the number of plants per acre. This is good no doubt. However this variety of corn while ideal for the making of high fructose corn syrup and ethanol is lower in other nutrients such as protein and oil. For my perspective this too is okay. If that is what sells, the farmer really doesn't have much choice.

But what is disturbing about the corn farming and processing business are the subsidies that go to big agriculture and the consolidation that has taken place turning small farms into huge farms. Monoculture is a disease of the land. If more small farmers were able to make a living planting different varieties of crops people would eat better and healthier.

Cheney and Ellis also learn that much of the corn is used to fatten cattle. The natural diet of cattle is grass. Fattening them with nothing but corn makes them sick, but not sick enough to die before being slaughtered for the market.

They also learn (if they hadn't already known it) that corn is in an amazing number of the processed foods in the supermarkets and is the basis of McDonald happy meals. In other words king corn is instrumental in fostering and abetting the obesity epidemic.

The documentary is fascinating because it shows the exact details of how planting, weeding (chemically), fertilizing, harvesting and marketing of the corn is done. There are conversations with farmers and others and the famous food writer Michael Pollan makes an appearance.

This is not a documentary that is going to please the corn industry, but it is not a polemic either. I thought it was fair and accurate as far as I know. I am on the side of more diversified farming organically, but I know that feeding the seven plus billion people on this planet isn't possible without mass agricultural methods such as seen in this video. The fact that our government insists on subsidizing a relatively unhealthy diet based on genetically modified corn and soy is the main culprit. If there were subsidies for farmers to plant a wider variety of crops using organic methods that would improve our diet and allow for sustainable agriculture. The problem with this is we would need a larger percent of the population to farm.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

Una Pura Formalita [DVD]
Una Pura Formalita [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gérard Depardieu

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A pure bore, 30 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Una Pura Formalita [DVD] (DVD)
I watched this with some fascination waiting for something to happened. Nothing did. Since it stars Roman Polanski and Gerard Depardieu I stayed with it until the very end. The ending is a bit of a surprise. At first I didn't realize what had happened, but my subconscious mind worked on it and at three o'clock in the morning I woke up and realized what had happened. Consequently much of the mystery and confusion (in my mind) about the film was cleared up.

However my guess is that "Une pura formalita" will be for most viewers a very boring movie. Typical of many French films it is full of talk, talk and more talk like a Romer flick. Only difference is there is no sex and no female characters. In a way it's a guy kind of film like a war movie but without the action.

Polanski plays a police inspector. Call him Leonardo. Depardieu plays Onoff a famous writer who is suspected of murder. Polanski interrogates Depardieu. That's ninety percent of the film. There are some flashed-backed, indistinct scenes and some other police persons, in particular a young policeman pounding an old manual typewriter as the two leads talk. That's about it. Depardieu's character can't remember things. Polanski's character who, as it happens, is a big fan of Onoff nonetheless suspects that Onoff is lying.

There's a storm and a blackout and incessant rain. The old country police station leaks. Candles all about in the semi-darkness. Water drips down into bowls and cups. Still nothing happens. Finally we have the surprise ending. I say "surprise ending" rather than "trick ending" because it was foreshadowed and I should have seen it coming.

--Dennis Littrell, author of the film review collection, "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote"

White Out
White Out
by Michael Clune
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, disturbing, vividly authentic, 30 Jun. 2013
This review is from: White Out (Paperback)
It takes a lot of courage to write a book like this and a lot of confidence in your writing ability. Clune does write well and he gives away a lot of himself in this mesmerizing memoir about the descent into heroin addiction and recovery. He calls heroin addiction an addiction caused by memory. Strange. But reading the book I think I understand what he means.

When I was child and then a "tweener" long before the word entered the language I was fascinated with heroin addiction. It seemed to my childhood self standing in a liquor store or drugstore reading comic books that the very idea that something could be so addictive, so demanding that you would do anything to have it including killing say your mother was just unbelievable. I would sneak looks at the cover of "Confidential" magazine, a green sheet about all the bad things people did, murder, rape, drugs. As the years went by I read books and saw movies on addiction, heroin addiction. I recall "The Man with the Golden Arm" starring Frank Sinatra. Today they talk about scaring somebody straight. In my case I was pre-terrified. And I'm the kind of guy who does not like even the thought of putting a needle into my arm or neck, as one of the guys, Henry or Dom, in Clune's memoir does.

The central metaphor of this memoir is white. Heroin is white, there's a white light that reminds Clune of heroin. It shines a lot when he isn't high and looking to cop. The frig is white. It reminds him of heroin. The light coming in under the door is white. It reminds him of heroin. The white around the irises of his girlfriend's eyes reminds him of heroin. It's the memory of heroin that keeps him hooked. The first time. The white out white light of the first time.

The strange thing about Clune's memory is that it is so good about everything before he kicked. After that it is less intense, less specific.

In a way this is about being twentysomething and lost. Lost in the white light of the world. Clune is an academic today, an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve. Reading between the lines you can see that he is a personable guy, smart and devious. He knows how to talk his way into and out of situations. He's very talented. His writing is creative, original and it glues you to the page. He comes across as honest and open. But you know from all the things he did to score that he is capable of much dishonesty and concealment. But in the final analysis as I finished the book I thought he was okay, that he was just like some of the guys I knew when I was in my twenties, but a bit smarter, a bit more privileged, probably better looking, somehow strong and likable.

Anyway there's nothing I can say that will come close to bringing to life this disturbing yet ultimately redeeming memoir. Just read it.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

[Note: the title page here at has the wrong title and author for this book. It is "White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin" by Michael W. Clune.]

The Self-Publishing Playbook: Discover How 12 Successful Authors Hit It Big Publishing Their Books Independently
The Self-Publishing Playbook: Discover How 12 Successful Authors Hit It Big Publishing Their Books Independently
by Shane Lee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and helpful tips from successful ebook writers, 21 Jun. 2013
This is an informative, chatty and very readable look at the independent ebook publishing phenomenon. I zipped through it in an hour and a half and I'm no speed reader. Lee interviewed in Q and A format 12 successful ebook writers on how they did it and what factors were important to their success.

As an author who has experienced the dubious thrill and let down of royalty publication (Putnam's brought out my novel "A Perfectly Natural Act" in the seventies) I can say three cheers for self-publishing. Today it's just about as cheap as you want it to be. Before the Internet, the self-publishing industry consisted mostly of "vanity" publishing houses. The cheapest you could get a book published then was in the tens of thousands of dollars. And very, very few writers ever made any money going that route.

As a self-published author of 15 books whose sales on Amazon are decidedly modest, I can still say three cheers for self-publishing. For me and many others we can just call it a hobby that actually pays a little. For the 12 writers that Lee interviewed, it's a different story. They know what it takes to be successful and they shared that knowledge with Lee who distills their insights into "12 Takeaways From The Pros" presented near the end of the book. I've give you three of his tips:

Concentrate on ebooks; forget about print books.
Make sure you have a great cover.
Keep cranking them out.

The third tip is probably the most important since according to Lee it increases "your virtual bookshelf of books to market" and helps you hone your craft. He adds, "In the Taleist survey of 1,007 authors mentioned in the introduction, it turned out that the most successful authors also had the highest work rates, averaging 2,047 words per day." (I couldn't find "the introduction." Perhaps he's referring to some other book.)

Of course Lee also asked the writers about marketing, publicity, rewriting, editing, work habits, etc. I'll let the reader discover the answers to those questions and more. But I will say that a number of the successful ebookers also mentioned "luck" as a very real factor in their success. Most of them also said that their sales were overwhelmingly highest on Amazon's Kindle.

The only fault I have with this book is the fact that all of the successful authors he interviewed are writers of fiction. Why should this be? One of the interviewees, Alan Guthrie, points out that the first purchasers of Kindles and Nooks were primarily fiction readers. Guthrie also suggests that non-fiction titles often require formatting that is difficult for ebooks. (True. My book "How to Win at Hearts on Your Computer" has not sold well as an ebook. I did the formatting myself and recently discovered that on Kindle the playing cards could hardly be seen they were so small! I'm in the process of fixing that.)

By the way, I noticed that Lee put the "Praise for The Self-Publishing Playbook" (blurbs from readers touting his book) near the front of the book. Never mind about the back cover in this digital publishing age. With "Look Inside" what the reader usually sees are the beginning pages.

I'll take that as a tip as well!

Bottom line: if you are an ebook writer, especially of fiction, you will probably find this book fascinating.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
by Leonard Mlodinow
Edition: Paperback

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why physicists should not write pop psychology, 21 Jun. 2013
Mlodnow is an engaging writer and this is a great book for people who don't read books like this. That's because the problem with "Subliminal" is that it's all been done before. For the most part the psychology is not new and the ideas are not new.

You may remember the story about the horse "Clever Hans" who could do arithmetic...well, the horse could do arithmetic with more than a little help from his owner, Wilhelm von Osten. That was in 1904 and reading it here in Mlodinow's book makes it three times I have read it.

Then there's the case of Jennifer Thompson who was raped and twice identified the wrong man in court. Mlodinow presents the story in some detail but not nearly as much detail as was presented on PBS's "Frontline" in 1997.

This wouldn't be so bad but then there comes the case of John Dean from the Watergate burglary and cover-up during the Nixon administration. Dean was known to have a fabulous memory and so when he testified before congress and gave exacting details about his conversations with Nixon his words were taken as an accurate recounting. However when the Nixon tapes appeared it turned out that Dean's memory was full of holes and fabrications.

What's really bizarre about this example is that Joseph T. Hallinan in his book "Why We Make Mistakes" (2009) told the same story. Did Mlodinow read that book and forget or was he unaware of just how often the John Dean story had been told?

Even more bizarre is the fact that Mlodinow's example using pennies to show that we often look without seeing and miss a lot also appears in Hallinan's book complete with the same artwork which in turn came from an article in the journal "Cognitive Psychology" by Raymond S. Nickerson and Marilyn Jager Adams from 1979!

Mlodinow either did not read or hear of these examples or he did and forgot, which would be a great irony since Chapter 3 in the book is titled "Remembering and Forgetting." My point is that it's one thing to refer to something to make a point. It's another to rehash the entire story as though it had never been told before. I guess another thing to say is that when you write a popular book in a field that is not your first discipline you ought to read the other popular works that cover similar ground.

Incidentally, not for a moment do I think Mlodinow was aware consciously that Hallinan had used the stories in "Why We Make Mistakes." It's almost certainly just an interesting coincidence that perhaps more than anything suggests that "great minds think alike."

Aside from these oft-told stories there's more recalling of very familiar stuff such as his demonstration of the eye's blind spot and the done to death staged "shooting" in the Psych 101 classroom in which the eyewitnesses (students) get the details about what happened all wrong .And there's the "talking to a stranger on a busy sidewalk" demonstration of how the person we are talking to can change and we usually will not notice. I saw that on television some years ago. The trick was to have two people carrying something large come between the two people talking and switch the confederate.

It was at this point that I stopped reading. Maybe that's a shame because I'm sure there was some interesting stuff that I didn't get to among some stuff I've heard, seen and read before. Too bad I can't be like the character in Christopher Nolan's movie "Memento" for whom every joke was brand new and every story a new revelation since he couldn't remember anything for more than a minute or so.

One more thing, I did like the "subliminal" very day-glow green cover. I especially liked the almost invisible light green words following the title, subtitle and author's name as it runs down the front cover. In case you missed it, it looks like this:

In black letters (In very light green letters)
How Your (Hey)
Unconscious (There)
Mind (Yes:)
Rules (You, Sexy.)
Your (Buy)
Behavior (This)
(Book Now. You)
Leonard (Know You)
Mlodinow (Want It.)

The "subliminal" words show clearly in the photo of the cover on Amazon's page, but are much subtler on the actual book so that if you look directly at the cover you won't see the green words lost in the green cover, but when you pick the book up they flash at you.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

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