Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington (2015)

The hardest line for me to write of a review is the first. Always, every time, I struggle to find the right words to capture the essence of the capture of the book I am trying to express. So, week after week, I open my review explaining how I got to be reading a particular book...

This week is no different. I found the author Rebecca Harrington through her hilarious series in NY Mag in which she trials the different almost always crazy diets of the stars. It's got everything - bizarre mixes of sour cream and cottage cheese (why, the seventies, why?), poking gentle fun at the stars, and loving Gwenyth the way she should be loved. I then read her novel, Penelope, which I liked a lot but did not love (which, by the way, is better than many of the books I read, which so often bore, infuriate and frustrate me that if I added up the first 50 pages of books I then either threw at the wall or calmly returned to the library, I'd read about 300 books a year). I periodically kept checking the NY Mag series and it was with delight that I discovered Harrington would be writing a book based on her adventures in celebrity dieting.

"Yipee!" I said, and immediately requested that my lovely local library purchase a copy. They did, and I impatiently waited for it to arrive, refreshing the "reservation" screen every time I hit a roadblock in my own writing (read: quite often). The "your item is in stock" notification came in, I picked up the book and I was kind of disappointed.

Firstly, the book is tiny.

It's just slightly taller than a DVD case but a bit thinner. Not very substantial in modern publishing terms.

The opening was great:

I have always noticed diets. Diets are everywhere. You can't be a woman and not think you need to go on a diet or get a face transplant. Preferably the face of a famous person so that you can never get lost. But noticing diets is completely different from doing many of them in succession. Who would do that? Me. Here is the story.

The premise of the book is that Harrington purchases a celebrity's diet book (or that of their personal chef) as well as the book/DVD of their exercise plan. The first one is Gwenyth's, which is (unsurprisingly) completely fab and incredibly ridiculously expensive. The celebrities go from Classic Hollywood (Greta Garbo was a notorious calorie counter who followed fad diets her entire life; she ate a ridiculously disgusting celery pie), Classical-ish Hollywood (Elizabeth Taylor is "an excellent broad with really bad taste in food") through to modern hardcore dieters like Elizabeth Hurley ("I wish I could stop finding diets that Liz Hurley has done. Then I could stop this nightmare" - Harrington only lasted four days following Hurley's punishing routine). It's really funny! Harrington is able to effectively identify the ridiculousness of celebrity lifestyles while gently and affectionately poking fun at the celebrities and those of us who emulate their lifestyles. The thing is, it's just her NY Mag series printed in a book. Other than a few extra celeb diets (maybe three or four?), there's nothing in here that I couldn't get from the mag itself. So, I would absolutely recommend this book, but I would also find it hard to explain why they should pay for content that they can just get for free from the Internet.

Finally, one thing that I found really disconcerting was the typesetting of the book. There were really huge gaps between each paragraph:

Usually that indicates a new section but it didn't here - they were all consisently that size. It was weird and annoying.

Overall, a funny book but with some major flaws. Three stars, but Rebecca, I would come to any of your dinner parties any time! Let's be friends :)

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