on loving books, pure and simple

"From both Obasan and Uncle I have learned that speech often hides like an animal in a storm." (p. 3)

Okay, how simple is that sentence? How beautiful?

We in the book club are racing through Joy Kogawa's Obasan. A friend asked me tonight if it's a fast read and I gave it a qualified yes.... Yes, it is just 271 pages. Yes it is on school curricula. But the prose is lovely, and you can't help but linger over the words....

Meanwhile, a much faster read is Jen Lancaster's book, Such a Pretty Fat.

I heart it, though not quite done. I know people had a few questions about the memoir, also titled, One Narcissist's Quest to Discover if her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, also titled, Why Pie is Not the Answer.

Here's how Lancaster herself pitched it, and perhaps this is why I find it sort of inspiring:

"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 taken them out for fizzy champagne drinks and cheesecake and explain to them that until they figure out their insides, their outsides don't matter.

"Unfortunately, being overweight isn't simply a societal issue that can be solved by positive self-esteem. Rather, it's a health matter, and here on the eve of my fortieth year, I've learned I have to make changes so I don't, you know, die. Because what good is finally being able to afford a pedicure if I lose a foot to adult-onset diabetes?" (p. 135)

To start, yes, she does have to lose weight for health reasons. Technically, on a theoretical -- she could get diabetes, she could get heart disease. For her, it's time to get serious. She calls her doctor Dr. Awesome though, so she's not getting mean pressure, she's getting a reality check.

This is not a book about how a woman lived happily ever after after she lost 100 pounds, and that's what I love. She isn't doomed to frumpiness or wallowing in self-pity. It is not an episode of The Biggest Loser (have I complained to you lately about how I believe this reality show is a 21st century throw-back to the carnivals people used to go to in the 19th century? like, 'step right up, kids, and check out the unfortunate freaks of society! watch us manipulate them and make them cry!').*

Lancaster is happy, and she lives a very good life. Her husband is supportive and funny. Her friends are supportive and funny. And she actually has awesome self-image. For example: "I'm a hundred pounds heavier than I was in high school, my veins are full of creme fraiche, and yet I look in the mirror, take in the hair and makeup, and think, Damn baby, you fiiine." (p. 14)

Come on, how awesome is that? That, by the way, is an excerpt from a conversation with her husband, who asks, "If you're fiiine, then what's the problem?"

Her husband's name is Fletch. He's kind of my hero. For example, at one point she starts to freak about what she's eating, and about how the weight isn't coming off, and about how she may have to buy a second seat on an airplane (purely a theoretical, by the way).

"Fletch switches off the burner, covers the saute pan, and sits down across the table from me. He takes my hand and gazes lovingly into my eyes. 'I'm just curious,' he says. 'At what point did you lose your fucking mind?.... Up until recently, you were the most confident person I knew. You're the one who says everyone else is too thin and you're just right. Now that you're actually losing weight, you're completely fixated on body image, and you never were before. Doesn't make any sense.... If you keep obsessing, you're ultimately going to fail because no matter how much weight you lose, you will never think you're thin enough. That's a recipe for unhappiness right there....'" (p. 107)

See? I love him! I've never been married before, but I imagine that's a good kind of husband to have, all straight-talking and stuff.

(I also imagine, however, that that is merely the gist of what he said, as Lancaster is unlikely to have hidden recorders all over her house for the moments when her husband was particularly great. Although maybe she kept a diary and wrote down all their conversations? I've done that.... though nowhere near that amount of detail....)

Did I mention the footnotes, by the way? They are totally irrelevant/hilarious little breaks in the writing. For example, she will write about going to the gym too much in one week, then when you follow the footnote you discover "too much" is actually twice or three times.

I'm not really that big on memoirs. Or stories about losing weight, actually. As I've mentioned before, I get pretty squeamish when the "F" word is thrown around. But this is a pretty darn good read.

Anyway, I should get back to Obasan....

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