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Every now and again, with a mind toward keeping abreast of current trends in book publishing, I buy a best seller that I would otherwise not pass within two or three aisles of at a bookstore. Sometimes I end up being pleasantly surprised; sometimes not.
This is one of the "not" stories. Four "nots" will follow in this series.
The bestseller in question today - YOU: On a Diet: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management [ISBN-10: 0743292545, ISBN-13: 978-0743292542] - has been perched atop The New York Times "Hardcover Advice" bestseller list for some weeks (though I think it's dropped down a peg since).
I chose this book partly because two "YOU" books had preceded it, both of which have been colossal bestsellers - YOU: The Owner's Manual: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger and YOU: The Smart Patient: An Insider's Handbook for Getting the Best Treatment. [EDITOR'S NOTE: We are now threatened with a 4th title - YOU: On a Walk.]
I also chose this book because I received my Winter 2007 Easton Press catalog last week and - boy, was this a jaw-dropping experience - one of the new offerings was none other than YOU: The Owner's Manual, "... bound in genuine leather. Accented on the spine with 22-karat gold. Printed on acid-neutral pages that are thread-sewn, not merely glued." Most of us, I think, have long nurtured assumptions that Easton Press was and remains in the biz of reprinting classics, books that have stood the test of time and come out on top of the literary heap. To me, publishing YOU: The Owner's Manual in full leather with not-merely-glued pages seems tantamount to inducting a rookie of the year into the hall of fame, only this rookie should've been sent back to the bush leagues before the end of spring training. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And this isn't the only rookie. If you haven't glanced at an Easton catalog recently, there are several dozen of them in the lineup now. Easton is preserving for posterity the likes of Princess Di, Charlie Brown and Spider-Man. When I close my eyes, I can see, among others, Albert Boni, George Macy and Joseph Malaby Dent doing things that dead men really shouldn't do in their graves - move. And, if you think there are only books in Easton catalogs, hah. Anybody need a Grundig G5W shortwave radio?
Sorry, I'm getting off message.
Let's start this review with an excerpt from the YOU: On a Diet dust jacket blurb:
"For the first time in our history, scientists are uncovering astounding medical evidence about dieting - why so many of us struggle with our weight and the size of our waists. Now researchers are unraveling biological secrets about such things as why you crave chocolate or gorge at buffets or store so much fat.
"Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz, America's most trusted doctor team and authors of the bestselling YOU series, are now translating this cutting edge information to help you shave inches off your waist. They're going to do it by giving you the best weapon against fat: knowledge. By understanding how your body's fat-storing and fat-burning systems work, you're going to learn how to crack the code on true and lifelong waist management."
I'd like you to ponder the word "knowledge" for a moment, trotted out here as the "best weapon against fat." More traditional weapons against fat - deprivation, exercise, willpower, etc. - are the sorts of things that most of us don't want to take in hand yet again because they can be difficult to wield, sometimes painful if not impossible to sustain for any length of time, and ultimately ineffectual. Not so knowledge. Knowledge is easy. You can sit down in a comfortable chair and read a book - and gain knowledge.
And guess what. Now you can beat fat with the power of knowledge! Apparently we just didn't have the right kind of knowledge before all of these astounding scientific breakthroughs occurred. The truth is that most blurbs are carefully crafted to trick you into buying a book. The suggestion in this blurb is that losing weight will now be as easy as reading a book. Kind of makes you want to buy it, doesn't it?
Trouble is there's lots more to the YOU: On a Diet program than knowledge. Oh, there's knowledge in it alright, but it seems almost beside the point and never the sort I'd attach the adjective "astounding" to. Interestingly enough, EVERYTHING YOU'VE ALWAYS HATED ABOUT DIETING IS PART OF THIS PROGRAM TOO!
Permit me to hit some high spots.
I guess I could forgive this trickery if this wasn't such a bad, stupid, manipulative book in almost every other sense I can think of. Here are a few conspicuous elements that stirred me deeply:
And, is it just me, or do you get the feeling that somebody is chucking every buzz word known to mankind into this book hoping that something, somewhere will punch somebody's happy button?
Well, this has been harder than I thought it was going to be, and there are four more parts to this series! I wish I could report that good writing, not to mention good information, the kind that can genuinely better our lives, is alive and well in 2007 publishing, but it's definitely not in this case. We live in a fix-it society, and You: On a Diet is nothing more than a derivative, fix-it book that doesn't even attempt to plumb the true causes of out-of-control eating. Instead, it teaches us that the solutions to our problems involve nothing more than tinkering with body chemistry, this time via the careful selection and ingestion of foods that are no fun to eat again and again and again. Yeah, it's selling like hot cakes today, but tomorrow, I confidently predict it'll fill dumpsters from sea to shining sea. Unless Oprah stamps her book club logo on it, and that would only delay the inevitable.
In general, I say, diet books be damned. Many of us who have entered bookselling have done so from a background of profoundly loving profoundly good books, loving them because they were well written, informative and, in some cases, life changing. Books at this level are books that will hold their value over the decades, trigger insights within new readers time and time again - all accomplished without an imp in sight - and help build inventories that we can feel satisfaction presenting to our buyers.
Along the way, unfortunately, we may need to sell a few books that don't measure up. Easton Press would no doubt explain that this is the reality of being in business - turning a profit - and I don't pretend to be any different. I have bills to pay too. The only good news I can think of is that bestsellers of this ilk move out the door pretty quickly. I purchased my copy of YOU: On a Diet at Wal-Mart for $14.97 plus tax. After completing this article, I priced it competitively on Amazon for $12.99, and it sold in less than two hours. Expect to encounter droves of this title soon at garage sales near you.
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark
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