Friday, June 23, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking Critic. 75 Pounds and Counting: My Excellent Adventure in Weight-Loss (hardback)

Author: Jami Bernard
Publisher: Avery/$22.95 (304 pages)
Date of Publication: September 7, 2006
Reviewed by: James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

In March 1999, I wrote an article in Better Nutrition magazine called, “Giving Barbie the ‘boot’,” in which I criticized American society’s pressures on young girls to emulate the nearly impossible Barbie body type, an article that I was pleased to see cited by Michelle Varat in her illuminating paper, “Life in Plastic: The Truth Behind Barbie.”

What was the focus of my article? Responsible (and realistic) weight-loss strategies for lasting change. And strategies are exactly what award-winning film critic, author and social commentator, Jami Bernard, focuses on in her wonderful new book, The Incredible Shrinking Critic. She writes: “Lasting weight loss is about strategy, not willpower.”

True enough. Bernard guides us through a deeply personal journey of discovery and body emancipation starting when she opened her eyes to the fact that she weighed 230 pounds and she resolved to lose 100 of them. Originally covering her weight-loss quest in a New York Daily News column called “Our Incredible Shrinking Critic,” she ultimately loses 75—carefully, realistically and consciously.

To lose the unwanted weight, Bernard had to first gain insights (sometimes painfully) into the whys and wherefores of how the extra fat got there in the first place, at one point leading her to write: “I want my body back.” To get it back, Bernard uncovered many of the ways she—and we—often wrongly use food: as a punishment, as a salve for emotional pain and need, as a crutch, as an excuse, and as a way of physically erecting a buffer zone between ourselves and the world which increasingly marginalizes, ignores and resents those of us who are far from the Ken or Barbie physiques.

Ms. Bernard is as generous in sharing her often intimate self-revelations as she is at providing common-sense observations of startling insight and simplicity, such as “To lose weight, you have to cook for yourself.” Although holistic health approaches are not necessarily given their due here, this book is truly a must for anyone who wants to shed not only weight but baggage as well. Uproariously funny and yet also profoundly personal, film guru Bernard has come out with a real-life look at weight goals and how to achieve them, one so fascinating that I’ll buy my own “ticket” right now and suggest you do likewise.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Natural Medicine, Optimal Wellness: The Patient’s Guide to Health and Healing (softback)

Authors: Jonathan V. Wright, M.D. and Alan R. Gaby, M.D.
Publisher: Vital Health Publishing/$21.95 (388 pages)
Date of Publication: 2006
Reviewed by: James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Originally published as The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing in 1999, the return of this encyclopedic and comprehensive natural health resource could not come at a better time. Written by two of progressive medicine’s most well-known physicians, Drs. Jonathan Wright and Alan R. Gaby, Natural Medicine, Optimal Wellness: The Patient's Guide to Health and Healing is collectively backed by decades of clinical experience and 30,000 scientific articles.

Wright and Gaby convincingly show how most chronic illness “can be treated safely, effectively, and relatively inexpensively with natural medicines.” Following foundational chapters--including the fundamentals of natural medicine, digestion and absorption, and food allergy and intolerance--the authors then provide a 300-page encyclopedia of enlightened nutritional and holistic approaches to conditions ranging from acne rosacea to ulcerative colitis.

Natural Medicine, Optimal Wellness is unique in a number of ways, one of which is its format: the condition “chapters” all begin with fascinating and very consumer-friendly case reports by Dr. Wright followed by detailed comments and recommendations by Dr. Gaby.

Another way this book is original is in its selection of health topics, since rarely covered yet common concerns, such as cervical dysplasia and bursitis, are also included.

While I might gently depart from the authors in one or two cases in the 388 pages (such as with the comments about milk and diabetes), what’s much more important is that this reference has automatically earned its rightful place in today's “pantheon” of classic health resources right alongside those “nutritional prescription” and “definitive guide to alternative medicine” tomes, one which deserves to be (and should be) in every health-food store and consumer home health library in North America--and beyond.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ampalaya: Nature’s Remedy for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes (softback)

Author: Frank Murray
Publisher: Basic Health Publications/$14.95 (218 pages)
Date of Publication: 2006
Reviewed by: James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Since I had the privilege of having once worked with modern-day health and nutrition pioneer, Frank Murray, I cannot claim to be unbiased when it comes to Mr. Murray’s books; on the other hand, I do know first-hand what a first-rate health journalist he is.

Ampalaya: Nature’s Remedy for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes is a well-written book about a promising botanical called ampalaya in the Philippines, bitter melon in the U.S. and Momordica charantia by scientists. Written in Frank’s crisp, engaging style,

Ampalaya begins by delivering a good overview of the diabetes epidemic in the U.S., while also offering a fascinating, and colorful, historical chronicle (historical perspective being a forte of Frank’s) on diabetes since ancient times. In addition to a well-referenced chapter on the research behind ampalaya and another on mini-case-histories, the book is jam-packed with practical, take-home information on: diabetes complications; reducing risk factors; taking care of your eyes, feet and kidneys; diet and nutrition in diabetes; overweight and exercise; and more. Frank pulls out all the stops when it comes to useful tips and lists of actionable suggestions, as well.

All in all, this is much more than a health book about ampalaya; it is an invaluable resource for all people who are concerned about diabetes and interested in learning about a powerful variety of ways to improve their health and fend off the risk factors and symptoms associated with this epidemic disease.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Greetings fellow consumers, bibliophiles, librarians, publishers, authors' representatives and publicists, health food retailers, book buyers and distributors, and all those whose interest, passion or business (maybe all three) includes health-related books!

Why would one even want help navigating the choppy (sometimes muddy) waters of books that fall in the very general area of health--this includes the health of the body and of the environment (and sometimes of society and its institutions)?

Precisely because health-related books are so important: readers and customers rely on these books to improve their lives, enrich their perspectives, optimize their health and help fend off disease (as part of a larger program of proper eating and exercise), and to improve the health of the planet.

Where does Health Books Navigator come in, then?

Well, I am a published health book author, a former health book editor for such houses as Plenum/Human Sciences Press and Appleton & Lange/Prentice Hall, the former longtime editor-in-chief of Better Nutrition magazine (from 1995 to 2002) and now the editor of an anti-aging medical journal.

A former managing editor of the American Journal of Surgery and the American Journal of Medicine, I'm a health journalist who's been published in a variety of consumer health and natural products industry trade magazines since 2002, and am on the boards of both Citizens for Health and the Natural Health Research Institute (NHRI).

A current member in good standing of the National Book Critics Circle, I was also a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly from 1993 through 1998 (for the Forecasts review section). I have been a member of the Horror Writers Association and helped develop the writers guidebook, Writing Horror for Writer's Digest Books. I am also a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

How Publishers Weekly approaches books is how I and my fellow reviewers will, as well. We will selectively review only those books which we believe are, at minimum, good and noteworthy (and perhaps much better even than that)--meaning that if we don't review a certain book it is because it either did not cross our desks, was not new and noteworthy enough from our perspective or it did not approach health from an especially progressive or enlightened viewpoint. Translation: we will not waste your time (our ours) "trashing" books.

So there you have it--we're off to an exciting start!
Publishers, authors' publicists and representatives: please put me on your lists of reviewers to whom advance copies of books and requests for comment are sent. Please mail advance and/or review copies to:
James J. Gormley
Health Books Navigator
c/o PCE, Inc.
377 Park Avenue
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New York, NY 10016

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