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Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"

Lena Dunham. Random, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9499-5

Reviewed by Rachel Deahl.

Filmmaker (Tiny Furniture) and TV creator (Girls) Dunham has been compared to all manner of comic intellectual impresarios, from Woody Allen to Nora Ephron and Tina Fey. This makes it all the more delightful that Dunham mines her first book from an unexpected source: Helen Gurley Brown's Having It All, which she stumbled upon in a thrift store in college. Dunham hopes that her collection of personal essays will do for its intended readers—the young and female—what the one-time Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief's 1982 guide did for her. Having It All is, Dunham admits, full of mostly dated and "bananas" advice—on everything from dieting to man pleasing—but it imparted an important takeaway: meek women can inherit success, love, and self-worth, if not the Earth. Dunham is not unlike these women (or "Mouseburgers," in Brown's words), who can, she explains, "triumph, having lived to tell the tale of being overlooked and underloved." She breaks her book into sections ("Love & Sex," "Body," "Work," etc.) and offers tales of her own experiences being overlooked and underloved. If that sounds corny or overly earnest, the essays that compose the book are neither. They're dark, discomforting, and very funny. Whether discussing her forays into yo-yo dieting (" ‘Diet' Is a Four-Letter Word") or the time she thinks she might have been raped ("Barry"), Dunham is expert at combining despair and humor. Describing a misanthropic ex, she writes: "His critical nature proved suffocating—he hated my skirts, my friends, and my work. He hated rom-coms and just plain coms." The book is filled with amusing phrases like this one, as Dunham delivers sad—and probably, for many readers, sadly familiar—tales of hating her body and trying too hard to make undeserving men love her. Dunham is an oddly polarizing figure in today's culture—maybe because she's too young and successful; maybe because she gets conflated her with Hannah Horvath, her self-involved character on Girls; or maybe simply because her detractors are louder than her fans—but hopefully this won't keep readers away from this collection. It would be a shame, because the book is touching, at times profound, and deeply funny. It also addresses something that other female funny people of Dunham's stature do not. The myth, as Gurley Brown and others have laid it out, is that we can shed our Mouseburger selves to become something better. While Dunham is eager for that something better, she doesn't want to lose sight of the Mouseburger inside. This is one of the things she grapples with throughout these essays: how we become accepted and loved and popular, without casting aside, or trying to hide, the unloved, unpopular people we once were. In fact, Dunham seems to want to revel in the dark spaces—the terrifying and awkward moments in life—which is pretty great. Not only does this provide her wonderful material, but it's an invigorating, refreshing slap in the face to a world that is so unwelcoming to all the amusing, sweet, smart Mouseburgers out there. (Sept. 30)

Rachel Deahl is PW's News Director.

Reviewed on 10/03/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Hilary Mantel. Holt, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-62779-210-3

The stories in Mantel's new collection reflect her interest in human frailty and assaults of all kinds, from the most intimate to those by or against the state. In fact, one title, "Offenses Against the Person," would work for many of the stories in the collection. And the selection here offers Mantel's deft blend of clinically precise observation and leavening humor—most notably in "The Heart Fails Without Warning," about anorexia's impact on a family, and "Sorry to Disturb," about an expat wife in Saudi Arabia stuck with an uncomfortable new friendship. But one of the things that makes Mantel's work so distinctively satisfying is the way she builds up detail—convincing readers that if Thomas Cromwell, the star of her two Man Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, were suddenly transported from the 16th century to their office, they'd recognize him instantly. In contrast, the pieces here often feature characters about whom the reader knows little, particularly "Terminus," more musing than story, and "Winter Break," which relies on a shock ending, and they end up feeling slight. Even "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher," the only previously unpublished story in the collection, despite a title that promises action, offers something closer to an interesting conversation than a compelling narrative. There are pleasures here, but Mantel lovers toughing out the wait for the final book in the Cromwell series might do better visiting or revisiting her earlier work like A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, or Fludd. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/03/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Build for Change: Revolutionizing Customer Engagement Through Continuous Digital Innovation

Alan Trefler. Wiley, $25 (176p) ISBN 978-1-118-93026-7

Trefler founder and CEO of software firm Pegasystems, opens this business guide with the undoubtedly true, if unsurprising, observation that plenty of companies are currently doomed "not because of macroeconomic stress but because there is an entire emerging generation of customers who hate doing business with them." With the balance of power between companies and consumers rapidly tilting in favor of the latter, he aims to help business people figure out how to both reach and delight their customers. Trefler splits the new generation of consumers into "Gen C" (those who prize content) and Gen D (those who discover, devour, and demonize—or, in less dramatic terms, take to Yelp and Twitter to make their displeasure known.) He also criticizes the current emphasis on constant data acquisition, asking if readers are truly thinking about what this data represents. Trefler goes on to name companies that failed to take customer interest into account, including Circuit City, Borders, and Blackberry, and insist on the importance of cooperation between the business and IT departments. There's not much new here, but there's a sense of urgency and drama in this slim volume, which readers will find either inspiring or exhausting dependent on temperament. (June)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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What We See When We Read

Peter Mendelsund. Vintage, $16.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-8041-7163-2

Knopf associate art director Mendelsund, praised for creating the "most instantly recognizable and iconic book covers in contemporary fiction," here takes readers on an investigation—heavy on graphics, relatively light on text—into the optical world behind words. With humility, humor, and acuity, the book proposes that, much as a piece of fiction might describe a character or world, we can't ever know for sure what the author actually envisioned–and that's just as well, because the original conception might not be nearly as appealing as our own. Mendelsund depicts reading retention as a process of visual mutation, during which we edit and keep only what holds significance for us, rather than preserving realistic and fixed pictures. Thus, Flaubert changes Madame Bovary's eye color throughout the novel, and Tolstoy does the same to Karenin's ear size—not at random, but in proportion to Anna's dissatisfaction with him. Using such graphic aids as charts, photographs, and paintings, Mendelsund demonstrates why authors regularly leave out details and contradict themselves. Though his central point—that it's fortunate that we cannot see the novel's images like we do a film's—may seem simple in retrospect, readers will exponentially expand upon their understanding of linguistics and imagination through this well-crafted guide. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped

Gregg McBride. Central Recovery, $17.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-937612-69-6

After a lifetime of binge eating and morbid obesity, L.A. writer and producer McBride (Just Stop Eating So Much!) began to take responsibility for his own weight, and ceased blaming it on his unhappy childhood. In this funny and candid memoir, McBride reveals without shame the psyche of the fat person who learns to "eat his problems away," beginning as a small child sneaking money out of his Air Force officer father's wallet for afternoon binges of candy. As an army brat, moving around constantly as a child including stints in Singapore and Germany, McBride (along with his younger sister, Lori) became acutely aware of his father's drinking problem, his mother's promiscuity, and the fissures in their marriage. Indeed, his mother enlisted him in her romantic entanglements by making him foil her phone calls, and when he grew embarrassingly fat, passed him off as an adopted son with a health problem. Brazen about lying to other people and stealing money for binge eating ("in the world of junk food, I was safe, warm, and loved"), McBride grew huge, taking on the clown characters in drama productions, learning to surround himself with beautiful people and act "foxy for a fat kid." But the moment of truth had to come, and there were many: when he blossomed to 464 pounds and watched his doctor cry; when a child in the store asked loudly why he had "boobs"; and when the therapist ceased buying his excuses. McBride unrolls an excruciatingly honest tale of becoming thin. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ottoman Cuisine: A Rich Culinary Tradition

Omur Akkor. Blue Dome, $14.95 trade paper (97p) ISBN 978-1-935295-49-5

Akkor's frustratingly slim paean to the cuisine of the massive Ottoman Empire is a missed opportunity. The latest in a series of shallow takes, Akkor (Practical Recipes in Turkish Cuisine) walks readers through simple dishes such as chickpea soup, cheese cutlet, and oven-roasted sea bass, as well as more inspired fare such as sea bass with hazelnut garlic sauce, onions stuffed with ground meat (he doesn't specify which type), cinnamon and pomegranate molasses, and stewed squash with yogurt, with no explanation of the significance of the dish, why it was selected, or what diners can expect. The book's missed trajectory given its topic is truly remarkable, as Akkor alludes to the sheer scope of Ottoman palace cuisine in his introduction (the kitchen alone took up over 5,000 square meters and employed hundreds of chefs and assistants) yet he goes no further once he's on to the recipes. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Loom Band It: 60 Rubber Band Projects for the Budding Loomineer

Kim Roberts and Tessa Sillars-Powell. Barron's, $14.99 paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-4380-0520-1

Jimmy Kimmel asked for enough rubber-band bracelets to craft into a suit last February, and "loomineer" fans across the country responded. The suit was auctioned for charity, and the craft has become a full-blown habit of both pre-pubescent friendship-bracelet makers and parents looking to make all manner of rubber-band accents in the colors of their favorite teams. Roberts, a DIY blogger, and Sillars-Powell, a freelance prop and costume maker in London, have assembled 60 projects which can be done by enthusiastic kids and clumsy adults alike, creating everything from multi-loom bracelets to holiday trinkets perfect for both elementary school bauble exchange (rainbow ladder bracelets) and sorority handouts (Valentine hearts, pencil grips, hot-drink holders). Instructions are clear for most ages, and arranged from simplest (the simple chain) to more difficult (Valentine's hearts and a Halloween spider). (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Happy Bicycle: Make 15 Stylish Bike Accessories with Hemma Design

Kathy McGee. C&T/Stash, $24.95 paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-60705-826-7

The author has hit upon a new twist in craft books, creating a collection of sewable bags and decorations for crafty ladies who are also committed bicyclists. The bag designs, which are well-diagrammed in step-by-step illustrations, are charming, from the Olga Bicycle Tote (big enough for a farmer's market haul) to the Magdelena Quilted Panniers, which turn a bike into a mule. The other items up for crafting aren't as successful; only those deeply in touch with their inner child will want to make handle streamers or a hand-knit helmet cover. It must be noted that the book's 15 patterns not only seem skimpy for the price, but are oddly split between the quite difficult in construction (the bags) and those that look amateurish, even within the book's professionally done photos, such as the decorated bicycle bells. McGee's patterns will meet the needs of a specific market, and crafty cyclists will be very happy to have them. Full color photos and pattern pullouts. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Essential Guide to Home Herbal Remedies: Easy Recipes Using Medicinal Herbs to Treat More Than 125 Conditions from Sunburns to Sore Throats

Melanie Wenzel. Robert Rose (Firefly Books, North American dist.), $24.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-7788-0489-5

So-called "essential guides" don't always prove to be all that essential, but Wenzel's certainly does. With a winning combination of clear explanations, beautiful photos, and a neat, eye-pleasing set up, she's produced an ideal home remedies book for beginners. The book starts with the history of herbal medicine—which goes back to ancient times, according to Wenzel — then segues into the basics of what Wenzel calls the green pharmacy. She discusses the different forms of natural medicines such as teas, poultices, herbal baths and more. Recipes are divided into categories by age, stage and complaint types, including kids, teens, men, women, the elderly, pregnancy, stress and coughs and colds. Each recipe details the ingredients and tools required, and includes instructions on doses, applications and storage. An A to Z guide of important herbs explains what each herb looks like, what part is used, what it's used for and what science thinks about it. This is not for hippies (although hippies would certainly enjoy it); it's for anyone who's interested in natural medicine, home doctoring, plants, or simply getting rid of stubborn acne. Wenzel has a recipe for everyone. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Belly Fat Breakthrough: Understand What It Is, Lose It Fast

Stephen Boutcher. S&S/Gallery, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7550-0

Boutcher, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, here offers the results of a decade spent researching excess belly fat and developing a program to keep it off. His plan is centered upon interval sprint training for 20 minutes three days per week, supported by a Mediterranean eating plan and adequate amounts of sleep (inadequate amounts, he notes, are related to increased belly fat). Boutcher clearly explains why belly fat can pose a risk: increased weight in this area has been linked to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, hypertension, sleep apnea, and breast and other forms of cancer. The text takes readers through the process of choosing and using the right bike and examines the program's effects on specific populations, such as people with heart disease or diabetes, or postmenopausal women. Other benefits include increased leg and abdominal muscle mass and improved aerobic fitness. This straightforward, no-frills program for reducing belly fat will appeal to readers seeking an uncomplicated, swift solution. Boutcher's inclusion of his long-term research lends additional credibility to his four-pillared (interval sprinting, healthy eating, good quality sleep, and stress control) approach to health and wellness. Agent: Sophy Williams, Black Inc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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