Monthly Archives: May 2012

Drop Dead Healthy

I am a huge fan of AJ Jacobs. Many was a time when I would pick up Esquire just to read his latest report. He is an experimental journalist – he submerges himself into a project to write about it. The first thing I ever read was when he outsourced his life. That essay made me laugh out loud and it’s rare that I laugh out loud. I then picked up The Know-It-All, in which he read the Encyclopedia Britticanna from A to Z, in an effort to make himself the world’s smartest man.

His next book was the Year of Living Biblically in which he lived the Bible’s tenants as literally as possible. I not only learned a lot about the Bible, I was very entertained. Again, I laughed out loud. So I was excited to learn of his latest quest – to become the world’s healthiest person. Maybe it’s because I’m so horribly fat and out of shape, but I had a difficult time enjoying this book as much as I have enjoed his past efforts.

He goes through a litany of medical tests and experts to determine how unhealthy is he and what he can do to improve his health. He determines that he has high cholesterol, possible toxic pollution from his home, ear pollution, not enough exercise and too much sitting. He talked in every chapter about a different part of the body and the things that he does to improve his health. I am not going to summarize every chapter, but I will say that I learned a lot of (sometimes disturbing) information.

I found the best parts of the book the stories he tells about his family – especially his 96 year old grandfather and his “eccentric” health-obsessed aunt. They are the stories that make him so personable and were so entertaining to me. He talked about watching a documentary in which his grandfather appeared. It was about the artist Christo and his Gates installation in Central Park. Mr. Jacob’s grandfather was a layer and spent 20-plus years fighting for the installation to happen. I think one reason I felt so moved by those stories is that it reminded me of my own grandfather, whom I lost 11 years ago and who I miss every day.

But I digress. Back to the book. I learned that you can do things to improve your eyesight. That triathlons might not be the pinnacle of healthy behaviors. That HIIT might be the best way to train. That there is a Paelo (read: Caveman) movement in this country which consists of eating raw meat, running barefoot and tossing logs for weight training. I learned about people who work out very, very slowly and push their muscles to exhaustion.

The most important thing that I learned in reading this book is that there is very little consensus in the medical world or the scientific world about what is healthy and what is not (for the most part). There is very little basis for some of the assertions that are made every day by food companies and doctors and nutritionists.

What is the take away from the book? That you have to do things in moderation. That sitting is very unhealthy for you. That you need to eat more fruits and veggies and less meat. I learned that I need to make some changes in my lifestyle if I want to be around to meet my grandkids (assuming I have some). Maybe that’s why I didn’t find this book as amusing as his others – I took it personally and it shined a spotlight on a part of my life that has been lacking. No matter the reason, it was still a good book and I learned a lot.

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Beat The Reaper

I have forgotten how I heard about this book. But I picked it up on clearance ($5 for a hardback) and was going to pick it for book club, but decided to pick Defendant Jacob instead. I think I read Beat The Reaper in three days.

It’s the story of Pietro Brnwa. Peter grew up with his grandparents (his parents were not interested in raising him) until he comes home one day to find them murdered. He thinks that they survived Auschwitz. Being from New Jersey, he assumes that their seemingly random murder was actually a mafia initiation. So naturally, at 14, he goes to a private school, known to educate the children of mafioso and befriends one.

Peter finds out who killed his grandparents, thanks to his friend Skinflick’s dad. He then becomes a hitman for the mob. But you don’t learn this until later. The story starts with Dr. Peter Brown walking to Manhattan Catholic Hospital where he is a resident. There is an attempted mugging and he takes the mugger down. We find out that Peter is in the Witness Protection Program. The chaos ensues when a mobster he knows sees him in the hospital.

For the most part, I loved this book. It was suspenseful. It was funny. The story was well-told. Some of the language was a bit rough (which says a lot coming from me) and some of the scenarios were a bit adult. That being said, I liked the book and the story.

The author, Josh Bazell, is a doctor. And during the course of the book he throws out a lot of medical lingo, but always explains using humorous footnotes. He discusses not only mob life, but the current state of health care in this country. If half what he said really happens in hospitals, then I never want to go.

The story telling is as fast-paced as a shift at a busy New York hospital. I liked this book well enough to consider picking up the next one in the series. If you don’t mind adult situations and language, then I recommend this book.

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The Expats

I had been hearing a lot of buzz about The Expats. So I picked it up. I heard it was spy novel with a twist. I’m a sucker for a great spy novel.

My fascination with spy novels began when I was a freshman in high school and read “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” and then saw the movie starring Richard Burton. I was hooked. I grew up at the end of the cold war and I loved reading about spies and secrets. I graduated to Jack Higgins, who is one of the masters of the spy novel. In recent years, my interest waned as I started reading different varieties of books. So when I heard about The Expats, I jumped.

The story is about Kate and Dexter Moore. They live in Washington, D.C. Dexter works in computer security and Kate, to her husband’s knowledge, writes position papers for the State Department. Turns out Kate is in the CIA. Dexter approaches Kate with his job offer – to perform bank security for a bank in Luxembourg. Kate is reticent at first, but the agrees to move with Dexter and their two small children to Europe.

Kate gets out of the CIA and has “issues” adapting to life as a stay-at-home ex-pat mom. She is bored by the daily¬†minutiae. She meets all of the other expats moms and Julia, whose husband Bill works in finance. Julia and Kate bond quickly. Then things start to happen.

Kate begins to wonder about what her husband does. And despite her promise to herself not to investigate him, she begins to do so. And what she discovers sets off a chain reaction of events that fuels the rest of the book. I don’t want to say what they are as it will give too much away.

The Expats is Chris Pavone’s first novel. It’s told mostly from Kate’s perspective, but in the third person. There are chapters interspersed from the present so as to keep you guessing a bit, but giving hints as to what will happen.

Overall, I liked the book. I figured some things out, but the end threw me a curve ball that I definitely liked. It was unpredictable. And I like that in a spy novel. I say that this is a spy novel, but crime thriller might be a more appropriate classification of the book.

It is a story of deceit and deception. It is a character study and a thrill ride. As I was reading this book, I could totally picture the movie – which I’m sure there will be one. That’s not a bad thing. But it almost seems to be written with that in mind.

I would love to visit Luxembourg to see the places he describes so well. Not to mention the Alps and Amsterdam (which he describes well), and of course, Paris. What novel set in Europe could ignore Paris? The cities are as much a part of the plot as the characters.

The story of Kate and Dexter’s relationship anchors much of the book. They start out typical, if somewhat mis-matched spouses. I like who they evolve through the story. The relationship between Julia and Kate is also interesting. You can tell from the book that Kate is not touchy feely. You can also tell that Kate is not used to having girl friends and faces a lot of adjustments to her new life. That, to me, was the most compelling part of the story.

I recommend this book. It’s a good read and a pretty quick read. I’m looking forward to seeing what Chris Pavone has to offer in the future.

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