Making Peace With the Things In Your Life – Cindy Glovinsky, 2002.

The subtitle is so long I couldn’t fit it in the post title: “Why Your Papers, Books, Clothes, and Other Possessions Keep Overwhelming You–and What To Do About It.” As a slowly-recovering slob and clutter hound, who also has a soft spot (in my head!) for self-help, I’m a sucker for books like this. Making Peace ranks somewhere in the top third of organizing books I’ve read; it’s good, it’s useful, it actually has a new and different take on things (or Things as Glovinsky calls them), but it didn’t motivate me quite as much as I hoped it would. Some of that may be resistance; Glovinsky is really good at analyzing “Thing Addiction” and unpacking the many excuses, escapes, and evasions that people like me are prone to. She makes the excellent point that before diving in to declutter and containerize, the most important step is to change our habits of piling up new Things. I should re-read this book in a few months and maybe I’ll absorb more of it. The analysis of the types of problems people can have dealing with Things, which she describes as Trouble Tuning into Things, Trouble Seeing Things, Trouble Thinking about Things, and Trouble Moving Things, are especially useful.

Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World – Greg Critser, 2003

A great companion to Fast Food Nation, not quite as entertaining a read but just as informative and scary. Critser traces the intersection of factors, operating from the 1970s on, which have resulted in a US environment that promotes obesity: the Secretary of Agriculture whose policies to deal with inflation, as well as corn and soybean surpluses, resulted in lots of cheap calories; the food manufacturers who turned to high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil to raise their profit margins; the dysfunctional government health agencies which kept weakening requirements for exercise and diet; the school budget cuts which led administrators to eagerly seek “pouring contracts” with soda companies and to put fast food on lunchroom menus. Ignoring socio-economic differences, Critser says, exacerbates the situation. Public health messages don’t address poor people’s lack of access to the support systems that rich people have (high-quality, varied food; fees and transporation to excercise facilities; safe places to walk and play outside). Yet concerns over anorexia (a relatively rare disease if you’re not white and middle-class, he argues) lead to softening of counter-obesity messages. I don’t buy everything he says, especially when he claims that Krispy Kreme targets Latinos and supports his claim by idiotic quoting of their Spanish-language menu:

Everywhere the Latin flavor was pushed: “Chocolate iced custard filled” became “Rellena de crema pastelera y cubierta con chocolate.” “Cinnamon apple filled” became “Rellena de manzana y canela.”

Those sneaky Krispy Kreme executives, using translation to suck in customers!

Some of the most thought-provoking bits are the studies showing that when more food is available, people eat more, and that only the very youngest children can be relied on to choose just what they need. Anything that provides a boundary seems to help people eat less, whether it’s parental supervision, small portions, tight clothes, inflexible armchairs, or even a rope around the waist. Fast food merchandisers found that “price and value–not taste and presentation–were the key” to selling more. Gulp–that’s a personal weakness; I used to choose books to buy by how many pages I could get for my money, which is fine, but I do that with treats too, and that’s not so fine. (At least I’ve succeeded in resisting the temptation to buy the incredibly cheap 36-count boxes of candy bars at warehouse stores, though it’s been a struggle.) Fat Land is a fascinating book, and it’s also very well researched and documented.

The Expert’s Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do – created by Samantha Ettus, 2004

I’m a dabbler who wants to know “something about everything,” so I love books like this. The one hundred things are all over the map but are each given just a few pages, which results in lots of detail for some (“wash your hands”) and ridiculous oversimplification for others (“eat right,” “get organized”). The gimmick is that an expert of some kind writes each section, so Grete Waitz talks about jogging, Dean Ornish about relaxing, etc. The only chapter I learned something new from was “wash your hair” (Frederic Fekkai), which says to apply conditioner only from the ears down, and that to have really glossy hair, you should rinse in cold water. That explains why washing my hair in the sink, which I don’t like but had to do when we lived in France, felt like it was good for my hair.