by Gina Kolata

REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

CRITIC'S CHOICE

NONFICTION

Americans are fatter than ever, but is obesity really Public Health Enemy No. 1? Kolata, a New York Times science writer, questions the current chest-beating in this sobering examination of why diets fail. She follows eager participants—like Carmen, a teacher who had lost and regained "a whole person over my lifetime"—in a two-year University of Pennsylvania diet study. After initial weight loss, they hit a plateau and started backsliding—results that wouldn't surprise the many obesity researchers who believe body weight is inherited, much like height. "Lean people think ... they are morally superior," one scientist told Kolata, but they're really just winners of the genetic lottery.

It isn't willpower, then, but a battle against biology—an especially pointless one given that new studies show "having a bit of extra fat appears to be protective," Kolata concludes. Bottom line: Go ahead and have that dessert.
[STARS 4]

by Karen Yampolsky

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN DURBIN

NOVEL

Having spent nine years as assistant to former Jane editor Jane Pratt, Yampolsky is indisputably qualified to write a media-insider roman à clef. Unlike Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada, though, Yampolsky's fictional editor Jill White is a saint—a prodigy who heads up Cheeky at 24, then founds her own eponymous magazine, Jill. But when Jill's parent company is bought out, White is forced to compromise her values (friends, family, vegetarianism) to keep her job. Yampolsky's debut is fast and entertaining, its characters barely disguised from their real-life selves (including Drew Barrymore and Vogue's Anna Wintour.) The novel is slight, but its girl-power message and ultimately inspirational story make for a rewarding read.
[STARS 3]

by Cristina Garcia

REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

FICTION

Garcia, author of 1992's Dreaming in Cuban, follows three characters in different worlds and the role chance plays in each life. Enrique, son of a Cuban magician, is forever marked by his mother's freak electrocution, which he witnessed at age 6. Resilient Marta—born to poverty in El Salvador—outmaneuvers an abusive stepfather and brutal husband, escaping her war-torn country for El Norte. Leila's privileged upbringing in Tehran is marked by her emotionally bankrupt mother and the constraints her society places on women. Garcia expertly braids each of their stories together, tenderly tracing the passage of these 1960s children into 1980s adults as they begin to discover the often unavoidable gap "between what you planned and what actually happened."
[STARS 3.5]

by Nathan Englander

REVIEWED BY KYLE SMITH

NOVEL

You can expect dark, heavy symbolism in a novel whose main character is called Kaddish—the Jewish mourning prayer—especially when the background is kidnapping squads in 1970s Argentina. But Englander (For the Relief of Unbearable Urges) also finds much absurdist comedy in the horror, as Kaddish searches for a son who was "disappeared" by a vast bureaucracy that denies knowledge of the youth's existence. His journey into the black hole of paradox would have done Kafka or Orwell proud.
[STARS 3.5]

"Could society," Kolata writes, "perhaps let up on the beleaguered fat people?"

>ARE YOU SAYING DIETS NEVER WORK? For 2,000 years people have been told, "Eat less, exercise more." If that were enough we wouldn't have a single fat person in the world. But studies have shown there is a range of weights people can have, and as you get too low beyond what your body wants to be, your metabolism slows and the weight comes back.

SO OBESE PEOPLE SHOULD JUST ACCEPT THEIR SIZE? They shouldn't just give up and have a heart attack, no. We can't all be skinny, but you can exercise and eat well to get to the low end of your range.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR BOOK TO ACCOMPLISH? I can't change society, but I wish everyone would stop looking at obese people and saying, "Don't they care about themselves?" Genes are hugely important to how heavy you'll be. It's unfair to assume obese people are lazy—they probably have really tried to lose weight. And if you have and you can't look like a model, you shouldn't feel like a failure.

>Pamela Druckerman studied adultery around the world for her new book Lust in Translation. In addition to "getting some offers" (she passed), the happily married journalist learned plenty:

1 AMERICANS MAKE THE WORST ADULTERERS We're more opposed to cheating than in almost any other country—in an '06 poll, Americans said adultery is more wrong than human cloning or incest—but that doesn't make us cheat less. We just turn affairs into relationships we never meant to have. And there's an obsession with truth-telling, which hasn't been shown to help anyone.

2 RUSSIANS NEVER SAY NYET Russia has one of the highest rates of adultery. In St. Petersburg, 50 percent of men have supposedly had affairs, but I didn't meet a single man who hadn't had one.

3 THE FRENCH ARE LAISSEZFAIRE They value monogamy as highly as Americans do, but they consider an affair something that can happen, and it doesn't mean the relationship is deeply flawed.

4 IN JAPAN, IT'S JUST A GAME There are clubs in Japan where it's a social occasion to go with your colleagues and it's not considered cheating, even if you have sex with a woman at the club. It's considered a form of recreation, almost like playing tennis.

5 AND THE MOST-FAITHFUL AWARD GOES TO ... KAZAKHSTAN Men in poor countries tend to have more affairs, but Kazakhstan is an exception. Possibly because of religious strictures, it has the lowest rate of infidelity in the world.