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The Real You Diet
Madelyn Fernstrom
Wiley Publishing $24.95

The start of a new year means different things to different people, but let’s be honest, Jan. 1 is more than just the day after Dec. 31. For most of us, New Year’s Day is a time to begin anew, a chance to correct past mistakes and dump all the bad habits we picked up in 2009 (or before).

In short, this is the day most Americans start their new diets. So, here we are, saddled with another five pounds of holiday cheer and faced with a decision: What new diet fad will we be experimenting with this year?

The problem, as if I need to tell you, is two-fold. There are so many different types of diets it’s nearly impossible to choose the one best suited for you. We find ourselves struggling to make a decision: What’s a more-appealing option: a diet based on the consumption of high-protein foods or raw ones? Would we rather eat according to our blood type or according to our ancestry? Ultimately, we know it doesn’t matter what path we choose, because the real problem lies in the rigid nature of these diet plans. If their rules are broken, the diet is compromised, and we have failed yet again.

And so it should come as no surprise, then, that what makes The Real You Diet so enticing is its malleability. The diet’s creator, Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S.—the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s “Today” and an on-air regular, as well as the founder and director of UPMC’s Weight Management Center and health editor of Pittsburgh magazine—purposely designed this plan to adapt to the different needs of different dieters.

The book’s early chapters are designed to help dieters assess themselves based on four problem areas: eating, activity, behavior and biology. If readers are willing to be honest with themselves, only then will the book serve as a useful tool to develop the best and most personalized weight-loss strategy. And as the dieter’s needs change, so does the diet. It almost makes too much sense.

The book also includes success stories of Fernstrom’s patients, helpful recipes, charts, graphs and possibly more information than the casual reader desires. But as we all know, the only thing that matters is whether or not the program helps us lose weight, and The Real You Diet seems as if it just might be the key to a healthier 2010.
 

Morbid Curiosity:  The Disturbing Demises of the Famous and Infamous
Alan W. Petrucelli
Perigee Books $13.95

In our media-obsessed culture, it’s always news when a celebrity dies. This past year was no exception. The deaths of David Carradine, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson overtook the 24-hour news channels, and for days at a time, it was as if there was no other news.
Well, as Morbid Curiosity: The Disturbing Demises of the Famous and Infamous is quick to point out, this fascination is nothing new.

According to the book’s author,  Pittsburgh journalist Alan W. Petrucelli, when the silent-movie star Rudolph Valentino died in 1926, “more than one hundred thousand mourners stood in line for hours to get a peek at his embalmed corpse…. Crowds were so eager to see their hero that floral wreaths were trampled and windows smashed; more than one hundred people were injured in the melee. One twenty-year-old fan was so distraught she killed herself.”

Petrucelli makes for an interesting character himself. His own fascination with death goes back to his adolescent years—age 11 or 12—visiting the gravesite of his grandmother. During one of these visits, he discovered the tombstone of Basil Rathbone, the film actor who portrayed Sherlock Holmes. Once he discovered Basil’s grave, “dead celebs took their resting spots in my brain alongside old movies and trivial trivia, and I knew I didn’t have a prayer of stopping.” Since then, it seems as if Petrucelli has been keeping close tabs on the often-bizarre and interesting ways some of the world’s biggest names have made their final exit.

Be warned, this book is highly addictive. Petrucelli keeps most of these tales to a single paragraph, providing only the most intriguing facts surrounding each death as well as a few witty zingers for levity. Readers will no doubt find themselves reading grisly tale after grisly tale, driven by their own (you guessed it) morbid curiosity.
 

Pittsburgh: A New Portrait
Franklin Toker
University of Pittsburgh Press $34.95

As professor of the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh and past president of the Society of Architectural Historians (not to mention the author of the definitive book on Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater Rising, and Buildings of Pittsburgh, I think it’s safe to say that Franklin Toker is an authority on the local landscape.

So it was only a matter of time before Toker revisited his magnus opus, Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait (Penn State Press, 1986), rewriting the 24-year-old text and adding a new cover, photos and maps. The end result is Pittsburgh: A New Portrait, a big book (more than 500 pages), but one that can be read cover to cover (telling the entire story of this geographical area) or that can be used as a reference book.

This book is so complete and so genuine that, after reading A New Portrait, even long-time residents will be hard-pressed not to fall in love with this city all over again.
 

The British Detective
Michael Wurster
Main Street Rag Publishing Co. $14

I find it unfortunate that most people, when asked, will say that they don’t like poetry, that they don’t understand it, which is odd, especially because we live in an age of cryptic text messages and Twitter updates. Truthfully, I think most people no longer view poetry as relevant—a viewpoint I could not disagree with more. In fact, I think anyone who loves to read should make it a point to read more poetry this new year.

For anyone looking to take up this challenge, The British Detective, the new collection from local poet Michael Wurster, is as good a place to start as any. Wurster’s poetry is stripped of convoluted images and complex literary illusions; this is poetry for the people—compact and accessible.

In fact, I believe Wurster has just as much disdain for the highbrow forms of poetry as the casual reader. Take, for example, the poem “American Literature,” in which he writes, “Finally, // a stranger / at the end / of the bar // scanned us all / and, / apropos of nothing, // said: // ‘a lot of people / felt that way / about Mexico, // but when they got there, / all they did was drink / and die.’”

I don’t know about you, but my Twitter feed is not feeding me lines this good.
 

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