Nonfiction on Chronic Illness, Oral-Facial Problems, Stand-Up Comedy, and Sugar | Xpress Reviews

For those with a determined spirit during discouraging times; Fontaine does not make much of a case for any larger meaning in her experiences; an alternative approach to conventional orthodontics; for anyone thinking of performing stand-up and others who like an enjoyable read; recommended for those unfamiliar with sugar’s history and power

Week ending February 16, 2018


Charnas, Joanna J. 100 Tips and Tools for Managing Chronic Illness. MSI. Apr. 2018. 98p. ISBN 9781942891932. pap. $12.95. HEALTH/SELF-HELP

Unrelenting in her fight against chronic fatigue syndrome, Charnas (Living Well with Chronic Illness) offers an incisive supplement to her previous book with 100 tips composed of ten chapters, each containing a common theme of encouragement. The author’s advice focuses on those managing chronic illness; however, the timely affirmations serve a much wider audience seeking positive resolutions to daily life pressures. A recurring thread throughout emphasizes the importance of living in the moment and finding creative solutions in challenging circumstances (“When outside forces change, I have to change, too. Maximizing my health not only requires planning, but it also demands flexibility”).

Verdict An excellent resource worthy of multiple reads. For those with a determined spirit during discouraging times.—Angela Dixon, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Clarkston


Fontaine, Tessa. The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts. Farrar. May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780374158378. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374717025. MEMOIR

In this memoir, Fontaine recounts one season working on a traveling sideshow, the World of Wonders. Starting as a bally girl, she works her way up from learning simple acts such as holding a boa constrictor and escaping from handcuffs to eating fire and shocking herself with electricity. Interspersed with the sideshow stories are Fontaine’s struggles to care for her mother after a stroke and memories of her childhood. Unfortunately, the book struggles with a lack of action and is weighted down with gross-out episodes and repetitive, dull details of sideshow life, such as setting up and breaking down the tent every time the show moves to a new fair.

Verdict Fontaine does not make much of a case for any larger meaning in her experiences, and considering that she doesn’t seem to enjoy working as a sideshow performer, it’s unclear why she chose to do it.—Kate Stewart, Arizona Historical Soc., Tucson


Kahn, Sandra & Paul R. Ehrlich. Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic. Stanford Univ. Apr. 2018. 216p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781503604131. $25. SCI

A chance meeting brought together famous conservation biologist Ehrlich (Ctr. for Conservation Biology, Stanford Univ.; The Population Bomb) and orthodontist Kahn (Let’s Face It) as coauthors of this examination of “jaws”—their shorthand for a cluster of common oral-facial problems: small jaws, crooked teeth, mouth breathing, and sleep apnea. Tracing these disorders to how we chew, hold our mouths at rest, breathe, and our “industrialized” diet of soft, highly processed foods, they argue that jaw development problems are rooted in our behavior and diet, not in our genes. To help parents address oral-facial disorders in young children, they include good oral posture exercises and proper breathing techniques, as well as advice on how to find dental professionals who follow their program (“forwardontics”) for healthy jaw development. While this approach to oral-facial health may represent a minority view in the dental community, it is based on the authors’ interpretation of available research and Kahn’s clinical experience.

Verdict Recommended for parents seeking an alternative approach to conventional orthodontics and science enthusiasts curious about the evolutionary forces behind our shrinking jaws.—Cynthia Lee Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Historical Soc., Flemington, NJ


Rosenfield, Stephen. Mastering Stand-Up: The Complete Guide to Becoming a Successful Comedian. Chicago Review. 2017. 272p. index. ISBN 9781613736920. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781613736951. PERFORMING ARTS

The New York Times hailed Rosenfield (American Comedy Inst.) as “the best-known comedy teacher in the country.” Read this book and you’ll understand why. Even if you never attempt stand-up yourself, you’ll find this quick to read guide a pleasure. It does what all truly good how-to manuals do: it shows the reader the work that lies behind a seemingly offhand form of performance and makes you understand not only how to do it but why someone would want to do it. As Rosenfield makes clear, stand-up may look impromptu, but it’s not. (The one exception to this rule was Jonathan Winters, but his unpredictability made him almost unemployable on late-night broadcasts, where knowing the running time of a performance is critical to timing the show.) Rosenfield counsels would-be comedians to expect humiliating moments, even after success. (There’s a section on bombing before an audience.) He comments on classic comics such as Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Moms Mabley, and Phyllis Diller as well as Louis C.K. and others working today. His examples, no surprise, are often hilarious.

Verdict For anyone thinking of performing stand-up and others who like an enjoyable read.—David Keymer, Cleveland


Walvin, James. Sugar. Pegasus. Apr. 2018. 352p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781681776774. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681777207. HIST Walvin provides a concise and engaging overview of the history of sugar, exploring its societal and environmental impact from its presence in the human diet dating back millennia to its substantial role in the global obesity crisis. Once a luxury of the elite, sugar transitioned into an affordable commodity for the masses, but the expansion of sugar cultivation was supported by the institution of slavery. Having written extensively on slavery throughout his career, Walvin thoughtfully depicts how slavery and sugar went “hand in hand.” Walvin is also careful to pay credence to other historical shifts and developments that provoked sugar’s presence as an everywhere, everyday ingredient, from the spread of U.S. corporate influence during the mid-19th century to the rise of the soft drink industry during and following World War II. And all this steadily led to our dependence on sugar. Walvin explores why sugar consumption continues to remain at an all-time high, despite antisugar initiatives, and reveals the hold that keeps us going back for more, giving readers much to consider as society continues to suffer the consequences of its collective sweet tooth.

Verdict Recommended for those unfamiliar with sugar’s history and power.—Emily Patti, Racine P.L., WI

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