Friday, March 2, 2012

Quick Reviews: Fasting Girls, Hollywood Monster and Vive La Revolution.

Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa by Joan Jacobs Brumberg is an updated edition to Brumberg's critical study on the history of anorexia nervosa which was first published in the 1980s. Fasting Girls traces the history of the modern disease anorexia nervosa as well as the history of food refusal among young women, which dates back at least as far as the 16th century. Brumberg is careful to differentiate between these earlier historical cases of "fasting girls" and our more modern conception of anorexia nervosa. Brumberg argues that anorexia nervosa did not fully develop until the mid-late 19th century when increased social stability and heavy emphasis on mealtime as a sign of status in the growing upper middle class allowed for the development of a mental disorder which revolved around the consumption and control of food and weight.

Brumberg's writing tends toward the academic, but most readers shouldn't have trouble following her linear narrative which begins in the 16th century and continues until the 1980s, with a brief addition that was written at the start of the new millennium. Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa will appeal to anyone interested in the history of this mental disorder as well as the history of "fasting girls" in the 16th through the 19th centuries. The book will also be of interest to students or professionals in the mental health and wellness field.

Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street With the Man of Your Dreams by Robert Englund recounts the now famous horror actor's early years in the theater and in Hollywood before landing his most iconic role: that of Freddy Kreuger in the first A Nightmare on Elm Street film and subsequent franchise. Although the memoir seems marketed as a book which focuses on Englund's "career" as Freddy Kreuger, it's actually more of a general overview of Englund's career and personal life. Englund's career before the first Nightmare film, which may be surprising to fans who only know him from the Nightmare franchise, includes classical theater roles, bit parts in plenty of older Hollywood flicks and small roles alongside growing major stars like Sally Field and Henry Fonda. Englund, of course, recounts his time filming A Nightmare On Elm Street and its many sequels as well as his other work during and post-Nightmare, such as his acclaimed role in the mini-series V.

The memoir is very casual but still engaging. The major flaw with this memoir is that Englund does not focus on any particular topic for very long. He briefly mentions roles or events or people but rarely goes into any great detail about any of them. Fans of Englund's portrayal of Freddy Kreuger will enjoy some anecdotes about the behind the scenes hijinks, but may be disappointed that there isn't really much dirt, gossip or secrets revealed in the course of the narrative. I would recommend Hollywood Monster for hardcore fans of the Nightmare franchise or readers who enjoy a casual, if sometimes flighty, Hollywood memoir.

Vive La Revolution: A Stand-Up History of the French Revolution by Mark Steel is a casual history of the French Revolution told in a conversational and comedic tone. Vive La Revolution covers the basics of the French Revolution, including its origins, major events and players and the subsequent consequences and results of the revolution. Steel's presentation of the revolution is noticeably sympathetic towards the revolution and most of its supporting figures. Some readers may find this refreshing, considering the glut of books in recent years which are more sympathetic toward the French royal family. However, Steel's argument that negative portrayals of "pro" revolutionary figures are mostly based in biased myth and legend is sometimes lost when Steel relies on legends or myths in his descriptions of aristocratic or royal figures. I would have preferred for the author to point out the inaccuracies of popular conceptions of all figures of the revolution, not just the ones he personally supported. The book also occasionally suffers from a lack of basic fact checking, such as mixing up the sister of Louis XVI with the sister of Marie Antoinette and then later, the niece of Louis XVI.

Despite these flaws, the book does manage to cover the revolution in a way that is engaging, especially for casual readers. I would mainly recommend Vive La Revolution to readers looking for something easy to read about the French Revolution, despite its occasional flaws, or readers who are fans of Mark Steel's comedic writing.

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