Mini Review: I’ll Have What She’s Havingby Rebecca Harrington

This book only took me about an hour and a half to read, so I don’t have an awful lot to say about it.  But it was a fun concept and parts made me smile, so here’s a little review.  Compact and to the point like Victoria Beckham.  (Now I know more than one fact about Victoria Beckham!  An educational evening was had by all.)

source: randomhouse

My rating: *** (3 stars).  This book is amusing and fun without really bringing anything new to the table. (Excluding all the bizzar-o foods that probably should never have been brought to Harrington’s table at all.)  It’s sort of like reading the facebook updates of your funny friend – the one who actually keeps up with pop culture but isn’t an asshole about it.

I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures In Celebrity Dieting was not even on my radar until yesterday afternoon.  I was reading Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea on my lunch break, when suddenly a scene that I remembered as violent from when I read it as a teenager turned out to be even grosser than I recalled.

First of all: kittens are sacred and should not be harmed. Obviously I’d blocked that passage from memory in my youth.

Second of all: ewwwww, not what I wanted to be picturing while I ate my chickpeas and za’atar.  So I had to put that beautiful classic of Japanese literature aside for the duration of my meal, and cast around for something else to distract me.  (I also hadn’t read any nonfiction books this month and now I can brag that I fit one in at the last minute!)

When you’re in the back room of a bookshop, distractions are always close at hand.  And my hand happened to fall upon this brightly colored little foray into the weird world of celebrity dieting.  The basic premise is this: Rebecca Harrington loved reading about celebrities and she loved dieting.  So, in the name of journalistic integrity, she decided to walk the walk.  Eat the eat.  Suffer and slave away in the kitchen for the reader’s amusement.  Disastrous “celery loaf” and other experiments occasionally exiled her from the kitchen in horror, but she keeps on making cabbage stew and green risotto. Rebecca is one determined diet-investigator.  She’s not going to let Beyonce’s physically dangerous cleanses beat her down without a fight.

Obviously, the author’s sense of humor is what kept me reading this book.  If it were just a report on how different celebrities’ eating habits were totally messed up, I would have had to put it down pretty quickly.  I, too, have been obsessed with diets.  So obsessed that my eating routines were even stricter and more dangerous than some of the ones we’re meant to laugh at in this chronicle.  So while I appreciated the miserable details of totally unrealistic diets, I appreciated Harrington’s ability to laugh at how unsustainable the worst ones were even more.  This isn’t to say that she deplored every famous person’s smug routines.  On Gwyneth Paltrow’s food rules she reports: “If I wasn’t going to go bankrupt doing it, I would follow the Gwyneth diet to the letter every day.” (p 23)  Luckily for my own welfare, I don’t even have the funds to try one week of the It’s All Good way of eating.  Even Gwynnie’s books are a little out of my price range.  (And let’s not even get started on the beluga caviar Jackie Kennedy used to consume…  That was one of my favorite chapters, and I might be the only New Englander who doesn’t give a shit about the Kennedys.)  But when things got really wacky, like with Greta Garbo’s live-in nutritionist or Karl Lagerfield’s ten diet cokes a day, our faithful guide Rebecca is honest about how much these regimes suck the energy, fun, and friends right out of your life.  No wonder so many famous people are irascible waifs.  I could barely sit through a lecture on J.R.R. Tolkien while I was starving, and they have to film interviews while probably hallucinating that the reporter is an ice cream cone.

The most amusing question Harrington answers in her adventure is, “Would my friends stay with me until the end even though I kept making them come to my house for dinner parties where they all told me to my face that they despised all of my food?”  That’s the sort of dilemma most readers should be worried about when they buy a diet book, not how much weight they’ll drop in the first few dehydrated and muscle-deteriorating months.  I’ll Have What She’s Having made me want to write letters of apology to all the friends who had to suffer through my over-planned and under-seasoned meals when I was myself obsessed with diets.  Also, I should probably thank them for never ordering pizza right in front of me like Harrington’s friends have reportedly done.  It also made me realize just how silly it is that so many famous skinny people make even more money by writing books telling us that we can be just like them if only we eat more yeast or drink nothing but eggs mixed with milk in the mornings.  Why do we keep buying those books?  Why do we need to know about Elizabeth Taylor’s obsession with putting steak on half a peanut butter sandwich?  I don’t know, but I enjoyed hearing Rebecca Harrington’s results of the investigation.

And, yes, it quickly distracted me from the cat-violence.  In short: a fun, conversational jaunt through one woman’s experiment in living through several celebrities’ bad decisions.  I even learned some facts about famous people along the way.  (Madonna will forever be associated with seaweed in my brain, now.)  Don’t read this if you’re still in a tenuous recovery from an eating disorder, but you might enjoy it if you, like so many of us, can’t help but flip through every glossy-photoed “eat like me” hardcover that features a skinny white girl eating fake pasta on the cover.

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