January 06, 2011


Return to Fitness: Getting Back in Shape after Injury, Illness, or Prolonged Inactivity. By Bill Katovsky. Da Capo. $16.95.

Hard Sell: Now a Major Motion Picture—Love & Other Drugs. By Jamie Reidy. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Be Healthy! It’s a Girl Thing: Food, Fitness, and Feeling Great. By Mavis Jukes and Lilian Cheung, D.Sc., R.D. Knopf. $12.99.

     Although everyone wants to be healthy, the word “health” means different things to different people, and different things to the same person at different times in his or her life. Return to Fitness is specifically for once-active people who have, for any one of various reasons, fallen into inactivity – and want to get back to being the fit selves they used to be. Bill Katovsky, founder of Tri-Athlete Magazine, bases the book on his own “steady erosion of motivation that ended in my losing all interest in exercise” for nearly a decade after previously being a multisport athlete. He intends this background to be inspirational, and in some ways it is, but it is also likely to be off-putting to the vast majority of people, who were never at Ironman fitness levels and would simply like to improve their overall physical health as they age. Katovsky’s book is less for them than it is for once-dedicated athletes who have fallen by the wayside. He talks about how the body changes with age, how to build or rebuild an exercise program without overdoing things at first, and what sorts of goals it makes sense to set. Through interviews with fitness and nutrition experts, coaches and others, Katovsky comes up with suggested exercise and nutrition programs that he recommends – and also offers some recommended by others, such as astronaut Jerry Linenger. The book is partly written in generalities and partly in specifics – such as a fairly detailed discussion of the controversy among runners about whether to stretch or not before working out (Katovsky says “it all depends on your sport,” which is a little wishy-washy). There are discussions here of all sorts of hurts, from overuse injuries to cardiac arrest to mental issues such as depression. Katovsky is a little blasé and simplistic about mental matters: depression “fears change. It craves stasis. That’s why depressives like to sleep in.” Indeed, he tends to a fairly simplified view of exercise in general, saying that it can be difficult to get back to it – but then making recommendations whose underlying assumption seems to be that, once you get motivated, it need not be that hard after all. Katovsky gets points for enthusiasm, but seems not fully aware of the fact that for many people, the desire to exercise is minimal if it exists at all. Even his “Motivation” chapter, which focuses on health clubs, personal trainers and various groups (bike, running, triathlon), is superficial: “Sacrificing your workout so you can answer all those emails is a mistake. …This will only jeopardize your return to fitness.” Katovsky’s book will be best for people who have in the past been quite athletic but have gotten away from the habit – not for those who are struggling to make exercise a significant part of their life.

     One significant part of life that most people will try to recapture if they lose it is their sex life, and that is what Hard Sell is in part about. The new paperback version of James Reidy’s 2005 book is very oddly titled: the hardcover was called Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, but the second part of that title now appears in an oval on the cover, with Hard Sell now followed by either one or two subtitles…or something. The content is clearer than the title, though, and a lot more straightforward. Reidy was a “detail man” – a medical sales representative – for Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company and the maker of Viagra, from 1995 to 2000. The book is really about the training and work of detail men (some of whom are women), but since sex sells, the Viagra angle gets top billing. However, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes information to go around: “In the pediatric marketplace especially, branding took greater precedence as companies sought to establish ‘mascots’ with which children could identify.” “The one thing a rep learned in pharmaceutical training was that her drug(s) were the best.” There is nothing the slightest bit surprising here, despite the breezy style in which Reidy delivers the information. Reidy seems genuinely proud of the many ways he found to milk his employer: “Fortunately for me, the limits of the system allowed the company to get fleeced. …For the savvy slacker…this requirement [of close attention to keeping receipts] allowed us to verify we were working when we were not working.” Reidy admits he was (and perhaps still is) a “lazy, sneaky guy,” and his stories of getting what he did not merit wear thin very quickly. He comes across as thoroughly amoral: “Staring at mediocre sales and undesirable number-one rankings didn’t deter me from thinking I deserved to get promoted.” Everything Reidy says sounds like something that could easily be said by Sammy Glick of What Makes Sammy Run? “Hot girls moved product. This is a law of nature, like short guys make better jockeys.” “The company’s inability to correctly predict how much of the product would be sold could result in huge moneymaking opportunities.” Reidy eventually decides to write a tell-all – that would be this book – and quit Pfizer, and his epilogue (in two parts) is full of self-satisfaction and self-justification. Hard Sell is an entertaining read by a thoroughly unpleasant human being who appears to have no respect for his employer, his fellow workers, the doctors attempting to improve people’s health (sexual and otherwise), and the patients worried and even desperate about their physical well-being. Nor does he appear (this is scarcely a surprise) to have any respect for himself, either.

     In contrast, self-respect and concern for one’s health are what Be Healthy! is all about. Intended for girls ages 10 and older, who are reaching or recently reached puberty, the book is focused primarily on food and nutrition, from the basics of “How Food Works” (one chapter title) to information on vitamins and minerals, lactose intolerance and vegetarianism, Internet health-related sites (and how to know which ones to trust), good and bad fats, and more. Each topic is covered in a short series of paragraphs, so the book provides much information but does not seem daunting to read. It includes a clever “Cactus Plan” rather than a food pyramid, indicating not only what it is best to eat and in what quantities, but also what sorts of activities are healthful (aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening) and which ones should be limited (TV and screen time). The book is not specifically a guide to puberty, but there are many references to it: “It’s important to understand that an appropriate plan for many overweight adolescents is to maintain your current weight.” Food-borne illness, shopping guidelines, ingredients lists, stretching, cardiovascular activity and more – there is at least a little bit here on many, many topics. Indeed, that is the book’s weakness: it does not prioritize among the many elements it discusses, so it may be hard for preteens and young teenagers to figure out what is more important and what is less so – and it is certainly not practical to treat everything here as equally significant. There are also some overdone attempts to write in ways thought to appeal to this age group: “Chillin’ Like a Villain?” “Yakkity Yak – Don’t Talk Back!” And some statements are just too simplistic to be appealing: “”Beauty Is Defined in So Many Ways.” “People Are Varied. We’re Supposed to Be.” Nevertheless, as a nutritional primer and a basic guidebook for girls in the target age range, Be Healthy! can be a good start – and its recommended followups with doctors and other healthcare providers make good sense.

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