Fat-Bottomed Girls & Dead Rats

Freddie Mercury, meet Hanne Blank. Freddie and Hanne both rejoice in ladies with excess avoirdupois, and both of them want them to exercise. That might be where the similarity ends, however. Hanne Blank’s latest book, The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts, is part manifesto and part how-to guide. In sassy, sometimes potty-mouthed style, Blank encourages large ladies to get moving for the good of their health. Since she is a writer, she has come to realize that a sedentary lifestyle is not safe for anyone, but particularly those who are already prone to heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments. Blank is part of the Size Acceptance Movement, so she refrains from encouraging anyone to lose weight and spends a lot of time helping you to shut up, tell off, and otherwise get rid of people who are telling you that you should. While I may not agree with everything Ms. Blank has to say—and may never wish to read her other books— she is certainly motivational and very knowledgeable about gyms, equipment, different types of exercise, and the particular needs of very overweight individuals. There are appendices for product information in the back.

As I have told you before in this space, I do love a plague story. While I was reading Geraldine Brooks’ famous Year of Wonders, I came to believe that part of the appeal is that the reader knows so much more than the characters in the book. The foreshadowing is overwhelming and helps to build suspense. “No! Not the rats! Don’t let your children pick up the dead rats!” You know what will happen in the next chapter. Soon, you’re on to buboes, rosy rings on the skin, and “Bring out your dead!” Ah, yes, it never gets old, does it?

Anyhow, this story of 1666 England tells how Anna Frith, young mother and housemaid, weathers a horrific year of plague in her little village. Rather than concentrating on medical details, Brooks uses this catastrophe to illustrate how people change when their lives are no longer within their control. During the reign of the vile Charles II, superstition was rampant, and witches were blamed for everything whenever a convenient woman could be found. Many of the most devout people lose their faith, and some the most unlikely find it. Some people, including Anna, are forced into roles that they never would have imagined and make choices that would have been unthinkable during peaceful times. This absorbing and beautifully-written novel is based on the real village of Eyam.

If I had one quibble with Brooks’ story, it would be that the conclusion is ridiculously unbelievable and anachronistic. After the year is over, Anna—a beautiful young woman who has never gone more than seven miles from her home— hops onto a ship by herself, something that would never have happened in the 17th century. Furthermore, she asks to be let off when she sees a country in northern Africa that reminds her of an ancient Muslim book that she found in someone’s library. She had learned about medicine in the book during the plague, and it had caused her to admire Muslim culture. So she becomes a part of an elderly gentleman’s harem, where she is free to study medicine and practice the healing arts. Right. In a country that does not respect women or believe that they should be educated at all, let alone a foreign woman, Anna would settle in freely, far from everyone and everything she has ever known, and live happily ever after? I think that this was a major misstep in an otherwise thoughtful and engrossing read.

The piles of books on my nighttable have been multiplying again, so I will be bringing you more goodies soon!

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