Fiction, fitness and fabrications 

Reviews of recent books
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Reviews of recent books
Vermeer’s Daughter
By Barbara Shoup Guild Press Emmis Publishing; $19.95 Writers, playwrights and filmmakers have long done it: adapt a real person’s life to the page, stage or screen, often taking what is called “artistic license” to give body to someone’s story. Indianapolis-based author Barbara Shoup has done this in her latest novel, Vermeer’s Daughter, the fictionalized story of the daughter of the famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. The daughter, in fact, is fictionalized; Shoup writes in her author’s note that there was no Carelina — and yet, not knowing this initially, I was able to immerse myself fully in the story of the young woman, one of 11 children (there were, indeed, 11, according to historical records) whom Vermeer sired with his often ill wife Catharina Bolnes. Shoup makes no claims that Vermeer apprenticed any of his children, particularly one of his daughters, so we are left with the conundrum of separating the art from the man. This book is not the man; but instead, its brilliance lies in its reflective narrative about the art itself. Shoup paints a compelling picture of the struggles of life for a large, Catholic family living in Holland more than 300 years ago. Shoup relied upon the work of other historians for her accuracy of place and time; so for this, we are given a glimpse into a time and place long before Vermeer’s type of aesthetic experimentation was welcome. Vermeer was innovative and took license in his interpretations of subjects, Shoup reveals; and we know this is so, considering the artist’s stance in art history. To separate the story of Carelina from historical fact, however, is crucial. Carelina comes of age in an environment that is not thought of as supporting the professional growth of young women, and yet this child perseveres with her dream of painting. Introducing Vermeer gives us another layer, and Shoup’s description of his art and artmaking is vivid and beautiful. Vermeer’s Daughter is a lovely story told in 160 pages — a quiet, contemplative read that inspires, perhaps, more than it provokes. —Julianna Thibodeaux
Couch potatoes get baked
Power Pilates: The Complete Guide to Pilates Exercises At Home By Diane Daniels Healthy Living Books; $15 For some of you, this book may be your first encounter with the term pilates (pronounced pi-la-teez). Perhaps not; perhaps you overheard co-workers raving about it in a recent conversation. Maybe you bought a “do it at home” pilates VHS or CD and have been practicing it diligently, or maybe it is still in the plastic wrapper three months later. If the latter sounds most familiar, then Daniels’ book might be worth looking into — or at least picking it up off the shelf for a quick skim-through. Daniels’ book was designed to be an at-home guide, creating easy-to-follow instructions for even the most non-physically-active person. Her informal stylistic approach to explaining the pilates method is right on target: In the opening chapters, she speaks to her readers using terms that almost anyone could digest. She thoroughly accounts expectations, goals and benefits one experiences and should expect when starting a pilates exercise program. However, these introduction pages are not linked to the actual exercises introduced in later chapters, which makes it difficult for readers who have never actually done pilates to make the connection she describes. It was a slight stretch for Daniels to say this book is for anyone, including the “couch potato.” It appears that the pictures and accompanying instructions for the exercises, although clear and well-divided among performance levels, would still be near impossible to perform if you weren’t already familiar with the concepts she’s speaking about. For instance, someone who does not know how to hold themselves in a push-up position properly — and yes, a lot of people do not — wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to pull their shoulder blades down, open their chest, hold in their abs, squeeze their inner and outer thighs, glutes, all the while relaxing their shoulders and breathing correctly. Power Pilates is an exceptional resource for someone already familiar with pilates, but could be discouraging to someone who is not. It is hard for beginners to grasp exactly what you’re supposed to feel when doing a described exercise — unless one describes what you should not feel along with what you should feel. Which is why this book isn’t an ideal tool for at-home learning, but rather is an excellent supplement to a pilates group mat class or video. If Daniels had perhaps had an accompanying video with the book, enabling readers to experience her exercises while seeing someone actually doing the moves, then suggesting that “couch potatoes” try it out might be considerable. Since that is not the case, it would be much wiser for someone who is interested in doing pilates and not currently practicing it to go to a class rather than self-teaching themselves with Daniels’ book. —Lindsey Fella
Deconstructing Bush, Inc.
Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How it Distorts the Truth By Joe Conason Thomas Dunne Book, St. Martin’s Press; $24.95 Big Lies says it plain: This is largely what we’ve been getting from the Bush Administration, a political machine designed to benefit the plutocrats at the cost of the rest of us. Joe Conason, a columnist with the New York Observer and Salon, takes a little more than 200 pages to systematically deconstruct the myths, red herrings and, yes, the lies that Bush, Inc. have used to manufacture a political career based on upwardly mobile failure beginning in Texas and finding its ultimate expression in Washington, D.C. Conason has usefully documented everything he says here, making his book less a screed than an indictment. He reinforces points that writers like Paul Krugman and Thomas Frank have been making for some time now: that the perverse genius of America’s radical right has been to convince a mass of struggling middle-class Americans that a political regime based on crony capitalism — the channeling of this country’s wealth and resources to an ever smaller part of the population — is somehow a populist movement. Someday people will pick up Conason’s book to better understand the ways in which the right, with a willing assist from our supposedly “liberal” media, have manipulated current events in order to advance their efforts to roll back American social progress to a point just prior to 1900. These efforts began by branding the very idea of “liberalism” as being somehow anti-American. Yet, as Conason points out: “If your workplace is safe; if your children go to school rather than being forced into labor; if you are paid a living wage, including overtime; if you enjoy a 40-hour week and you are allowed to join a union to protect your rights — you can thank liberals. If your food is not poisoned and your water is drinkable — you can thank liberals. If your parents are eligible for Medicare and Social Security, so they can grow old in dignity without bankrupting your family — you can thank liberals. If our rivers are getting cleaner and our air isn’t black with pollution; if our wilderness is protected and our countryside is still green — you can thank liberals. If people of all races can share the same public facilities; if everyone has the right to vote; if couples fall in love and marry regardless of race; if we have finally begun to transcend a segregated society — you can thank liberals. Progressive innovations like those and so many others were achieved by long, difficult struggles against entrenched power. What defined conservatism, and conservatives, was their opposition to every one of those advances.” Perhaps the right’s greatest asset has been the short memory of the American people — our collective lack of interest in our own history and how we’ve come to turn our way of life into a mere lifestyle. Fortunately, we have Conason to help us remember, if we ever knew in the first place, that it was the Bush Administration that waved the IRS off wealthy tax cheats, that the vast majority of syndicated newspaper columnists are, in fact, conservative, that not only is George Bush Jr.’s military record a sham, but that none of his closest advisors has ever served at all, and that it was Republicans who tried to block almost every attempt Bill Clinton made to clamp down on terrorists after the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Readers looking for ammunition to buttress their stand against Bush in the coming election should find Big Lies an invaluable primer. As for those on the other side — you’ve got a year to come up with an equally compelling set of Big Facts. —David Hoppe

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