By Rebecca Harrington. (Vintage Books, 164 pages, $14.95.)

After the coma-inducing sugar-indulgence of the holidays come the January diet books. One of the most entertaining of the new crop (if not the most useful) is, "I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting," by Rebecca Harrington.

Harrington has long been fascinated by celebrity diets, beginning with that uber-celebrity, William Howard Taft, who reduced his girth, more or less, by eating glutinous biscuits, mutton and boiled fish. "He lost a bunch of weight because that is disgusting," Harrington writes, in that peppy, wry tone that makes her book a fast and delightful read.

She diligently tries out diets practiced by Madonna, Sophia Loren, Greta Garbo, Liz Taylor and a host of others. It's both hilarious and sad to think of Gwyneth Paltrow subsisting on kale juice and raw almonds soaked in water, or Dolly Parton trying to slim down on vats of cabbage soup. Harrington is intrepid, trying each diet for days, sometimes for more than a week, but in the end, Greta Garbo's celery loaf nearly does her in: "It smells like I just put vomit in a baking pan and baked it for thirty minutes."

After months of this, Harrington does not really change size at all, and she concludes that it is self-defeating and foolish to try for perfection. She has a slice of pizza, and you cheer.


Senior editor/books

One Red Thread

By Ernie Wood. (Tyrus Books, 400 pages, $24.99.)

It can be dangerous to pull on a thread from the past. But Eddy McBride, an architect and rather selfish guy, does it anyway in "One Red Thread," launching readers into a time-hopping journey across the generations.

Anchored in an unnamed present-day Southern city, the novel skips backward through the years — all the way back to the Civil War — as Eddy and his friends discover the interwoven tragedies of three families. Can they tinker with what they find to create a happier present? They try mightily, even as the dangers of time travel become clear.

The tale is fragmented rather than chronological, unfolding through the eyes of Eddy, his wife and two friends as they observe and sometimes take part in family history. Their experiences strain their relationships even as they reveal the roots of modern mystery and sorrow.

Debut novelist Ernie Wood hammers on Eddy's attention to detail in everyday life, almost to the point of annoyance. Yet it becomes clear in the end that such details are key to finding the past and tying it to the present.


Features writer