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December 02, 2007|Susan Salter Reynolds

Leaning With Intent to Fall

A Memoir

Ethan Clark

Garrett County Press: 200 pp., $14.95 paper

ETHAN CLARK's dearest wish in this book about his escape from the Deep South is that his readers will think to themselves: " 'Oh, yeah, I know what he's talking about!...' [T]hen I've accomplished my goal. Oh, and everything in here that's illegal?" he adds (covering his tracks?), "That stuff is all made up."

It's a voice that might annoy some readers, but I like it. Clark reminds me there's a brave new generation out there -- young people who are wise enough to turn their backs on prejudice, materialism and other deadly aspects of our culture; who still think it's important to see the world before settling into the life they've been told will make them happy. Clark is eager to shed his roots (the "About the Author" section reveals that "two films were made about the Klan within a mile of where he grew up"). He runs away from Mississippi at 16, stays in various "punk houses" and ends up at a community college in Asheville, N.C. His realization that dropping out won't change anything may seem trite, but something about his freshness and honesty make the choice real and the decision uplifting.

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Hungry

Lessons Learned on the Journey From Fat to Thin

Allen Zadoff

Da Capo Press: 178 pp., $19.95

THERE'S no shortage of books on how to lose weight. "Hungry" is not that sort of book. It's about the importance of understanding the emotional sources of hunger, about how much more effective that understanding is than any diet could ever be, about the myths we create about our bodies that must be debunked. Its gentle, non-preachy, funny and forgiving tone is uncommonly appealing. "I don't know why Devil Dogs were so special to me," muses Allen Zadoff, who began his obsessive eating at 6 and weighed 300 pounds when he was in college, 360 by the time he was 28. At 15, he'd wanted to be an actor, but an acting teacher told him that as a "heavy" person he'd be "doomed" to character roles. He embarked on a war, "restricting, dieting, exercising, drinking protein powder, counting calories. I fought by hating myself, swearing I would never overeat again. . . . I fought battle after battle, and I lost every time," until he realized he wouldn't win using willpower. His method involved identifying the "red foods" (trigger foods he could not eat just one of); "yellow foods" (bread, say), which were comforting in times of stress; and "green foods" (grilled chicken, broccoli), which did not inspire obsessive eating. ("The green foods are boring, I know.")

"Hungry" does not end once he's lost 150 pounds. "I was thin," he writes, "but I didn't know how to be happy. . . . Happiness, it turns out, is like a muscle. If I don't exercise it, it atrophies."

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America's Child

A Woman's Journey Through the Radical Sixties

Susan Sherman

Curbstone Press: 240 pp., $15 paper

SUSAN SHERMAN's family "made a virtue of forgetfulness." She knows the names of only two of her mother's four sisters. Her parents moved to increasingly smaller houses in Los Angeles as she grew up, and she set out on "a personal diaspora . . . in search of origins, a family, because a home, a history, is not found in places alone, it is found with people." The life she describes in "America's Child" has a classic '60s trajectory: a rooming house on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, falling in love, tripping on mushrooms, going to North Beach poetry readings, moving to New York to work with the Hardware Poets Playhouse, traveling to Cuba, coming out as a gay woman and opening a bookstore and women's shelter in the East Village.

In 1976, Sherman returned to L.A. to visit her parents. She was struck by the loneliness of their lives: "A house resting on the surface of things, tied to nothing, growing old."

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susan.reynolds@latimes.com

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