Writer's wit makes health books a treat


Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 11:57 p.m.

Walk into any bookstore in America and you'll see it pointing at you from the best-seller shelf: "YOU: On a Diet: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management."

Facts

Meet and greet

  • Who: Ted Spiker, UF journalism professor and co-author of "YOU: On a Diet: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management" and "YOU: The Owner's Manual"
  • When: 2 to 4 p.m. today.
  • Where: Jonesberry Books, 12921 SW 1st Road #115, Jonesville.

It is the latest in a series of books by Drs. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen that have vaulted the duo onto Oprah's stage and the nation's coffee tables.

The secret to their success lies in part with University of Florida journalism professor Ted Spiker, who co-authored both October's "YOU: On a Diet" and 2005's "YOU: The Owner's Manual." Spiker's witty prose, lauded by critics, makes the doctors' insights into trimming belly fat and understanding vital organs palatable to millions of readers.

Spiker, who also co-wrote the 2005 best-seller "The Abs Diet," will hold an informal meet and greet with readers from 2 to about 4 p.m. today at Jonesberry Books in Jonesville.

The 38-year-old laughs when asked if he imagined the books would be so successful. "YOU: On a Diet" first reached No. 1 on The New York Times Best Sellers Hardcover Advice list in mid-November, and there it remains; "YOU: The Owner's Manual," a tour of the body's anatomy and how it works, was No. 1 for 10 weeks and stayed on the list for more than eight months.

"It's crazy," Spiker says.

The madness has only begun. "YOU: On a Diet," which outlines the importance of reducing your waist size and the biology behind it, is the first in a three-book deal that includes an anti-aging book due in late 2007 and one for teens after that.

Though Spiker attributes the series' popularity to a team effort, Oz isn't shy about the reason for its success. "All of that, and I say this honestly, is because of Ted Spiker," Oz says. "He has an uncanny knack for making complicated material accessible and fun."

"Comic poetry" is Oz's name for Spiker's ability to juxtapose two seemingly unrelated things — for example, the structure of the spine and an Oreo — to make health topics more interesting and easily understood.

"That's where his gift really lies," says Oz, a Columbia University heart surgeon and frequent guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" following the success of the first book.

It's a craft Spiker perfected in the nearly four years he spent at Men's Health magazine, where he served as senior, associate and articles editor before coming to UF in 2001. There, he routinely took medical information and repackaged it in a way that made it interesting and intelligible to the masses, which was precisely what Oz and Roizen were looking for in a writer for the first book. Oz requested a recommendation from the editor of Men's Health, who directed him to Spiker.

Three years and millions of book sales later, the team still holds Sunday morning conference calls, working chapter by chapter on the upcoming books. For two to four hours, Spiker and the doctors discuss the week's chapter in the upcoming books — say, the kidneys, how they function and how to keep them healthy. During the week, Spiker turns his notes into the lively text that a Publisher's Weekly review called "another highly entertaining round of Biology 101."

"It's not just repeating health information," Spiker says. "They're exploring the human body in a way that really isn't in the mainstream press."

Oz and Roizen, who is also famous for his RealAge program to prolong health as you age, provide all of the content; Spiker's greatest challenge is making those weekly biology lessons funny — but not too funny.

"It's really easy to overdo it," he says. "Some medical issues are funnier than others."

As a current contributing editor for Men's Health and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in magazines from Prevention to Women's Health, Spiker has had plenty of practice finding that balance. With two more "YOU" books in the works, he also performs a balancing act in his own life, juggling writing and his responsibilities leading the College of Journalism and Communications' magazine sequence with spending time with his wife, Liz, and 7-year-old twin boys, Alex and Thad.

"He's just special," Oz says. "I feel like I have a great deal just having him work with us."

Sarah Stewart can be reached at (352) 338-3103 or Sarah.Stewart@gvillesun.com.

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