Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

This is another Barbara Kingsolver (yes, my life is full of her books lately. It's a good thing.). It's also another of my "personal philosophy" books. And it's especially interesting to me because I enjoy books with combined elements like this one has--it contains personal elements of the life of one of my favorite authors, as well as the chronicle of one year of their lives in which they vow to get all their food locally and in season, as well as the history of many different areas of agriculture, and why it's important to buy local and grow your own.

The writing is lovely, the recipes sound delicious, and at the end, I feel much more connected to what's on my plate and more motivated to remember the intrinsic human skill of providing for myself. Good stuff. A great last read of the year.

A False Sense of Well-Being

I read the first few pages of this book by Jeanne Braselton back in 2005, when I was newly pregnant. Somehow I discovered that the main character had had a miscarriage, so in my slightly superstitious hyper-protectiveness I stopped reading it because I didn't want to think about that while pregnant.

So I saw it at the library recently and picked it up. But it seems that whatever memories I thought I had of the book were WRONG! I don't know what I was thinking it was about, but whatever I thought, it wasn't what it turned out to be. It's a book about a woman grappling with stagnancy in her marriage, I guess, and it's about family and such, but it was fairly disappointing to me. I don't *think* it was truly a BAD book, but it was not my thing. And I think mainly it was defeated simply by the disappointment of my high hopes for it.

I should have known it wouldn't be my thing when I noticed that the quote on the front cover was Anne Rivers Siddons claiming this just might be the best first novel ever, or something like that. Aw geez.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Small Wonder

It seems I always find myself re-reading my "personal philosophy" books at the end of the year. Perhaps this is just a good time to reaffirm my personal values, what's important to me, how I want to live my life, as we face a new year and new beginnings. Having Faith and Easy to Love are two such books, and this is a third. It's by Barbara Kingsolver, and it's a collection of essays that are beautifully written and passionately argued, all about why we should care about things like genetic engineering and heirloom plants, or why we should think carefully about war as a solution to violence. As the quote on the front says, it's "A passionate invitation to readers to be a part of the crowd that cares about the environment, peace, and family." And as I mentioned, it helps me remember how important certain things are and helps me feel galvanized for the new year, to keep these things prioritized in my life and in my growing family. This is one of my all-time favorite books as well.

A couple of quotes I like to keep in mind follow. There would be more, and maybe a more comprehensive set, if it weren't for the fact that my husband needs the computer in a minute. =)

Page 39: "What we lose in our great human exodus from the land is a rooted sense, as deep and intangible as religious faith, of why we need to hold on to the wild and beautiful places that once surrounded us. We seem to succumb so easily to the prevailing human tendency to pave such places over, build subdivisions upon them and name them The Willows, or Peregrine's Roost, or Elk Meadows, after whatever it was that got killed there....Barry Lopez writes that if we hope to succeed in the endeavor of protecting natures other than our own, 'it will require that we reimagine our lives...It will require of many of us a humanity we've not yet mustered, and a grace we were not aware we desired until we had tasted it.' And yet no endeavor could be more crucial at this moment. Protecting the land that once provided us with our genesis may turn out to be the only real story there is for us. The land still provides our genesis, however we might like to forget that our food comes from dank, muddy earth, that the oxygen in our lungs was recently inside a leaf, and that every newspaper or book we may pick made from the hearts of trees that died for the sake of our imagined lives."

Page 248-9: "Most of the time I go right on growing tomatoes and basil and broccoli simply because they are good, we like them...I do it because the world has announced to me, loudly, that it's time to make a choice between infinite material entitlement or a more modest, self-reliant security, and this is a step I can take in the right direction."

Page 262: "Every time I read an argument justifying further oil drilling in sensitive places, I notice that it begins with the caveat, 'Unless Americans are wiling to accept a drastic lifestyle change.' As if that were the one thing that could never happen. As if many new kinds of shortage weren't already on the docket, scheduled for arrival, period, before my kids get to be my age. Scientists have been trying gently to remind us that the 'fossil' in fossil fuel is not a metaphor or a simile. That oil is going to dry up eventually, and no political voodoo can indocue dinosaurs or prehistoric fern forests to lie down and press themselves into more ooze for us on the timetable we require."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Having Faith

This is another of my all-time favorites. I think this is a must-read for absolutely everyone who cares at all about our world and its future, and also for those who don't! I reviewed it last year, so please go read that for my complete explanation and opinion.

Meanwhile, here are some of my favorite passages. Perhaps they can show you how beautiful the writing is, how it captures some of the most special and sacred moments of pregnancy and parenthood, and how well the author touches on the interconnectedness of everything, and how we can't escape from our pollution, how instead we have to stop and solve it.

Page 66: "Before it is drinking water, amniotic fluid is the creeks and rivers that fill reservoirs. It is the underground water that fills wells. And before it is creeks and rivers and groundwater, amniotic fluid is rain. When I hold in my hands a tube of my own amniotic fluid, I am holding a tube full of raindrops. Amniotic fluid is also the juice of oranges that I had for breakfast, and the milk that I poured over my cereal, and the honey I stirred into my tea. It is inside the green cells of spinach leaves and the damp flesh of apples. It is the yolk of an egg. When I look at amniotic fluid, I am looking at rain falling on orange groves. I am looking at melon fields, potatoes in wet earth, frost on pasture grasses. The blood of cows and chickens is in this tube. Whatever is inside hummingbird eggs is also inside my womb. Whatever is in the world's water is here in my hands."

Page 128: "Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd."

Page 130: "If our daughter asks, 'What's a trout stream?' what will I say? Will I explain that freshwater trout are now among the most contaminated fish in America, far too poisonous for her to eat? Will I tell her that our government is willing to warn her against eating trout but reluctant to stop the trout from being poisoned in the first place?"

Page 266: "But then, everything that toddlers do seems alarming and grotesque to first-time parents of infants. Compared to one's own sweet babe, who coos and waves her hands so delicately in the air, toddlers are a tribe of dangerous giants. As though your child would never ever become one of them. The feelings that the parents of toddlers have for tiny babies aren't exactly reciprocal--although I confess feeling vague pity for the proud parents of one newborn in the pediatrician's office recently. She just looked so puny and uninteresting."

Page 274: "I also believe these kinds of risk/benefit analyses are an unhelpful approach to the problem of chemical contaminants in breast milk. They offer no solutions. The usual recommendation that follows from them--'Just keep nursing because the benefits outweigh the risks'--means that we nursing mothers should take no action until our milk becomes so contaminated as to pose as many risks as formula. In other words, until breast milk, like formula, kills 4,000 U.S. infants a year. (This figure is the experts' best estimate of the annual number of infant deaths--from infectious diseases and other causes--attributable to lack of breastfeeding.) Risk/benefit analyses imply that as long as one danger (breastfeeding) is less than another (failure to breastfeed), we should accept the lesser danger--even though it still necessitates endangering our children. The narrow duality of the equatio leaves no room for the proposition that feeding our infants industrial poisons is unacceptable. Period."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange

I read these two books, by Melissa Marr, over the course of about three hours. So they're not exactly heavy. Rather, they're young adult fantasy novels about the world of Faery and the mortals who become involved in that world.

The first in the series, Wicked Lovely, was really pretty good. I was interested in the characters and the story. I liked the plotline and the ending (unsurprising though they were). It felt complete. It stopped at a good place and a happy place.

The second, Ink Exchange, not so much. It felt like the awkward middle book in the series. It didn't seem to really have an ending. It didn't resolve anything. And the relationships between the main characters was less satisfying because it felt like there was so much the author wasn't telling you. So that was sort of frustrating.

I WILL probably read the next in the series, although I hope it's the last. Not because I don't like the concept, but just because I'd fear the same awkward not-full-book-ness for another middle chapter.

The Last Summer (of you and me)

This book also took me less than two hours to read, start to finish. It's a grown-up book by Ann Brashares, the author of the famous Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It's about two sisters and their boy-best-friend, and the point in time when they are all poised to figure out how to grow up together.

I have to say I really enjoyed the flow of words. I really cared about the characters. It was a good book, although not a fluffy book like Pants. It was a little bit sad. But most of all, it was also very predictable. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just that sometimes I crave writing that defies the standard plot or structure, something different, and that, this was not.

Again, I enjoyed it. It was a quick, easy, and lovely read. But please don't tell me you're surprised at any of the "revelations." Thanks.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fast Food Nation

This is a famous book by Eric Schlosser, used often in college courses. And it's easy to see why. The writing is absorbing, the stories personal and interesting, and the subject matter that special mixture of fascination and horror that many find difficult to read but also difficult to put down.

Many people, after reading this book, vow something along the lines of "I will never eat another hamburger again." I wouldn't go in that direction. Rather, I would say, "Yep, that's why I don't ever want to eat hamburgers at [name of fast food restaurant]. We need healthier food choices."

A great read.

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline

I love this book, by Becky Bailey. It just might be my #1 parenting book ever.

That being said, I also hate the title. It makes it sound like A) it will teach you how to be a "discipliner," and B) parenting is tough and no fun. Neither of these are a true reflection of the book's contents, and this frustrates me endlessly! I get upset when books are not accurately titled.

Another criticism of this book is that its layout may be a little daunting--"7 powers for self-control" leading to "7 basic discipline skills" leading to "7 values for living." Seems somewhat regimented if that's all you look at--but it's easy to look beyond the structure and read the very helpful and fascinating content.

Anyway. This book is all about how you can't teach your children values and behaviors that you cannot do yourself--so before you begin to discipline your children, you must learn to discipline yourself. However, what the author means by discipline is really how to learn from your mistakes instead of beating yourself up about them. The book also addresses the fact that you cannot MAKE your children do anything. Think about that for a minute. You can't actually MAKE your children eat vegetables beyond force-feeding them in a specific instance (which could be considered child abuse at a certain point). You can't MAKE them "be nice." All you can do is help them learn how to achieve these things through trial and error, which is what being a kid is all about.

ALSO...this means that other people can't make YOU do anything. If you're mad at traffic, you're choosing to be mad at traffic. If you're having trouble sticking to your new diet, it's because you're choosing to eat a food that's not on your diet plan. Thus, you are free to decide NOT to eat that food or NOT to be irritated by bad drivers. To me this has serious potential to change not only the way we treat our children but the way we treat ourselves and the amount of independence and choice we have in our daily lives.


Best American Short Stories--2001

Read this piecemeal over the last month or so--some, of course, are fascinating and beautiful, and some are not really my style, but I still have a feeling they might be great to someone else out there.

My favorite thing about this particular edition is that the "guest editor" was Barbara Kingsolver, and I love her. So it was fun to get to read the stories and think of what her opinions of them would be--what she would say was the nugget of truth behind each story.

Oh, and for what it's worth, my favorite story was probably "Boys." But the whole thing was good, as is only to be expected!

Sophie's World

I've been really into a lot of philosophy-related books lately. This one, by Jostein Gaarder, is "a novel about the history of philosophy." It's a great read, and I think the author did a fantastic job of that whole melding-fiction-with-lecture style. It's a fascinating read. But my main complaint comes mostly from the fact that I read Ishmael just before this: this book is extremely human-centered and egotistical. That is, the whole history of philosophy is full of people talking about how and why man is at the top of everything and what we should do and blah blah blah, and the book never takes issue with that whole "man at the center" philosophy itself. Oh, yes, there's ONE SENTENCE towards the end about current philosophy directions that says one such direction is to think that maybe man isn't so goshdarn special. And point taken that we have to understand the history of philosophy to see where it might be going and all that. But geez. It's disheartening, seeing so much evidence of how little humankind can conceive of itself as equal to other life.

Still, a good read. It would be GREAT if you were going to take a philosophy course in high school or college, or if you just had finished one, and so on. And it happens to be fun!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Stuart Little

I re-read this classic kids' book, by E.B. White, in about 15 minutes the other night. It was quite fun, but I was surprised by my lack of memory about it. In other words...I totally forgot that it's about the journey, not the destination. I was surprised when it ended long before Stuart ever got to where he was headed.

Other than that, smashing good fun, and probably something James will be ready to hear next year. Yay!


This book, by Daniel Quinn, is one of those that I think everyone should be required to read. It's about a man who meets a gorilla, and the gorilla becomes the teacher, along the way showing the man all the ways that humankind have gotten it wrong, and how simple it can really be. It's just a fantastic example of that kind of writing which is educational or informative without ever losing sight of the fact that it's a work of fiction and has a story to tell.

That being said, of course there are several points that I have BIG problems with. But the main thrust of the story, that practically all humankind today is entirely too self-centered and wasteful and will ultimately end itself if it doesn't change? That's something I think we need to hear. I think this book is a wonderful thought-provoker. READ IT! And then let's talk.

Oh, and by the way? If you read this right before Christmas, it's even more disturbing. Talk about consumerism. Holy cow.

Deep Dish

Fluffy romance-ish novel by Mary Kay Andrews, with the bonus quality of being a foodie book. It's about two TV chefs and how fate throws them together, blah blah blah. Sort of a weak ending, but generally, fun and easy and light. And delicious!

The Last English King

I picked this book, by Julian Rathbone, in my usual style--that is, off the shelf at the library as I was running past it, after my 2-year-old. The name sounded familiar, but I'm still not sure why.

The book appealed to me for obvious reasons, as anyone who knows me probably knows my intense preoccupation with all things British History. And I really enjoyed that aspect of it--the author did a great job of educating the reader on some interesting historical points without making it boring or out-of-context in the story itself.

However. It is a man's book, by which I mean it is a book that does not hold my interest through the 10-page-long descriptionS of different battles. Also, it does not dwell much on the relationship aspect of life. So eh. It was an interesting read at times, and also boring at times, as when I just could not get through those battle scenes! Good if you're interested in historical fiction with a hefty dose of history. Especially if you're someone who enjoys reading lengthy battle descriptions.

And now I'm sure someone will come and tell me that that's ridiculous, the battle descriptions are only 4 or 5 pages long. YOU GET MY POINT.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Off Season

This book, by Ann Rivers Siddons, was assigned to a book club I thought I might join. The last book the club read was Julia's Chocolates, which, as you all know, I looooved.

This one, not so much. I didn't like the way the author only hit the very extreme events of the protagonist's life, and didn't allow for any development out of those events. Example: someone dies and the next thing you know, it's 10 years later. What happened after that person died? I dunno.

I also HATED the ending. I feel I shouldn't say too much but it ends very abruptly after making an abrupt and, in my opinion, dumb revelation, that you therefore have no time to think about or deal with or develop or whatever. Also, said revelation is pretty meaningless to me, since all the little daily life details that might have given it meaning for me were left out by the author.

It wasn't the most horrible book ever. But I think I'm still categorizing it as trash because it felt like a SUPREME waste of time.