Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet

I loved this book, by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. It is their personal memoir of what their life was like over a year of eating only foods they could get within a 100-mile radius of their home (which is normally in Vancouver, although they did stay elsewhere a few times).

I love their reasons for eating locally. I loved hearing about how delicious the food was, and how satisfying it was to grow your own, or to buy from a familiar face, or to experiment in the kitchen with whatever was at hand. I loved hearing about the sense of community they grew out of this experiment, how much more connected it made them feel not only with their food but with their food providers, with their world.

Inspirational AND fun--two words that aren't often combined in one book. I would recommend this to anyone, and especially to foodies. It was great.

Here is their great website, too. If you want to try local for a week or a month, or for one meal a week, or whatever makes sense for you, or even if you just want to buy more local available products, it is a great resource. Look at all the Oklahoma farmers! Yay!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Everything Potty Training Book

I was happily surprised to find that this book, by Linda Sonna, included an entire section devoted to EC, or "early potty training," and letting children naturally learn about going to the potty throughout their lives.

I thought the book was thorough and well-written, easy to navigate, but sadly, it did not have any special potty magic for us. My son is a great potty pee-er but like many kids does not like doing Number Two in the potty. So I got the book to see if it had any suggestions we hadn't thought of yet. And I think the most helpful one was simply Don't Worry About It!

So. A good book. Recommended. But really a manual, obviously, so only recommended for those who want to learn about different ways of approaching potties with children. =)

Into the Land of the Unicorns

Bruce Coville was one of my favorite authors circa 1992. And when I was pregnant and going through all my old boxes of stuff, which were mostly books, I re-read pretty much everything of his that I had, and still loved it. So I got this book on a lark at the library because I hadn't ever heard of it. And it didn't disappoint--I would've loved it as a young girl, although it doesn't pack very much of a punch now since it took me maybe 20 minutes to read. Good times. I will definitely read the others in the series. I *heart* Bruce Coville.

Good in Bed

It's been a while since I re-read this book by Jennifer Weiner. I didn't review it when I first read it, because I wanted to say a lot about it. But by now, I'm just too tired and it's faded and I just want to say this: it was still good. After all the changes I've been through in my life since I first read it, I still enjoyed it. I found a few things quite strange (going to a late-night Hollywood party while hugely pregnant? Ugh.) and I was surprised to find that the movie star friend wasn't really very involved like I had thought she was. But generally, it just connects with the way a lot of women REALLY feel about our bodies and REALLY think about some things, instead of a cheesy man-book with awful stereotypes (aka Sundays at Tiffany's).

However. Do NOT read the follow-up novel, the one that takes place 12 years after this book ends. Or, not if you like happy endings. It was well-written....just NOT something that I wanted to know. I should've left Cannie and her crew alone at the end of this book with their happily-ever-afters. Oh well.


Barbara Kingsolver, short stories, I totally forgot I read this. Good enough, but probably my least favorite of hers. Still, makes you think. Eh.

The Wordy Shipmates

I saw Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show a few months ago, when this book came out, and immediately added it to my to-read list. She was just fun! So I was happy to find that this was a fun, easy read...AND I learned something!

It's what you might call an "armchair history" of some of the early European settlers of North America. Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, for example, is described as someone hard to like but easy to love. (I think that's a quote but I don't have the book in front of me. Sorry.)

I also enjoyed learning that Sarah Vowell grew up in Oklahoma, although of course she's gone now, and will never look back. Sigh. I get it, I certainly do, but you know, it's still sad that no one comes back.

Anyway. Fun book, good book, historically accurate and interesting. Full of the author's personal moral judgments and politics, though, so be ready for that because it's not your typical history.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

This book, by Lisa See, has been on my to-read list for a long time, so I picked it up when I saw it at the library the other day. I had heard it was really good.

Unfortunately for me, it's just not the kind of book I can bring myself to read right now. I had heard it was about the Chinese secret women's language, which sounded interesting, but I didn't know it was really about a betrayal of a friendship and heartbreak. I also had a feeling I would have to read about foot-binding and such, but didn't realize it would be so depressing to me that I would just have to quit, to get up and walk away from it all, because I couldn't stand so much sadness with only sadness to look forward to in the future.

I bet it's a really good book. It seemed well-written. I just didn't have the heart to finish that, to take that story into my heart. It's too sad.

The Position

This is another Meg Wolitzer I picked up, because I loved The Ten-Year Nap so much.

But this one is about a much more provocative subject--namely, The Beast With Two Backs(read the second paragraph, not the first, if you don't know what I'm talking about). It follows a couple in the 1970s who writes a book about their own experiences with marital intimacy, and the fallout from that on their four children.

So the story was not really what I was looking for. But the writing made it worth it. Consider this, from pages 36-37:

"Michael thought back to himself as a teenager, as a child, and it was like thinking about a death, for that person with the waves of black hair...had certainly disappeared. An abduction had taken place in the night, seemingly noiseless.

The truth was that if you paid attention to it, the sound of childhood ending was a terrible thing. If you were one of those supernaturally gifted people and could actually hear it, you would know that it was similar to glass shattering, or a body falling and hitting a surface, expecting that surface to be the accommodating body of a mother or father who would break the fall, but finding, instead, only the hard, hot sidewalk of the rest of life. These sounds were right now being made everywhere, Michael knew--children disappearing, as if through violence, and a troop of awkward but somehow authoritative adults replacing them. The world was packed with these new people who were granted permission to drink, and vote, and drive, and argue, and matter, and sometimes, if they were particularly unlucky or perhaps lucky, to grieve for things that had happened a very long time ago."

So, worth reading all the weird stuff for the beautiful passages in between. But be forewarned that it is indeed risque. (Darn, don't remember how to put the accent mark on that word. And can you tell I'm trying really hard NOT to make this blog show up on certain Google searches on certain topics? If not, yes, that's why I'm being so oblique.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Savannah Breeze

This is a Mary Kay Andrews book, and I picked it up because I liked her book Deep Dish and wanted a similar easy but not horrible read. The two turned out to be different, in an interesting way. It gets old reading one author writing the same basic story over and over with just a few changes to the characters and plot, so I was really happy this was not that.

On the other hand, even though Deep Dish was more typical romance than Savannah Breeze, and that can make it a little more boring, I did feel like this one didn't show the connection between the two main characters as much as it could have. Sometimes I feel like, why is it these two are in love again?

Then again, it was kind of nice that it wasn't all romance-y and widdle cuddlekins and such. But then again, the actual plot was a little more shaky. I didn't like that the ending suggested that it was going to be dangerous but then just left that hanging and boom, it's over.

It was a decent, very Lazy Saturday kind of a read.

I am the Messenger

Since I love love loved The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, I thought I'd try this earlier book of his. It was pretty good, but not nearly as good as TBT. There was too much, I don't know, weirdness in it for me. Some stuff that seemed like it was there just for weird shock value, almost? And it was very much more full of Aussie stuff, which is no problem, but makes it harder for me to get IN the story because I keep getting distracted by it, which is obviously just my own fault for not being Australian. ;)

Anyway. This was much more definitely a "Young Adult" story than TBT, less universal but still good. Still had a great message, still more fun to read than a LOT of other authors.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Rise and Shine

This is an Anna Quindlen that I read a few years ago and forgot I read. It was okay. Not great but not bad. Just eh. It's about two sisters, one famous and one average, and how their relationship grows and changes, especially at a certain crisis point. But it didn't feel very well organized to sort of meandered. That can be okay. But it was just eh.

The Blessing Stone

By Barbara Wood. Most horrible book ever. Doesn't even deserve full sentences. I couldn't even read it head-on. I had to page through different areas at different times.

Some examples of problems I had with this book:

At the beginning, it's about humans 100,000 years ago...about how animal-like and therefore low-down and degraded we were. WHAT? We are animals, people. Deal with it. We are still animals. Living in houses does not change that. And back then? We were also still humans. Therefore, we would have, for example, mourned the death of a child. GAH!

Also, these down-and-dirty animal-humans? They don't know anything about the future. They have no concept of a future. WHAT? How do you think they went freaking hunting then? AAAAHHHH. They were people, people. Humans. They might not have thought like you and me but they certainly THOUGHT with the same BRAINS that we have.

And...the main character in that part of the writing feels a "danger" coming....but can't figure it out since she can't conceive of "the future." Grr enough, but it turns out to be a volcano that's about to erupt. Because this woman senses danger, apparently because the blessing stone helped her, she gets everyone to safety or something. Um...wait a minute....I thought they were animals. Show me animals who don't realize something funky's gonna happen and get the heck out of Dodge when a natural disaster like that happens. Remember the tsunami in December 2004? Remember how animals took off for higher ground? Yep, they knew to get away from there. Since she goes on and on about how they were animals, she should have remembered that they would have trusted their instincts and not need some stupid outer-space stone to save them. It's just so full of stupidity and contradictions that I can't even write down all that I want to criticize of it. I hope I'm making it clear anyway.

Another point I disliked that's a completely different issue. So this stone is supposed to help the people it comes to. One of them is an early Christian woman. The stone "helps" her to "have the courage" to choke herself to death on it. WTF? This is not exactly helpful in my opinion. And the situation wasn't even remotely like the regular Christian martyrs anyway. And then how the heck does this lady end up a saint if no one knows she choked herself on the stone? Just full of crap. Seriously.

So obviously I didn't like this one. You may disagree. God help you.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Story of B

I read this book a couple of weeks ago, but I never got around to reviewing it because I wanted the review to be something special. See, the book itself, by Daniel Quinn, is not really very different from Ishmael. Much of the story is the same, which is to say, it's actually a series of lectures about how we look at the world and what we might ought to rethink. (You like my Oklahoma-ism there? Might ought? Such a great way to express that. Wait. Is that an Oklahomaism? Or would that be might should? Hm. Food for thought.)

But the effect it had on me this time, for my personal life and living everyday, was much greater. I liked Ishmael's point but I thought it didn't apply to me as much in that I was already heading in that direction, it didn't give me a lot to think about that I'd never ever ever thought of before, it just sort of highlighted it for me. Still important, but this time I feel even more spurred into action, and I've realized what it is that I can and should be doing to help.

Anyway...this story is about a priest who is asked to investigate the teachings of a person who is called B, with the intent of finding out if he might be the Antichrist. I have to say I liked the actual STORY part of this book better than Ishmael, but it's still obviously not the point of the book, I think. I think the point of the book is to get the message across, and in that way, I loved the ending. But also, this book reminded me of something very important. You see, I tend to be of the "live and let live" school of thought. I often just sit there and stay quiet, stay under cover really, when people say things that I think are outrageous, or misguided, or whatever. For an example, when a certain person I know was discussing alligators and crocodiles and how she doesn't see any point to their existence and we don't need them and let's get rid of them all and blah blah blah...I was thinking Good Lord, how self-centered can humankind be, that if we don't personally recognize a need we have for them we think they shouldn't exist? It's not like they're a threat to her, it's not like she's ever going to see one face to face, but we humans seem to have a lot of trouble letting other creatures be...we seem to think we need to control it all, a right to control it all, and I think that is oh-so-wrong. But I didn't say anything. I just sat there.

Not anymore. This book reminded me that it's important to spread your message. Especially when that message might help some people stop thinking in ways that are potentially going to be very detrimental to life on this planet. Of course, the croc example is just a very minor, minute kind of example of more broad ways of thinking, but if I want my children and my children's children and so on to have a real chance at living sustainably on this earth instead of destroying it, it starts with me. And, I want my children to know how I feel about things, what my values are. I can't do that without putting them out there!

Therefore, read The Story of B. Everyone should at least be exposed to its ideas, whether or not you agree. And for the record, I don't necessarily agree with every single piece of the lectures. But for the most part, I think these are things people need to be considering and sharing with others. And now that's what I'm going to try to do more of.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Ten-Year Nap

I added this book by Meg Wolitzer to my to-read list when I read this review on Ask Moxie. I couldn't resist reading a book about mothers thinking about where they've ended up compared to where they thought they'd be, among other topics. And I have to say, I am so glad I picked this one up. The writing is golden, beautiful and spot-on. So many things the mothers were thinking were real and true and spelled out things I had certainly felt but hadn't quite ever understood so clearly. Amazing.

Also, the way the book is written is lovely, because you the reader go back and forth between several 40-year-old women in New York City today, their mothers when they were 40, and a couple of passages about the husbands that are simply breathtaking. I can't say enough how wonderful the writing is, and how well I think the author addressed the topic at hand, which is to say, a very complex social issue that more often than not provokes strong feelings and arguments. Instead, this book is true and thoughtful and I loved it.

That being said, I'm not sure exactly what I thought about the ending yet. But that truly wasn't terribly important to me. It was the day-to-day, real-life feel of the writing that I loved the best, that and the connection I could feel and the....relief that other women feel this way too, that it's hard to find balance in your life, it's hard to feel devalued because you don't have a passionate career, etc.

Oh, also, the blurb in the book jacket? Total crap. It said something like "Four women friends...blahblahblah...midlife blah...shocking event changes everything...yadayada." Not the point of the book at all. No shocking event, although there was one thing that happened that I think they were talking about, but it didn't affect the friendships in the group in some catastrophic way. Just fyi. Don't read the book for the blurb, in other words. Luckily, it's much better than that.

A terrific find.

Monday, February 2, 2009

In Defense of Food

This is Michael Pollan's latest. A couple of years ago he published The Omnivore's Dilemma, which has been quite popular, and was quite good, and I happen to like this one even more. In both books, he examines American eating habits and the impact and morality behind different sources of our food and ways of eating--but this book is much more about what we can do about it, how we can, as he says, "escape" from The American Way of eating, which is so bad for us and for the world.

The book's advice can really be summed up quite easily, as is proclaimed on the front cover: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But the author really delves into how we can navigate this somewhat obscure directive, as well as why it's so difficult for us to do that in the prevalent food climate.

Here's most of his advice points, taken from the last third of the book. My additions are in parentheses and are not in italics.

Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

Don't eat anything incapable of rotting.

Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high fructose corn syrup.

Avoid food products that make health claims. For a food product to make health claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it's more likely to be a processed than a whole food.

Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. (He goes on to suggest farmers' markets, CSAs, and growing your own.)

You are what what you eat eats too. (Thus feedlot cattle are not nearly as healthy for you to consume as 100% grass-fed.)

Eat like an omnivore. (Biodiversity is a good thing, for quite a few reasons.)

If you have the space, buy a freezer. (You can get a lot of good quality meat at once for cheaper...You can buy in season at the farmer's market and freeze for year-round local produce...)

Eat well-grown food from healthy soils. (How we treat the earth can affect the nutritional quality of our food. Thus, organic practices ARE important for our health in ways we might not have noticed or thought of before.)

Eat wild foods when you can.

Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism. (Sure, maybe someone might come along with one that might be good for you or at least not bad for you. But history is not behind that claim.)

Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet. (Don't try to isolate the omega-3 from the fish, for example.)

Pay more, eat less. (Your food dollar can work for you and for the world in this way.)

Do all your eating at a table.

Try not to eat alone.

Lucky You

I read this Carl Hiaasen book yesterday. It's about a black woman and two racist white men who have to split the Florida lottery, and how the newspaperman sent to write up the story gets involved, and all kinds of other things.

I generally really like Hiaasen books, and this was no exception. I just love his bad guys. They're so slimy and dirty and crazy, or good-looking and vain and selfish, and always just too too much. They always get what's coming to them but you also can always almost feel sorry for them.

Of course I also enjoy how the author manages to have some sort of environmental, save-Florida's-green-spaces type of theme. And I love how he manages so many separate storylines, keeps you interested in each one, and brings them all together.

My only complaint about this particular book is that there were almost too many different characters to keep track of. But only almost. A good quick read.