I’ve been able to get in a bit of reading over the past few months and now I’m ready to write about it. Fun fun fun.
In Defense of Food marks the most recent in a two-year food adventure that began with Barbara Kingsolver’s great Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I read in 2007. In between these two worthy bookends, I’ve enjoyed The United States of Arugula, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and about twenty other books, cookbooks and the movie, Food, Inc. Next on the list is Dominion by Matthew Scully. I reviewed Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma here. I found it engaging, informative, eye-opening and just plain interesting. I felt the same way about In Defense of Food. It’s full of interesting information, for instance, due to soil depletion and changes in our food chain the nutritional content of our food is only a fraction of what it used to be! An apple purchased and eaten in 1940 had THREE times the iron of an apple purchased at a grocery story today!!! This means you need to eat three apples to get the same nutrients that you would have sixty years ago! There are lots of reasons for this: long distances between field and plate cause nutrients to be lost in transport and storage, our soil is being depleted of important elements, genetic modifications usually aim for aesthetic appeal and durability – not nutrition. Another interesting factoid is the emergence of a new creature, never before seen in the history of man: the person who is obese and malnourished. For the first time doctors are treating obese children for such archaic diseases as rickets. Obese children are suffering from a shocking lack of basic nutrients. Definitely a good read.
I know a lot of you will be shocked that I read this book. I am. I was challenged that I shouldn’t criticize a book before I’d read it and this was by someone (I will name no names) who reportedly hates fiction but loves the Twilight series. Plus a deal was made – if I read this book, my friend would have to read a book of my choosing…fiction included. So I picked up a copy and gave it my best shot. I hated it. Sorry to those out there who really like it. I couldn’t get into it. I found it poorly written, boring, strange and simply implausible. Now – I know you may be thinking, “Really, you expected a story about teenaged vampires to be plausible?” In my defense, I think really well-written fantasy can transport you into another world where you’re happy to relinquish thoughts of realism. The Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien’s works, Mark Helprin’s fantastic Memoir from Antproof Case and Soldier of the Great War, heck even the Harry Potter series are all examples of beautiful, other-worldy stories that take you away from the here and now. They also give you thoughts and ideas that apply to the here and now and teach you how you can live more fully in this earth-bound life. No such luck with Twilight. For some reason I feel like I should apologize about this – but I’m not sorry. I will never get back the hours I wasted reading this.
Now on to some really gorgeous writing. My assistant manager at the bookstore recommended Home by Marilynne Robinson a few months ago and I finally got around to reading it just before Christmas. Wow! This book is one of the most beautifully written and poignant books I’ve read in at least a couple years. Robinson has only written three novels and when reading you come to appreciate the fact that she labors over each sentence, word, punctuation point. She labors so that the reader can enjoy. The prose is sparse but so full. The author is, judging from her writing, a deeply religious woman and seems to work out the questions of her faith within these stories. In a seemingly simple story line (a middle-age woman returns home to care for her dying father) themes of family, loyalty, faith and reason, life, death, hope and despair, justice and mercy, are all woven into a tapestry of lives lived well and otherwise. Home is the sequel to Gilead, which I am reading now and thoroughly enjoying. Do not come to these books expecting sharp plot twists or sinister characters: no, this is about very real people whose most meaningful moments and conversations take place around the kitchen table or on the walk between the front porch and gate. There is an earthy reality to these books and it is in their unusual realism that their true beauty lies.
A couple of years ago I got on this big Anne Lamott kick. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually), Plan B, and Bird by Bird were read in quick succession and ministered to my soul. Lamott has a way with words that can grasp you – especially when she’s writing from her heart and writing of the things closest to her. I hadn’t read anything she’d written in a couple years so I was intrigued when I saw her novel Rosie. I picked it up and was quickly drawn in to the story of a recently widowed woman. It bore the trademarks of classic Lamott – anxiety ridden characters leading seemingly meaningless lives, complicated family relationships, good friendships. And then it died. I was so disappointed because I had high hopes. It took a turn and the plot completely fell apart. It trudged into dark corners that could have easily be avoided, created drama that was just plain sad, and then it was over. From now on I’m sticking to Lamott’s non-fiction unless someone can recommend a fictional work of Lamott’s that’s worth the time. Anyone??? Please?
Finally, I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog a few months ago. It was a good read but I’m not entirely sure why I enjoyed it. It’s about a concierge living in Paris who hides her intellect. There’s a slightly quasi-philosophical bent to it – that can be interesting or annoying, depending on how you look at it. There are interesting characters and the setting is Paris so there’s a lot to like. It is not groundbreaking though. A good airplane read.
On my to-read list are lots of books I’m excited about and hope they turn out to be as good as I anticipate…What are you reading? Anything you’d recommend?