I am a fan of Michael Pollan, having read several of his books and heard him speak when he’s in town. I hadn’t read In Defense of Food because I heard him interviewed and attended a lecture right around the time the book was published. At the lecture he brought a shopping bag full of things he’d picked up at a grocery store: green tea infused sodas, yogurt with fiber added, and numerous other manufactured foods. His point was that in the United States we practice “nutritionalism” focusing on particular nutrients rather than whole foods, and eating manufactured foods in the process. This is the theme of the book. Pollan goes through a history of food science, a description of what we are eating today, and his suggestions for a better way of eating.
The phenomenon of nutritionalism was named in the late 20th century, but has been in practice since the 19th century. Currently the popular “bad” nutrient is the carbohydrate. Athe end of the 20th century it was fat, in the 19th and early 20th century, John Kellogg and others extolled the harm of animal proteins. In general, our food research seeks to isolate certain nutrients and determine their harmful or beneficial effects. This isn’t all bad, science has discovered vitamins and other minerals in food and determined they were necessary. The problem is that this form of reductionism also creates over simplifications in our approach to food. Continue reading
I haven’t posted multiple reviews in one post before today. One could argue that the Trilogy is really one long book, but hey with five days left in 2013 and one more book to go, I’m erring on the side of hurry up and finish. Write the three reviews together and dive into that last book!
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games works by itself or as the beginning of the trilogy because it comes to a relatively satisfying conclusion. The book introduces Panem, a country that exists in the ruins of what was once the United States. The Capitol tightly controls 12 districts and demands retribution from each district for a rebellion it crushed 75 years ago. The retribution is the Hunger Games in which each district must send two children (male and female) over the age of 12 to compete to the death until one victor remains. The Games are televised and are literally “must see TV,” citizens are required to watch the fate of the children.
The story is told in the first person by Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old from District 12, the mining district. She lost her father 5 years ago which caused her mother to suffer from severe depression. Katniss was left to fend for her younger sister, her mother and herself. Katniss is angry with her mother, she’s become a hunter and a loner except for her friend Gale. Continue reading
This was an impulse buy at Powell’s, wandering around in that place is delightful and deadly to the wallet. Natasha is a collection of six short stories about the Berman family, Russian Jews who have immigrated to Toronto in the eighties. The narrator in all of the stories is Mark, born in Latvia, who is about 7 or 8 when they arrive in Canada. The stories take place during different times of Mark’s life, but they are more about the experience of his family and others than Mark himself.
Mark’s father, Roman, was an Olympic weightlifting trainer in Riga, in Toronto he starts out in a chocolate factory. In the story, Roman Berman, Massage Therapist, Roman is opening his own business. “This was 1983, and as Russian Jews, recent immigrants, and political refugees, we were still a cause. We had good PR. We could trade on our history.” Their PR value wears off. In a later story, Mark, wanting to go to public school, acts to get expelled from Hebrew school, and gets a terrifying lesson on what it means to be a Jew.
The last story was the most touching for me. Mark’s grandfather is in a home for the elderly, the apartments are highly sought after in the Jewish community. Itzil and Herschel share an apartment, both are widowers, but some are suspicious of two men living together in a one room apartment. Itzil, the wealthier of the two, dies, and everyone expects Herschel to be evicted. The rabbi in charge, has his own standards for who will be allowed to live in the apartment. While it sounds callous, he doesn’t rely on promises, he relies on his experience.
I started this book about 6 months ago, then picked it up again read a few chapters, then again, until I finished it. Caitlin Moran is pretty funny, although I found the interviews I heard on the radio funnier than the book I finally completed The book is primarily an autobiography with a dash of feminism here and there.
Moran’s views on feminism aren’t terribly radical. She believes that any woman who wants to be free to do what she wants should consider herself a feminist. As she says we need to reclaim the word “feminism.” Citing a survey that less than 30% of American women and 42% of British women consider themselves feminists, she says: “What do you think feminism IS, ladies” What part of “liberation for women” is not for you” IS it freedom to vote?” The right not to be owned by the man you marry?” The campaign for equal pay? “Vogue by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?“ Ok, the use of all caps is really irritating (and she does this a lot) but she does make a good point.
Moran doesn’t believe that all men secretly hate women, and she doesn’t think that feminism’s biggest problem is women turning on each other. She may tick of a few folks with her statement that “women haven’t done F’all for the last 100,000 years.” To her credit, she doesn’t suggest that the past must dictate the future; rather, she’s simply conceding that thousands of years of patriarchy are not easily undone.
Moran spends a lot of time covering the insecurities of women, particularly about appearance and weight through the lens of her adolescence and adulthood. It works, it’s funny, and lets face it, what most women think about their own appearance is pretty f’d up.
To sum up, Moran is against burkas, heels, strip bars and cosmetic surgery, and pro-choice, pro freedom, and pro being yourself. And she’s funny. Good enough.
At first I thought I might be reading a Swedish version of The Lovely Bones, because the first chapter of the book is narrated by a young woman, Wilma, who has been murdered. Set in northern Sweden Wilma and her boyfriend go to a lake, cut a hole in the ice and go diving. Someone prohibits them from resurfacing and they drown.
Months later her body is found in a river. It looks like a diving accident, however, a few oddities suggest that this was not an accident: green paint under her fingernails, one glove removed from her hand, and the water in her lungs is not the same as the river water. In comes Rebecka Martinsson, a prosecutor in a nearby town, recently of Stockholm. She works with police inspector Anna-Maria Mella, whose confidence has been shaken by a recent incident in which she and her partner were put in life threatening danger due to her actions. Anna-Maria struggles with the colleague, being the mother of four kids and with Martinsson who exerts more control than her prior boss.
The murder is tied to a cover-up of actions that took place during World War II. Someone collaborated with the Germans to such an extent that 60 years later they are still anxious to keep the story under wraps. The book captures the cold and desolation of northern Sweden very well. The residents of Kurravaara are old and tough, some gentle and kind, others are mean as snakes. Martinsson is a strong character, and although she does have issues with her lover who is in Stockholm, Larsson keeps her focused on the action to the north. Wilma narrates numerous chapters, but not all. Her spirit is present throughout the story until the mystery is solved. Her presence works pretty well, alongside Rebecka and the others.
Listening to the news about South Sudan, I can’t help but think of the author of this book and what may be happening to him today. What is the What was written about 7 years ago. It is the biography of Valentino Achak Deng, a “lost boy” of Sudan. It is characterized as a novel because Deng cannot remember all of the details and all of the conversations going back to when he was 7 years old.
The book is told in the first person and begins in Deng’s Atlanta apartment that he shares with another Sudanese. A man and a woman con him into opening the door, beat him, tie him up and rob him. As he lies there, he begins to tell of his childhood in Marial Bai. He has experienced things much worse than robbery, yet the fact that this is happening in the country in which he sought asylum and safety is jarring.
This book length poem almost has to be read out loud to get the full effect. Written in 1928, it is a fun jazz-age piece. The character’s are straight out of a gangster’s speakeasy: Queenie “was a blond, and her age stood still” and her lover Burrs was “A clown, Of renown: Three-sheeted all over town.” The plot is predicted by the title of the book, Queenie decides to throw a party and as the alcohol flows things get out of hand. Continue reading