You may know Michael Moss as the guy who broke the “pink slime” story a little while back, so he’s definitely well qualified to write a book investigating the secrets of the processed-foods industry. He’s a great writer, and presents his information in a really compelling and fascinating way, never letting his ideas and the insane facts he’s presenting get bogged down by jargon or too much science. He never dumbs it down, though, and I liked the balance he strikes, incorporating just enough studies and scientific principles to ground his claims.
The basic concept of the book is fairly simple, charting the rise of the processed-foods industry, primarily through the use of three key ingredients: the titular salt, sugar, and fat. Moss details the ways in which each ingredient is used to create maximum pleasure and to create what essentially amounts to an addiction to the products that the biggest food companies in the world (think Coca-Cola, Kraft, etc.) put out–which has in turn resulted in an obesity epidemic for the American people, and unbelievable wealth for those leading the industry.
I really love the Best American collection(s) because of how much they vary from year to year. The collection is so dependent on the guest editor of the year’s tastes, and I like thinking about how the editor’s picks relate to their own work. Sometimes there’s no overlap, and sometimes the collections surprise you by being really, really good (I didn’t expect to like Salman Rushdie’s as much as I did), or not so good (I didn’t love Steven King’s). I was excited to read Tom Perrotta’s because I love his writing and style and I had a hunch that his collection would feature some gems. I was, fortunately, right! This was one of my favorites out of the Best American collections I’ve read so far. Perrotta says: ”I like stories written in plain, artful language about ordinary people. I’m wary of narrative experiments and excessive stylistic virtuosity, suspicious of writing that feels exclusive or elitist, targeted to readers with graduate degrees rather than the general public, whatever that means.” The stories are very much in that vein–not experimental or esoteric, just plain old good writing.
This book is a really good example of how important a novel’s title is. I barely knew anything about this book before I started reading it, other than the fact that it was supposed to be good, but the title totally sold me on it. Authors, take note! A creative and unique title will always grab my attention. As for the book itself, although it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its excellent title, it’s pretty great.
Thea Atwell is a Floridian girl growing up during the Depression. We meet her as she’s on her way to the eponymous camp/school, a place for young women of means to learn how to be well-rounded ladies. The reason for her departure from her family is, at first, unknown; all that is revealed is that she did something bad, so bad that her parents can’t look her in the eye and her twin brother, Sam, won’t speak to her. As Thea’s past is revealed through flashbacks to her old life, she discovers her new world, one of horseback riding, schoolgirl crushes, and the complexities of teenage girls.
I am generally a huge Sittenfeld fan–Prep is one of my favorites, and I read American Wifelast year for CBR-IV and liked it a lot–so when I heard she was coming out with a new book, I knew I had to get my hands on it ASAP.
I was SO disappointed.
Sisterland is about Violet (Vi), and Daisy (known almost exclusively as Kate in her adult life), twin sisters who, despite being polar opposites, share one very important trait: they both have ESP. Vi, the hippy-dippy, free-spirited sister embraced her “senses,” choosing a career as a psychic, whereas Kate, the uptight suburban housewife, has effectively banished her gift and never speaks of it to anyone. When Vi (very publicly) predicts a devastating earthquake, Kate finds herself caught up in the chaos, and must evaluate her relationships with her sister, her husband, and her past self.
So, I’m embarrassed that I am a 23-year-old reviewing a Gossip Girl book. Sometimes, though, when things are stressful, I just have to read something totally mindless and shallow and this was exactly what I needed. These books are the ultimate guilty pleasure–frothy and silly and easy. I was a huge fan of this series back when I was fourteen or fifteen, and read most of the books back then, but this one came out after I’d moved on from the series.
It Had to Be You is a prequel to the Gossip Girl series, taking place in the year before the events of the firstbook. To the uninitiated, the premise of the series is that an anonymous, omnipresent person runs a blog narrating the goings-on of a group of spoiled, extremely wealthy New York teenagers. We’ve got Blair, the uptight Park Avenue princess, and her best friend, Serena, a gorgeous and flighty socialite-in-training, both of whom are in love with their childhood friend, Nate. There’s also Dan, a Brooklyn hipster with an unrequited crush on Serena (who doesn’t even know he exists), his younger sister Jenny, who is also obsessed with Serena (and obsessed with growing breasts), and Vanessa, a transplant from rural Vermont who falls head-over-heels for Dan. Got that?
Jonny Valentine is very, very good, much better than I would have expected based on the plot description. The title character is a Justin Bieber-esque eleven-year-old pop sensation who is in the last few weeks of his nationwide tour to promote his second album which, so far, has not been as successful as his first. Amid pressure from both his label and his mom/manager, Jane, Jonny struggles between the normal urges and desires of a pre-teen boy and the fact that his life is, undeniably, anything but normal.
I met my CBR5 goal!!!!! I’ve participated in three Cannonball reads so far, and this is the first one where I’ve actually been able to read 52 books. I’m so excited!
Book #52 was Crazy Salad, by the great Nora Ephron. It’s a compilation of pieces written by Ephron for Esquire magazine in the 1970s, all of them dealing with, in one way or another, women. Ephron was an outspoken feminist with a wicked sense of humor, and so most of these columns are as entertaining as they are informative. She covers a huge range of topics, from Linda Lovelace and Deepthroat to the Pillsbury Bake-Off to meditations on breasts to reflections on the women associated with Nixon and the Watergate scandal (and many, many other things). Some of the pieces are more traditionally journalistic and others are just variations on the personal essay, and this variety just serves to highlight Ephron’s skill as a writer.
Order of the Phoenix picks up a few weeks after the events of the fourth book, and Harry is in a bad place. He’s still traumatized after witnessing the murder of his Tri-Wizard tournament competitor, Cedric Diggory, and he’s being painted as a liar and attention-seeker by the wizarding media, who don’t believe his statement that Lord Voldemort has returned. To make matters worse, once he returns to Hogwarts, he finds that Dumbledore is acting very strangely around him, and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Umbridge, is perhaps the worst one yet.
Ozma of Oz is the third in the Oz series, but, as is generally the case with the Oz books, it’s not that important to read them in order, especially when it comes to the first few. This one harkens back to some earlier events and brings up characters who are introduced in the second book in the series (The Marvelous Land of Oz) but if you’re familiar with the Wizard of Oz, you’ll have no problem picking up on the plot. Dorothy Gale has returned to Kansas and is headed on a voyage to Australia with her ailing uncle. As befits our disaster-prone heroine, the ship hits a storm and Dorothy is swept overboard. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a strange land with a talking hen named Bill, and is quickly caught up in an adventure to rescue the kidnapped royalty of this new world (the land of Ev) that involves some familiar faces (the Scarecrow, the Tinman, the Lion) and some new ones (a thinking/talking/walking robot, Queen Ozma of Oz, and the evil Nome King, among others).