Monday, October 29, 2007

The Omnivore's Dilemma

"When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety, especially when some of the potential foods on offer are liable to sicken or kill you." ~The Omnivore's Dilemma, page 3

This is not a book you should read if you are not prepared to take a long, hard look at what you eat. In this book the author leads us through four meals: industrial, big organic, sustainable, and The Perfect Meal.

The industrial meal follows a steer from birth, death to it's presumably winding up in a typical fast food meal. This section was very shocking to me and helped me to understand why animal rights people would be outraged at the treatment of these animals. It is horrifying. Worst of all, it's only for money. Obviously, it is of no benefit to the animal and it actually makes their meat less healthy for us to consume.

Big Organic farms are better in that the animals do not have steroids or antibiotics and are not fed animal by-products but the treatment of the animals is not more humane. As for organic produce, it may be more healthful(no pesticides, better vitamin content, etc.) but it is not without cost to the environment. In short: This method's heavy reliance on fossil fuels for processing and transportation makes it unsustainable.

As for the sustainable farm, the guiding principles that they follow are best outlined on their own site: Polyface, Inc.

I have to admit that this book has sparked an intense interest for me to find locally grown meat and produce and the metropolitan buying clubs. I had already been very interested in minimizing the processed food in my family's diet. I just didn't understand exactly how far the processing went.

The Perfect Meal is the one that Pollan hunts and gathers himself. He says that the meal is not perfect because it has the best taste. It's perfect because it is the one which caused him to work the most both physically and intellectually for his food. He knows where it all comes from and exactly what went into processing it and bringing it to the table.

I can't say that I enjoyed every section of this book. Some of it was difficult to read. But it was very eye-opening and worth the effort.(4.5/5)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun - 3M's Review

halfyellowsun.JPGA beautifully told story of a savage civil war, Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun definitely deserves the 2007 Orange Prize and to be on the NYT Most Notable list.

"They sat on wooden planks and the weak morning sun streamed into the roofless class as she unfurled Odenigbo's cloth flag and told them what the symbols meant. Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future."

I resisted reading this book because I really just don't like war stories at all. I wanted to give it a chance, though, because so many bloggers had said they appreciated it. They were right; it's a very special book. Based on the conflict in Nigeria in the late 1960's, it not only depicts the horrors of war, it also hauntingly and lovingly depicts the lives of the participants. Apparently many of the characters were based on real people in Adichie's family history, and this authenticity very much shines through.

There were some content issues for me in the book, but I'm very glad I read this story. I look forward to reading Purple Hibiscus and other books of hers to come. If you decide to read the book (and I highly encourage it), afterwards you might want to go to her website where you can find a lot more information about the true story.

2006, 541 pp.
2007 Orange Prize
Rating: 4.5


Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Road, reviewed by raidergirl3

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Better late than never. I went back and read everyone's reviews last night after I finished, and I wish I had read it when everyone else did, because there are some things I would have liked to talk about.

My review is at my blog here, although I didn't review it so much as just make some comments. This book was so sparse and so well written, and as I'd read many reviews beforehand, I was prepared for the punctuation issues, or the lack, and it didn't bother me. I had a terrible pit in my stomach for most of the books, and tears at the end.

I'm glad I read it, and I won't forget it for a while. Could I do it? Could I survive like that? What exactly hapened in that world? So many questions to think about. Thanks for all the discussion that went on last spring - I enjoyed it last night.

After This, by Alice McDermott

After This is a beautifully written book. It begins and ends in a church, and takes us from the marriage of Mary, a 30-year-old woman, through the birth and growth to adulthood of the four children she has with her husband John. The working-class family lives on Long Island during the middle-to-late decades of the twentieth century, riding out the storms of change in the culture, their lives, and in their church.

Although religion is a big part of their lives, I wouldn't call this a "religious" book. Rather, McDermott shows how the church and the family's beliefs affect - or do not affect - how they live. Mary in particular takes her church's teachings to heart, lighting candles during the two wars she experiences, attending mass regularly, insisting that the children attend Catholic school. We watch, too, as John lies in bed with a slipped disk, thinking of how his life might end, how it might not be as he had imagined, in bed, tended by a priest, but may be as unexpected as falling down dead in the street.

We see segments of each family member's life in vivid color, with light sketches in between phases. Thus we are treated to details of a dinner conversation or a night with a lover and then we may not hear much of that person until he or she is much older. Yet it works. I didn't feel cheated. Many of the moments are deeply moving by themselves, the more so because the moment is not over-labored.

I couldn't help comparing this book to a couple I read recently by Anne Tyler, both of which covered much of the same era in our history. Tyler's books seem, to me, more mocking, more like throwing a veil between the writer and the subjects, while After This is more intimate and touching.

And what is "after this"? From early on I suspected it was "after life". What then? After all that Mary and her family has done and gone through, what then?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eight down, four to go

More to keep myself straight than for any other reason, I am reporting that I have read eight of the twelve I committed to reading. I am well into the ninth and partly into the tenth (I always read more than one book at a time) so I believe I will reach my goal!

I think this challenge has been excellent because the books are not just anything you happen to like. These are all good books and worth our time.

The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel

This book is Amy Hempel’s life work. Of course there is the odd story here and there that did not get in here but essentially this is it. In 404 pages she tells her own story in the form of short fiction, 49 stories in all. Most are shorter than most short fiction, one consisting of just one sentence and another just one page.

In this way, and in the language itself, these stories are much like poetry. All of them distill moments and thoughts economically, making much out of few words. Character is sketched in a phrase, and that’s all that is needed. Because of this depth it may take longer to read these seemingly simple stories than you might expect.

The elements also repeat themselves in a way similar to the film “32 short films about Glenn Gould”. We read about the lover of an artist, an artist who perhaps has many lovers. We hear about time in an institution. We read about dogs and cemeteries. Not once but many times, slid in between lines or used as the whole, layers or whole pies. I am sure that these elements come from Hempel’s real life, although the incidents probably did not happen to her exactly as written. In their way, skewed or direct, they tell us about this writer and the way she sees. It’s a beautifully-written book, full of images and feelings.

**Note to members of this group: If you would like to have this book contact me (judith at judithlautner dot net). I have registered it with so all I ask is that you make a journal entry there when you receive it (and preferably when you've read it, too). I'll be happy to ship it to the first person who asks, for free (outside the U.S. I'd want to split the postage).

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Laura's Challenge Wrap-up

The New York Times Notable Books Challenge was one of the first I joined this year, egged on by challenge host Wendy (aka Caribousmom). I was a little embarrassed that I'd heard of so few of these notable books, and set about to correct that by reading a dozen of them. The books I read for this challenge were:
  1. Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell (read in 2006)
  2. The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
  3. Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky
  4. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (completed 3/26/07)
  5. Old Filth, by Jane Gardam (completed 3/31/07)
  6. Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala (completed 4/13/07)
  7. One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson (completed 5/25/07)
  8. The Translator, by Leila Aboulela (completed 5/28/07)
  9. Alentejo Blue, by Monica Ali (completed 6/17/07)
  10. Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury (completed 7/25/07)
  11. Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes (completed 8/26/07)
  12. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (completed 9/2/07)
  13. A Woman in Jerusalem, by A.B. Yehoshua (completed 10/7/07)

Favorite Book of the Challenge: This is a real toss-up. I enjoyed Suite Francaise, Half of a Yellow Sun, and The Road the most.

Least Favorite Book: One Good Turn. This crime mystery was a pretty light read compared to the others on this list.

What I learned through this challenge: Every one of these authors was also new to me, and many of them are from outside the United States. This challenge really opened my eyes to the wealth of great literature in the world, and has inspired me to continue seek out authors from around the world.

Laura's Progress Report & List

Here's my list!

    Completed (with links to reviews):

    1. Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell (read in 2006)
    2. The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
    3. Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky
    4. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (completed 3/26/07)
    5. Old Filth, by Jane Gardam (completed 3/31/07)
    6. Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala (completed 4/13/07)
    7. One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson (completed 5/25/07)
    8. The Translator, by Leila Aboulela (completed 5/28/07)
    9. Alentejo Blue, by Monica Ali (completed 6/17/07)
    10. Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury (completed 7/25/07)
    11. Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes (completed 8/26/07
    12. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (completed 9/2/07)
    13. A Woman in Jerusalem, by A.B. Yehoshua (completed 10/7/07)

    Laura's Review - A Woman in Jerusalem

    A Woman in Jerusalem
    A. B. Yehoshua
    236 pages

    First sentence: Even though the manager of the human resources division had not sought such a mission, now, in the softly radiant morning, he grasped its unexpected significance.

    Reflections: An anonymous woman is killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, and her body lies unidentified and unclaimed. A recent pay stub is found among her belongings, and a news weekly publishes an article, calling the company uncaring and negligent. The elderly owner calls on his human resources manager to uncover the truth and salvage the company's reputation.

    The human resources manager, recently divorced, is dealing with problems of his own. But he has no choice. Researching personnel records, he discovers the woman was an immigrant from one of the countries in the former Soviet Union, and had come to the city for religious reasons. Although trained as an engineer, she was employed as a cleaning woman on the night shift. She was recently let go, but an apparent clerical error resulted in her continuing to receive wages. The human resources manager meets with her supervisor, learns some interesting details, and finds himself personally committed to locating the woman's family and making arrangements for burial. This becomes a journey of atonement and, while it was initially intended simply to clear the company's name, the human resources manager begins to view it as a personal quest, even though he did not know the woman personally.

    Yehoshua's prose is terse and understated. The characters do not have names. Yet I found myself caught up in the story, sympathizing with the human resources manager, and mourning with the woman's family. I couldn't put this down and finished it in an afternoon. ( )

    My original review can be found here.