I have managed to read me some books recently, though surprisingly not as many as you’d think, given all the free time I’m supposed to have. Anyway, I try to do book reviews, and then I sort of meander off into my own thoughts. You have been warned. šŸ™‚

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. I have checked this book out of the library several times, and then something always happened to prevent me from reading it before it was due back (and it always had a big hold list). Finally, I prevailed, and lo, it was good.

What surprised me is that my Dad could have written a good part of it. Having grown up on a farm, worked as a dairy nutritionist (directly helping improve the health and production of dairy herds), and being the type of guy who is both dedicated to locally sourcing food and to knowing everything about things, he’s in a good position to discuss topics ranging from where to get the best eggs to why it’s a bad idea to shove ruminants in small, filthy pens and feed them only corn grown on monoculture farms. (Like the book’s author, Dad has purchased a live calf and visited to watch him grown and fatten and eventually become a side of beef in our freezer. The animal was, I believe, a Belgian Blue.)

Realizing the similarities to better and more enviable diets as outlined in the book, and the way my parents have always tended to buy food, it hit home more than it ever has that personally knowing the farmer who gathered your eggs, or the apiculturist who provided your honey, is the exception, rather than the rule. I have always felt fortunate to have access to excellent farmers markets and local produce, but now I am ever more dedicated to patronizing them.

I imagine a lot of people would be thoroughly grossed out by a fair bit of the content in the book. I think it’s gross, but I’ve read enough about such things not to be shocked. The origins and processing of our “modern” diet IS gross. And inhumane. And unhealthy. And about a million other terms you care to throw at it. They say you can’t eat money, but we kinda do.

Of the three food chains the book explores (industrial, alternative/organic, and hunter/gatherer), the only one I really envied was the second. Probably because the industrial food chain is, as aforementioned, gross (and followed through to a conclusion of a McDonald’s meal from the drive thru eaten in the car, and I can’t remember the last time I ate there). And the hunter/gatherer food chain focused far too much on procuring mushrooms and game, both of which I can’t stand. šŸ™‚ (Sherry and Andrew and my Dad would have been drooling. Heathens.)

But sustainably raised chicken? Naturally grown vegetables? Eggs from happy, truly free-range chickens? Bring it on. (Mom would join me for that meal, long as there were no white dairy products included…) I DO happen to know the difference between how “proper” chicken and eggs taste compared to shrink wrapped grocery store offerings, and you can’t even put the difference into words.

Anyway, I believe this is one of those books that should be required reading. We don’t pay enough attention to how we feed ourselves, which, really, should be one of those exceedingly important things we do in life. Sure, sometimes you really do just need a bag of Doritos and your couch, but that should be a break from cognizance, not the result of the absence of it.

How to Work a Room, Fully Revised and Updated: The Ultimate Guide to Savvy Socializing In-Person and On-Line. I’m linking here to the new version, since it’s probably more relevant. I actually read the original, which came out in 1986, I believe. Granted, the revised version apparently came out in 2000, so it’ll be a bit dated by now, too. The version I read was dated enough to be amusingly quaint, but her points were valid.

I read this book because I’m an introvert. However, I no longer believe that is an excuse not to be able to talk to people. Plus, your ability to network well in life will make life more enjoyable, and one or more occasions, it will save your ass. Trust me. Plus, the population of the world isn’t getting any smaller. People are everywhere, and you can’t avoid them all the time without being (rightly) pegged as a total weirdo.

Not everything in the book pertained to me, and some of it I already know and do. Probably the best tidbit for me, though, was the comment that at any social gathering (rather less so at a business one), you will immediately feel more at ease and more able to work the room if you tell yourself that this is your party. You are the host, and thus — voila! — it is your job to talk to as many people as possible, engage, make sure folks are having a good time, etc.

This is ideal advice for me because I learned about “company” from my Mom, who is a consummate hostess. She is warm and always delighted to see you and will ask about anything and everything (and remember as much) and she will feed you til you want to explode… then ask if you’d like some fruit salad half an hour later. I remember one time when I was visiting one weekend, friends unexpectedly dropped in one evening, literally just as I’d put tea on to steep and was taking an apple crisp out of the oven. The company thought we were working voodoo or something. šŸ™‚

So what I’m sayin’ is, if I can focus on others — anyone else — besides me and how freaked out I am at a social gathering (particularly one where I knew few people or no one), I’ll be much, much happier. I just need to keep in mind that I’m not actually the host so I don’t spend the entire evening freshening drinks and plating cake…

Lullabies for Little Criminals. I knew the name of this book before anyone I knew had read it, but didn’t know much about it or if it was any good. Fortunately, both Violet and Sherry read it a while ago and said great things. Sherry, particularly, has a canny knack for sniffing out excellent first novels. (Or maybe she just reads all of them so she finds the gems…)

Based on the author’s autobiographical info at the back of the book, she isn’t this character, but her life and growing up certainly shaped every edge and angle of it. And it’s… interesting. Poverty, drug addiction, prostitution, dirt, abuse, loss — all the fun stuff you get in “gritty” novels these days. And yet she does a brilliant job of capturing the main character’s 12-13 year-old voice, mixing in games of make believe and unconditional love with shooting heroin and domestic violence.

This book reminded me in a few ways of The Tattoo Artist, which was also excellent and muchly recommended. There isn’t a lot of either of those worlds with which I can relate, either now or during childhood, and for that I am grateful. However, there is a lot of power in the snippets of recognition I do have, like the descriptions of the particular way drug addicts eyes glaze over when they’ve had their fix, or how a fancy new scarf can make you feel like a Russian princess.

Anyway, this book has been much lauded and awarded and such, and well-deserved. Let us hope this unique, odd, and wonderfully gifted woman continues to grace us with her efforts.

Be Near Me. I’d read really glowing and intriguing things about this book, which is why I picked it up. The premise is timely — a priest in an out of the way, blue collar and somewhat backwoods and backward parish, some troubled teens, and a fatal accusation (gee, can you guess about what?)

Honestly, though, it didn’t grab me, the main character was barely a pencil sketch, let alone fully-fleshed, and I struggled to finish it. I suspect some people would absolutely LOVE this one, but it didn’t do it for me at all.

1 Comment on Books

  1. You’ll not be surprised that I just finished reading Be Near Me and that my reaction is pretty much verbatim of what you said šŸ™‚

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