Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Halfway good


At first I enjoyed Drew Barrymore's memoir because it reminded me of some of my young friends. The way she spoke, her approach to life--it hit a familiar note and made me nostalgic.  When that experience wore off, I kept on listening because certain parts were almost unbearably insightful, like her descriptions of living in an apartment with her mother and her absent relationship with her grandfather. Her deep friendships with Stephen Spielburg and Adam Sandler were funny AND touching.

But I'm sorry to say that a good bit of the rest isn't anything special for the general reader. Letters to one's children are sweet and touching--they need to be written and they need to be preserved and hers are great examples of the genre...but did they need to be published?

Oh, well. She warned me at the beginning. it's not a typical memoir.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Kept trying; should have given up

The Sweetheart of Prosper County
by Jill S. Alexander

Strictly for the younger set, say, through age 12. For the older reader, the story was lost in the lesson. A lot of lesson.  It was like a good writer was being forced to fit a certain market in order to be published, so she made sure to have bad things happen to the bad people while the good people learned to live with their narrow, self-imposed morality. I think she's capable of better things, but this one didn't leave me smiling.

I liked Lewis and Maribelle and the Cajun guy even though they didn't get any character development. They were just tools for teaching. I might have liked the Mom, but she preferred to duck her head down and be a good little woman instead of making a stand that might have saved a kid's life.  She had a chance--I held my breath--she ignored it.   (I'm referring to Dean; she could have filed a lawsuit instead of muttering a "not my problem" epitaph and turning aside.)

And worst of all was the total lack of spine development in the heroine. She ended up moseying along her mousy way.  The same old coping strategies that failed to work in the beginning suddenly and miraculously started to work--thanks to her friends. She never made an effort to make the friends, but they just happened to come along and save her. Like a certain 'invisible' friend who will eventually solve all your problems.

I kept expecting to like it and trying hard, but never did. Sorry.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Never did figure out that title

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

Sometimes a person's experiences while growing up don't seem to reflect on the person they became. Or possibly--just possibly--they do--but the transition is lost in the telling. So with this book.

After reading Garlic and Sapphires I really wanted to know how such an interesting and unique person as Ruth Reichl came to be, but this book didn't get me there.  Apparently I was looking for a different story: how she became a writer. I was also curious about how she managed her mother and daddy issues--nope.  What this book did tell was the story of how she learned to cook and to eat--not inconsequential for a person whose life is so intricately involved with cooking and eating.

Enjoyable, fun, and light.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Not a well thought out review, darn me.

The Longest Race:
A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance
Running the JFK 100-mile race and reflecting on our past and our future. Very engaging reading. The future part isn't all that depressing--it's realistic and it makes you think. But he's still out there running...and that says it all.

I'm sorry not to write more but I was reading in a hurry which is a really stupid way to read. I should try it again sometime when it's not overdue at the library.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Oddly readable for the era

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
by Harriet Jacobs

First published in 1861, this is an autobiography of a woman who eventually escaped to New York.  Later in life she became an abolitionist speaker. The sources I consulted called it a fictionalized history, but having read it through, I'd say there was very little fiction to it. She changed the names of the main characters, but who can blame her? Some of the people were still alive when the book was published. The good people would have suffered for the deeds they did, and the evil ones would have filed one heck of a libel suit.

Even after living on her own for years, she still lived in fear of being captured and returned.  Eventually a  good friend purchased her freedom and that of her children. The generous (or decent) act was done against her wishes, but she admits to relief when it was all over. So much joy! But tinged with eternal grief.  And her one fondest wish was to live in a house together with her son and daughter, but that wish was never realized. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 scared her brother into emigrating to California and her son went with him. Her daughter was educated in a boarding school.

The book ended too soon for me. After hearing of all she'd suffered, I longed to hear her reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation.

One interesting note--bearing in mind that it was written in the mid-nineteenth century, the story is told straightforwardly, with only a modicum of moralizing. Her little asides in the stylistic, preaching tones of the typical nineteenth century writer were easy to ignore.  Her moral indignation was not so convincing, either--when she resisted her master's attempts to rape her, I suspect it wasn't chastity she was concerned with, but subjugation.  It was a power struggle--and she was one determined woman.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Quiet moments on the farm

Epitaph For A Peach: Four Seasons on my Family Farm

by David Mas Matsumoto

Lovely and sad. But not depressing. How is that possible, you may ask, to be sad but not depressing?  Read it and see.

Its a personal, meandering, pondering year on a family farm growing grapes and peaches.  It takes place entirely on the farm in California and entirely in the mind of the author...yet his mind roams far and wide and deep, down to the wiggly worms in the soil and the leaf borers mining his trees for gold.  He touches on history but I wish he'd gone farther--we know his grandfather bought the farm but we hear only the scant facts of their lives and hopes and dreams. His father helps out on the farm, but I long to hear his story, too. Maybe another book, someday?

Oddly enough, it neither bored me nor put me to sleep as such simple, quiet memoirs frequently do these days. I seem to have lost the ability to sit and savor.  Retirement--oh, that blessed fantasy!--might give it back to me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The rise of the food like substance

In Defense of Food:
An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan

If you've read Marion Nestle or any number of other critics of the American "food culture", you'll find nothing new here. But Michael Pollan is a great synthesizer and writes a snappy prose. I enjoyed it so much I listened to some parts twice or more.  (Okay, I was walking on busy city streets at the time--I had to double-up sometimes to hear what the noise of motors drowned out.)

Some points of note:
According to Michael Pollan, in 1977 when the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs first attempted to publish its recommendations, it was blasted for saying that Americans should eat less red meat and dairy products. It had to change its recommendations to, "less cholesterol and saturated fat."

Nutritionism is the word used by Marion Nestle (I think) to describe the way of thinking that says that foods with similar nutrients are identical, whatever their origins or other ingredients. Of course this falls short in the easiest example: baby formula. Even when formulated with the same relative proportions of protein, fat and carbohydrates, then fortified with every "known" nutrient, it still fails to keep babies thriving as well as mother's milk.  What we don't know will hurt us.

America's lack of a traditional food culture may owe something to the puritan doctrine that forbade taking pleasure in food.  Bless it, eat it, and get back to work.

You'd have to eat three of the apples of today to get the same nutrients as one apple of the 1940s.

And to top them all, "Organic oreos are not health food."

His personal recommendations for how to shop and how to eat are summarized at the end.  After reading them, I took a look at some of my cherished pantry staples. Most were (reassuringly) actual foods--not food-like substances.  But my organic vegetable broth?

Cane sugar, dextrose, molasses, and pear juice concentrate.  aka, sugar, sugar, sugar, and sugar. Organic, of course.