Book Review

In Defence of Food, Or Learning What I Already Know

Michael Pollan’s In Defence of Food was somewhat revolutionary when it first came out in 2008, but thanks to the glory that is the internet, his ideas spread quickly. When I finally got around to reading it in 2015, there wasn’t much that seemed earth shattering about eating. I mean, processed foods are bad. Knowing what is in your food is good. Growing it is better.

Nonetheless, reading In Defence of Food is a good refresher for even the cleanest eating of folk. Pollan takes you through the the disservice the FDA and “advancements” that nutritionism has made to our daily diet, debunking fad diets (low fat, low carb, etc) before asserting his three simple, and oft quoted rules:

Eat food.

Not to much.

Mostly plants.

This brilliantly simple premise might explain why it is so easy to work through this 256 page work (just over half the length of his also popular Omnivore’s Dilemma). While referencing scientific and anthropological studies, Pollan relies on a good deal of common sense to persuade you that food should be natural. Tips like sticking to the outer fringes of grocery stores, questioning whether a your great-grandmother would recognize something as “food” and consciously eating are posited to lead to better health.

Admittedly, I started the book with a degree of skepticism. My sister swears by this book, and I’ve always found her eating habits… weird… but that seems to be catch to Pollan’s premise: it’s so simple there is a lot of room for interpretation. As I periodically go through phases where I try to refocus our meals to being cleaner and greener, it is a great book for re-motivating me to watch what I buy.

Book: In Defence of Food
Author: Michael Pollan
Rating: 3/5
Features: A reference to George Eliot’s Middlemarch which is laudable in a non-fiction health book.
Who should read: Anyone looking to find a solution in the no-fat, low-carb, nutrient-added world.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Or Why My Husband is a Jerk

I’ve always been a sensitive person, and that has only been amplified in the last year. I’m sure that’s why my husband expressed concern when I picked up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Yes, I realize that most people read this book closer to 2003, when it was released, but it’s been on my “must read” list for a long time. I wasn’t going to let Scott’s raised eyebrow stop me.

I was about halfway through the book when I told Scott it was getting a little rough — the emotion, not the writing. In fact, it was the writing that made it such an emotional read. Scott said it wasn’t going to get any easier, but I decided to tough it out.

Ten minutes later, Scott’s caution was echoing in my head as I worked through another emotional scene. I hmm’d and haw’d whether to keep going. I told Scott if it were a TV show, I’d skip the episode and just Wikipedia it. At that point, Scott took a deep, slow breath in, and said maybe I shouldn’t finish it. Being a tad bit oppositional, I wiki’d it and figured I could tough it out.

Reading to the end was a nailbiter. It was around 5:00 am (I was up feeding Charlie at the time) when I finished it. Sad, yes, but nearly as devastating as Scott had led on? Not in the least bit. The book is without a doubt emotionally gripping. Never before have I felt so tied to a character, making any emotional disturbance entirely worthwhile. It definitely is the must read I always assumed it was.

Book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Rating: 5/5
Features: Stirring first person narration
Who should read it: Everyone. Seriously. Everyone.

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Women In Clothes, or Non-Fiction Reading for the Middle Of The Night

I came across an article on the book Women In Clothes edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton somewhere on Twitter decrying it as the beginning of the in depth analysis of the clothes that women wear and more importantly why they wear them. Having read ootd/fashion/style blogs for over 5 years now, I couldn’t see how it was being heralded as a new area.
I re-read the article a few month later when Sheila of Ephemera (who was among the first blogs I followed) recommended the book. Perhaps the article stressed the academic side too much, as I was surprised as how unsurprising the book itself was.

20821251Women in Clothes takes a look at personal fashion choices in a multi-media format. While there are selections from style surveys both solicited and voluntarily, it also includes interviews with designers and people who wear their clothes. There are even emails and phone call transcripts from the editors and they speak about their clothing and the development of this book. Interspersed are also art pieces relate to clothing.

It was interesting to see the different histories people brought to their wardrobe and the stories associated with particular items. I enjoyed that most sections were only a few pages long (I believe the longest was 17 eReader screens), making it easy to pick up and put down as needed (it was my “late night feeding” book).

It lacked anything revolutionary in my mind. There were carefully selected and grouped excerpts of stories and responses but no analysis. Perhaps they meant to highlight the inherent “personal” aspect of “personal style,” which they did achieve. However, I didn’t feel this book took the subject of personal style as far into the academic world as I had hoped.
It did make me think, nonetheless. Most interesting, or perhaps the pieces that stuck with me the most, were two perspectives on overseas manufacturing. One posited that boycotts of companies who took advantage of poorer country’s labour laws to reduce manufacturing costs would not provide any benefit to the workers in these factories. The other told the horrifying tale of a survivor of the Rana factory collapse that shook the North American clothing conscience. With only anecdotal accounts, it left me with feeling “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Now getting dressed just makes me conflicted

Book: Women In Clothes
Author: Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton
Rating: 3/5
Features: Mixed format
Who should read it: Anyone interested in getting inside the brain and closet of a woman.

Categories: Book Review, The new identity | 3 Comments

Mr. Fox: A Review, or Why Slacking Off Three Years Ago Bit Me In the Butt

Scott and I were out for our first date night post-baby when we were browsing through a bookstore. Admittedly, I was a little anxious to be getting home, so I was walking through the aisles a little faster that I should have been, and barely (if at all) following whatever Scott was saying. When we reached “O” in the “Fiction & Literature” section, I stopped dead in my tracks. Reaching onto a shelf I told Scott: “I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this looks like a book I would read”. Mr-Fox-Helen-Oyeyemi-Penguin-190x300

Fast forward a few days later, and I opened my Christmas gift from Scott – an eReader. The first thing I did was buy Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeymi. Over the next 10 nights (because late night feeding time is now also late night reading time!), I poured through this inventive novel in which a writer’s muse comes to life, each taking a turn in writing their story.

When I reached the end, and it was smack you in the face obvious that there were ties between this book and the French fable of Bluebeard, I knew I was missing out some key details, not having read that fable.

It turns out this isn’t the first time I had shirked the obvious good-reader-instinct to pour through some fairy tales. When I was working on my thesis, and needing another primary text by Margaret Atwood, I remember having to steer the conversation away from specific texts in which Atwood wrote heavily in the vein of fairy tales. Sure, fairy tale theory played heavily into the initial proposal I had written for my Master’s thesis, but I didn’t even take the time to delve into any fairy tales while writing that proposal. In the end, fairy tale theory seemed pretty “talked out” when it came to Atwood, so I moved elsewhere, and tried to never look back.

Until I read Mr. Fox. A sign of a good book is one that makes you ask questions in order to dig deeper into the book. And unfortunately, this good book is making me ask questions even after I’m done. While I definitely enjoyed the plays on narrative point of view in Mr. Fox, I know I’ll have to give it another read, once I’ve brushed up on my fairy tales.

Book: Mr. Fox
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Rating: 4/5
Features: fun with narrative point of view
Who should read it: those who have read (real) fairy tales (none of this “Disney” crap)

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