Bad Bev

I’ve been a big slacker lately when it comes to keeping my blog up-to-date – partly because it’s no longer a part of my real job and partly because it was making reading feel like an obligation – like I was a bad girl if I didn’t blog about what I was reading.

Not reading is absolutely not an option – that would be akin to being cheerful in the morning or not drinking tea.  But not blogging – hell, that’s as easy as making toast.  To add to the fun, writing has always been a weird thing for me.  I love it, but the avoidance maneuvers I have in place make it difficult to be disciplined about getting it done – especially if there is no real ‘deadline.’  School papers, magazine articles, cover letters – these all come with built-in deadlines that force me to sit in front of the computer and shift gears from the Verbal Bev to the Written Bev. And the Written Bev is a happy girl, it’s just the gear-shifting that is a significant speed-bump.

I know this is yet another thing that – as a supposedly-mature adult – I should be doing.  That is, living up to my promises (not blogging; one need not be mature nor an adult to blog, and many a mature adult has made the cut without a blog to their name, phew!).  And I’m pretty good at living up to my promises and responsibilities – except when they are promises to myself, and responsibilities that affect only me.  No one gets fired if I don’t write, my ‘A’ is not in jeopardy if I go 10 days without updating my blog.  I just have to listen to the increasingly-irritated voice in my head that says I’m a loser for not doing it.  It’s the same voice that yells when I send birthday presents late and don’t call my mother.  I can ignore a certain level of bitching, but when the volume gets loud, something has to be done (and we all know I’m not going to call my mother).

So, to recap some things I’ve read lately – that I’ve decided in my all-powerful position as The-Boss-of-Me do not require a full write-up on this here fabulous blog:

I read the entire series of The Chronicles of the Cheysuli by Jennifer Roberson, borrowed from a fellow sci-fi fan and infinitely enjoyable.  The books tell the story of a magical race (the Cheysuli, of course) who have been persecuted and lost many of their powers. If they can fulfill the multi-generational prophesy, there will be peace and a return of powers they’ve lost.    No deep-thinking required here – like dessert for the hard-working brain.  The first book and the last two books were the best (there are eight total).

I re-read Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint.  This is a two-book compilation of Jack the Giant-Killer and Drink Down the MoonJoK is a fun re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale in a modern urban setting.  Not his greatest stuff, but – again – a good read.

I have also read The Book of Illusion and Outliers, but those deserve a space all their own, so look for them soon.

I apologize to those oodles of faithful readers out there who have come recently to BoB and been disappointed – but I can’t promise it won’t happen again.  I may be a slacker, but I’m not a liar.  Happy Reading!

What to read about what to eat

Many of you already know that I started paying close attention to what I eat a few years ago – and have become steadily more informed and therefore more picky about what I put in my mouth (take that one any way you like).  It started (of course!) with a $3 book, written in 1979 called (I believe) Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition, which has since disappeared from my collection.  Then I gave up beef because I had a craving I couldn’t get rid of. Then I read Fast Food Nation.  And on and on.  I told my son I would have to stop reading or I wouldn’t eat anything at all.  Thankfully, there are farmer’s markets, cool organic grocery for mindful eaters – such as New Seasons and Natural Pantry – and a growing awareness in the world, so I haven’t starved just yet.

I bring all this up because I read another book on the human-food relationship, this one called The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food and other books, and the co-writer of the film Food, Inc with Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation).  What first surprised me about the book was the dilemma referred to in the title.

In Pollan’s mind, the current U. S. omnivore’s dilemma is too many choices and not enough history.  He’s not supporting the industrialization of the food supply – and he gives economic, gastric and nutritional reasons why – but he puts the current situation of fad diets and flip-flopping nutritional advice into a historical context.

Being an omnivore allowed us to flourish in difficult times, since we could eat so many different things.  But now the availability of so many different things all the time creates a different kind of obstacle.  Culture has always assisted us in making food choices, and it is the absence of a stable, universal culture in the U.S, coupled with the economical success our country enjoys, that make us vulnerable to the crazy food fads and yo-yoing advice on what to eat – much of that advice profit-driven, not health-driven at all.

I really liked the fact that Pollan is not on a fanatical crusade to indict the industrial food complex and those who eat from it. He approaches his research like a journalist and uses his personal experiences for description, not to sensationalize. He does not confuse exposition with indoctrination.  He doesn’t assume that his perspective is universal – he shares his experience and allows you to draw your own conclusions.  He works through the economic calculations with the reader before he shares the results of those equations.  And it’s only those kinds of details that he takes as facts to be applied universally.  Numbers are not subjective.  And if he includes expenses or other factors you don’t consider important or germane, you can see them and re-work the equations for yourself (not that there’s a math test or anything…).

What you get is a treatise on four different food chains – the industrial complex, the organic industrial complex, local and personal.  He puts together four meals, following each item from its origin to his plate, and takes you along with him.   This includes his very first hunt, mushroom gathering, a sustainable farm, the new large-scale organic operations, and the typical corn plant and slaughterhouse cow.  I’ve read a lot on this subject, and I’ve never seen anything this comprehensive, even-handed and enjoyable to read.

Read the book – it’s good for you.

Pardon me while I Bitch

How could you resist a book with the name Bitch Posse? Especially with the dozens of accolades plastered on the back and inside flap.

The premise is good – three women, best friends in high school, who experience a tragedy that tears them apart.  They lead separate lives, but must eventually get back together before they can be happy.  Who doesn’t have one friend from when they were young that they still miss?  Most of the women I know – and many of the men – realize how much emptier their lives would be without a best friend in their life.  Humans have a penchant for the What If? game, and many of us know how ugly those other lives might have been without our best friend to help us make the right choices.

Well, I’m sad to say that this is not the book it could have been.  What we have are three adult women who are incredibly self-destructive, much like they were as young adults. Yes, they all had crappy parents and terrible childhoods, but none of them seems to have a clue how to be honest with themselves or anyone else.  We spend about 165 pages each on the teen years and their adult tragedy, and maybe five pages on them reconnecting and starting to put their lives back together.  Ridiculous.

And the worst thing – in my opinion – is that fact that there are dozens of sex scenes in the book, and NOT A SINGLE ONE is healthy or emotionally satisfying for the women involved. Not one.  How pathetic is that?  Hot, crazy sex – well-written, to be sure! – but it is either statutory rape, drug-enabled, sexual harassment or some other kind of emotionally destructive interaction.  It’s disgusting.  There is plenty of that kind of sex out there – in real life and in fiction of all kinds – but in a book that pretends to be about the redeeming qualities of friendship, at least some of the sex should be empowering and life-affirming.  The one semi-healthy relationship in the book only give us one incidence of that couple having sex – and it is the first time they meet, in the college library without a word exchanged.  That is the best this book has to offer.

My bitch posse is a much happier, healthier group to hang with, and anyone who thinks these ladies have it good needs a shrink and a real friend.

Me and the Little Women

Let us start with a confession:  I never read Little Women.  Nor have I seen any of the screen adaptations of said book.  I’ll wait while you recover from the shock.

There’s no particular reason I never read it.  I just never did.  And I’m betting neither of my sisters read it, either – because I read almost every book that came through that house.  I have no good explanation – somehow I missed it.  So, I decided my education was seriously lacking and picked it up at the library.

I didn’t expect to like any of the girls in LW except Jo. Not sure why. I also expected the girls to feel more stereotypical than they did. But I really liked Meg, and liked Beth and Amy, though not as much. And I didn’t identify with Jo as much as I might have if I’d read it when I was younger.

Of course, I am more like Jo than any of them. But Jo has virtually no capacity for introspection – she didn’t seem to know herself at all. Amy did a better job of that and at a much younger age. And I never really wanted to be a boy – I just did the ‘boy’ things. But gender roles have eased considerably since Alcott’s time – lucky for me!

I liked how Jo & Laurie were best friends but at least one of them knew they would make a terrible couple. And Alcott writes in the awkward scenes that are necessary when people who care about each other have to deal with how the nature of their relationship has changed. Those who cannot navigate that space end up leaving their friends behind because they can’t talk to each other about the things that are really important. Jo & Laurie had to reconnect with who they were to each other so they could be friends without causing harm to his marriage or Jo & Amy’s relationship.  It makes me crazy when people think that – because we don’t talk about it, that means it can’t hurt anyone. That is the stuff that causes the most damage.  I also liked how Marmee let the girls learn from their own mistakes – always available to advise but never preachy.

I’m sure the reason that all the TV shows & movies & whatnot focus on Jo is because she was a writer – and it is the writers that are making those representations. Those that identified strongly with Meg are not writing books, they are doing other things with their lives.  Same with Amy.  And of course, those that identified closely with Beth didn’t live long enough to create any such thing.

I really liked the theme that a woman should have substance and follow her own heart and moral code instead of social pressure (and I would add – what her man/husband thinks).  And I was pleasantly surprised when Marmee told Meg she should invite her husband into the nursery because he had a place there. And that she should make a point of getting out of the house w/out children regularly to be refreshed.  And it wasn’t all phrased as ‘what she should do to make her husband happy’ but how to make a marriage work and be happy herself.  If you left out the presumption that the wife would stay home while the husband worked, it was valid advice for any new mom today that was struggling with that transition.

So, now that I’ve read and enjoyed Little Women, can I get back in the clubhouse?

Dots, not feathers

I picked up A Passage to India for two reasons. 1) Zadie Smith is a big fan of E. M. Forster and 2) it was $3 at Borders.  I am a fan of contemporary Indian literature (Bharati Mukherjee and Arundhati Roy being favorites) and so I am drawn to other works that focus on the area.  I was curious to see what kind of perspective this Englishman – writing in the early 1900s – would have regarding the British Empire and its presence on the sub-continent.

It was interesting how the author portrays some of the social dynamics in the British Raj. Anyone who is new to the country is expected to still care about things like fairness to all people and treating the ‘natives’ as human beings.  But the veterans are quick to tell those newcomers how inappropriate that behavior is.  Anyone who’s been there awhile is unable to resist the social pressures applied to ‘stay true to one’s own people’ and never give the locals a favor they could exploit.  And of course, women cannot socialize with Indian men without an English escort. It ends up sounding like peer pressure in high school.  The new kid has to conform to the clique or else be ostracized.  Boys only want one thing, and a girl could ruin her reputation just by being seen with the wrong guy.  And in the end, everyone who stays – even the man who stood up for Dr. Aziz against every Englishman in the area – behaves like the rest of their English compatriots.

I enjoyed the book, though I wouldn’t put it on any top-ten list.  I liked how the author spent time on the two most popular religions practiced in India at the time – Islam and Hindu.  We experience some of the action through the Muslim doctor, Aziz, and Professor Godbole, a Hindu friend of Dr. Aziz.  But the bulk of the book is described through English eyes – mostly those who were extremely uncomfortable with the negative interaction between Brits and Indians.  It is clear that Forster did not believe that the British Empire was treating India fairly.  If I was giving out stars, I’d give it three out of five.