46. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Pollan wrote this book in response to all the questions he received about what people should eat after writing The Omnivore’s Dilemma. His basic tenet is “Eat food. Not too much. And mostly plants.”, and by food he does not mean the processed crap that lines most of the shelves of our grocery stores these days. He basically discusses the history of nutritionism and how the Western Diet is bad for us. He uses all this information to conclude that a healthy diet is about eating whole foods and whole cuisines not picking and choosing nutrients or particular food groups as the villain or the savior of healthy eating because as is evidenced by the fact that Americans have been doing this for decades we are now fatter than ever. None of it was rocket science to me, but obviously a lot of Americans could stand to read this book. I give it an 8 out of 10.
45. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
It seems like for the past several months no matter what books I put on my wish list at Amazon it told me I should be reading this book, so I finally broke down and read it. The story takes place right after the end of WWII, and is told completely in the form of letters written back and forth between the characters. A writer/journalist named Juliet is contacted by a man named Dawsey living in Guernsey to help him find more books by and about Charles Lamb to read for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which sets off a correspondence between Juliet and the other members of society. I found the book to be a good, quick read for the most part. I have to say that I didn’t so much buy the love story between the Juliet and Dawsey I think partly because I didn’t actually realize Dawsey was a man until a decent ways in to the book and second because he is painted a character with such a quiet manner that he’s barely present. Thus although I could see that was where the story was headed I never really bought it. Also I felt the end was kind of hokey compared to the rest of the story. After reading the Acknowledgments at the end of the book I realize the change in tone of the story is most likely due to the fact that the book was finished by the niece of the main author after she became to ill to finish it on her own. It is a quick, fun read though and I’m sure one day it will be made into a movie because it just felt like it was a perfect fit for a romantic comedy. I give it 7 out of 10.
44. Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl by Susan Campbell
I picked this book up from the new book section at work to read while I was waiting on some books I had requested from another library to arrive. The author describes her upbringing in a church of Christ while elaborating on her eventual rejection of the church because of her feminist leanings. I enjoyed some parts of the book, but not the book as a whole for the most part. It didn’t feel very cohesive to me as she jumped back and forth in time somewhat and inserted stuff about feminism and feminist history in-between stories from her life. I was amused by some of the stuff from her childhood because having attended churches of Christ from between the ages of 12 to 18 I could relate to a lot of the stuff she was talking about. Although none of the churches I attended were as fundamentalist as the one she attended. I got bored by her feminist rants though. I give the book 4 out of 10.
43. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
The premise of this book is rather horrible. It takes place in France partially during WWII and partially during the early 2000’s. On July 16, 1942 during an incident referred to as Vel d’Hiv the French police rounded up almost 13,000 Jews many of whom were women and children. Most were eventually sent on to extermination camps. The part that takes place during WWII involves a Jewish family who is taken away. Trying to keep her little brother safe and not realizing that they would not be able to return to their apartment, Sarah locks her brother in a hidden cabinet and takes the key with her when the police round up her family. The part that occurs during the more present times involves an American journalist (Julia) living in Paris with her French husband and daughter. She is reporting on the 60th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv incident and during her research finds out that the apartment her husband is renovating that belonged to his grandmother was previously lived in by a Jewish family, who obviously turns out to be the family whose story is being told in the other half of the book. She is determined to find out what happened to that family and to unearth whatever secret she feels surrounds them and their relation to her husband’s family. The first half to 2/3 of the book has the two stories being told in alternating chapters. After that Sarah’s story at least from her perspective just ends, and the rest of the book is told purely from the perspective of Julia. I thought the story lost something at this point. I was expecting Sarah’s story to continue following her life as she had to live with the knowledge that she effectively killed her brother. I also thought the ending of the book was rather cheesy and it was very obvious what was going to happen so I don’t know why the author insisted on trying to make it suspenseful through the last 3 or 4 chapters with some big reveal at the end. It was a good book, and I would recommend it, but I think the last 1/3 of the book had greater potential than how it was ultimately written. I give it 7 out of 10.
42. Lucky Man: A Memoir by Michael J. Fox
Since I enjoyed his more recent book Looking Up, I decided I would go back and read Fox’s first book. This one has a bit more of a memoirish feeling to it than Looking Up. Lucky Man very much follows Fox through his life from childhood up to the point the book is written. He talks about his childhood, how he wound up as an actor, his experiences as an actor, his diagnosis of Parkinson’s, his issues with alcohol, his family, etc. It eventually ends with him coming to terms with his Parkinson’s and viewing it in a positive light, hence the fact that he is a “Lucky Man”. It was an enjoyable read. I give it 6 out of 10.
41. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
I picked up this book because it was showing up on all kinds of the best books of the year lists at the end of last year. Apparently all these critics and I do not share the same taste in books. This it seems is the year for me to wind up reading books that drive me insane with an incomprehensible plot that doesn’t even bother to tie up in the end. I feel like I should have been reading this for one of my book clubs because it seems like we’ve had a knack for picking those, however in this case it was own bad choice.
The plot of this book was just plain weird. The main character, a psychiatrist, comes home to find a woman who looks and acts like his wife but for some reason he has determined she is an impostor pretending to be his wife. We never really get a good explanation for why this is other than the fact that she is ambivalent towards dogs, yet she has brought a dog home. He also has a patient who believes he can control the weather and is disappears to go on assignments given to him by some meteorological society. The psychiatrist and his wife (before she gets replaced by the supposed doppelganger) cook up some scheme whereby he pretends to be involved in the society and she phones him during his sessions with the patient and pretends to be some higher-up instructing him to tell his patient to stay put and deal with local weather issues. After the disappearance of his wife, the psychiatrist decides that it is somehow related to the society and his patient, who has also disappeared again. He then winds up in contact somehow with the person his wife was pretending to be, only you later find out that the guy actually died a long time ago, but there is never any explanation of who he was in contact with then or if he imagined the whole thing. It was completely bizarre and as I said it never wraps anything up. I just don’t get the point of writing things like that. It is not satisfying to read at all. I give this book 3 out of 10.
40. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang
This book was not really what I expected. The author of the book spent several years interviewing and creating relationships (or at least trying to as it was hard to keep in contact with many of the girls as they were constantly moving and changing jobs) with girls working in factories in the Dongguan area of China. I expected the book to concentrate on the horrid working and living conditions of the girls, but it didn’t. It did mention those things to a degree, but they were really ancillary to the story. She really used the stories of the girls she met to construct a cultural story about how things have changed in China from the older, rural generations to this new, independent younger generation. She also interweaves the history of her family in the story, which fell rather flat for me. I found most of the chapters that concentrated on her family’s experience in China to be boring. I did enjoy the rest of the book though, and found it gave me a completely different perspective on the factory workers in China. At just over 400 pages it looks like a lengthy book, but the print is large and I got through it much quicker than I was anticipating. I give it a 7 out of 10.