6. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Yet another book designed to make me feel guilty about my eating habits, but done in a very Jonathan Safran Foer way. It’s hard to describe what that way is, but if you’ve ever read his fiction work you can probably guess what I mean. There is no straight narrative in this book, but it works at least for me. I always enjoyed that in his fiction books, and he managed to translate it in to this book as well. He supposedly began researching the book after the birth of his son. He had been an on and off vegetarian for much of his life, but really began to examine the morality of eating animals in light of values he wanted to pass on to his son. I’m guessing that like me many people reading this book have also read and seen much of the same stuff that I have and thus despite the fact that Foer says that if people knew what went on they wouldn’t be able to eat this way, actually are already familiar with much of the content. What Foer adds is some varying perspectives plus his own feelings on the matter. He talks to people who are very radical on the vegetarian side who even think Michael Pollan and some of the farms he praises like Polyface farms are still evil and he also talks to people who defend the practice of eating animals and although perhaps not defending the methods indicate why we need factory farming. That perspective although only a few pages did dovetail nicely for me with the book I read previous to this in which the author talks about the need to feed all the people on the planet and how that would be impossible without some of the farming methods primarily plant, but also animal that exist now. Is it better to be able to feed people or to farm in a way that isn’t able to support the number of mouths there are to feed on the planet? In the end Foer comes down firmly on the side of not eating any meat, although he indicates his respect for people who farm and slaughter humanely. He does his best not to encourage people to not eat meat, which he concedes is his own personal choice and not something he would push on others, but to at least consider a vegetarian lifestyle. Mostly though he does insist that if you are to continue eating meat that no matter how difficult it is and how it affects the amount of eat you’re able to eat that you should not be eating meat from factory farms. In the last chapter he deftly spoke to the way I feel after reading any of these types of books. For awhile a do feel guilty and want to change the way I eat, but think about how hard it would be and put my blinders back on. I’m still not sure I’m ready to take that step, but perhaps one day if I read and see enough I’ll do my part to end factory farming. I give it a 7 out of 10.
5. Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Michael Specter
I put this book on my too-read list after seeing the author on The Daily Show and my in-laws bought it for me for Christmas. It was an okay read. It was fairly interesting, but I don’t think I completely bought everything the author had to say and definitely felt he was stretching in the last couple of chapters. I also felt he often did not stay focused on what the book was actually supposed to be about based on its title. He focuses on a different area in each chapter to talk about how often fear of rapid change and things they don’t understand plus false correlations cause people to deny the truth in science and technology. In later chapters he focuses on things such as genetically engineered food and work with the human genome. While I found many of the things he talked about to be interesting I often found myself wondering when he was going to talk about the denialism part of all of it that was so clear in his chapter about autism and vaccines, which was by far the strongest chapter in the book. It was one of those books where I enjoyed the material, but found it lacking because in the end it didn’t live up to its purpose. I give it a 6 out of 10.
4. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
This book is supposed to take place concurrently in time with one of Atwood’s other books, Oryx and Crake. It also features some of the same characters. I read Oryx and Crake many years ago when it first came out and unfortunately didn’t really remember anything about it. I did look at the plot summary on Wikipedia to try and refresh my memory, but I’m not sure how much it helped. I remember liking Oryx and Crake and I don’t know if I had read these books together or if I remembered more about Oryx and Crake that I would have liked The Year of the Flood better, but as it was I didn’t really care for this book at all.
The story takes place at some unspecified time in the future where man has genetically modified animals and plants to a state where many new species would be unrecognizable to current humans and many things we would be familiar with have since gone extinct. The main plot involves a group of people named the Gardeners, who have started a religion based on vegetarianism and pacificism. They are living together in some compound and their story is told over a period of 25 years from their founding until the prediction of what they call the waterless flood, which they predict will destroy the world in year 25. The story is told through the lives of Toby, a woman who was rescued by the Gardeners and eventually becomes one of them, and a young girl named Ren whose mother went to live there when she fell in love with one of the men at the compound. I was rather bored by the story and didn’t really care that much about the characters. I didn’t feel like much was actually happening. I imagine this story fills in gaps that exist in Oryx and Crake, so had I remembered anything about that book when reading this I might have found it more interesting. But as it was I didn’t on either count. I give it a 3 out of 10.
3. Josie’s Story: A Mother’s Inspiring Crusade to Make Medical Care Safe by Sorrel King
I read this book for one of my book clubs. We are actually going to be meeting with the author during our discussion later this month as she is a local Baltimore author and has agreed to come meet with us. It should be an interesting discussion I think.
The book itself is about the author’s experience losing her one-year-old daughter due to a medical mistake made while she was in the hospital recovering from severe burns she accidentally received playing in the bathtub. The beginning of the book recounts this heartbreaking story and the grief that King felt after her daughter’s death. She then goes on to explain how she became involved the fight to make medical care safer and the work she has done on behalf of what became the Josie King Foundation to promote safer medical practices. It was a quick read with a good story and lots of important information. I would recommend it and give it a 7 out of 10.
2. SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt
This was a nice quick read. If you enjoyed Freakonomics, you should enjoy SuperFreakonomics. It’s pretty much more of the same in most respects. Although many of their conclusions are based on correlation and thus not something you can completely know is true at least they seem to acknowledge this fact unlike Malcolm Gladwell in many of his books. It does offer some interesting perspectives though and even if there’s no way to experimentally prove them, it’s good to think about things from another angle or to even think about them at all. I give it a 7 out of 10.
1. A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture since 1929 by Paul K. Conkin
This book was not exactly what I expected. Given the raft of recent books about large factory farming I rather assumed this book would touch the same sorts of issues. It didn’t really, and unless you’re really into the history of agriculture I wouldn’t suggest reading this one. Conkin talks in depth about how and why farming has changed focusing on advances in technology and governmental farm bills. It was hard for me to wrap my head around most of what he was saying. The most interesting parts of the book were when he talked about his own experiences growing up on his family’s farm. I give the book 4 out of 5, only because it turns out I wasn’t really interested in the subject matter. For someone really interested in the subject or doing research in this area I think it would be a good book.
89. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The newest book by Hornby follows Annie and Duncan, a couple from northern coastal England. Duncan is obsessed with a musician named Tucker Crowe who mysteriously disappeared from the music scene and went into hiding 20 years prior. Annie doesn’t understand Duncan’s obsession, but has always put up with it and gone along with it. Tucker Crowe’s story is also told and an interesting relationship develops between the three characters. Hornby has some interesting insights on music fanboys. I give it a 6 out of 10.
88. Do-Over!: In Which a Forty-Eight-Year-Old Father of Three Returns to Kindergarten, Summer Camp, the Prom, and Other Embarrassments by Robin Hemley
The author of this book decides to go back through his life and redo certain things that he thinks he did wrong somehow the first time through and affected his life. These things range from redoing whole years of school like kindergarten and eighth grade or his year abroad in Japan or specific things like having a role in a play that he flubbed or not taking the ACTs. Each chapter of the book talks about one of the things he redoes, his reasoning for redoing it, and how he goes about redoing it. Throughout the book he also incorporates things that are currently going on in his life. As I mentioned in an earlier review these types of gimmicky books where someone does something usually for a year’s time are becoming a dime a dozen, but this one was still pretty good and a little bit of a different take on a similar theme. I give it a 6 out of 10.
87. You Were Always Mom’s Favorite!: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives by Deborah Tannen
This book was pretty interesting for anyone who grew up with a sister I think. I’m not sure how much you would get out of it if you didn’t. The author is a linguist who used her training in human interaction to research the relationships between sisters. She used her own experiences with her own two sisters plus the relationships between sisters from around the world to illustrate her points. There of course many things I could relate to in my relationship with my own sister, but also many others didn’t personify our relationship at all. I think the most interesting thing was the seeming universality of the way many sisters relate to each other or view their experiences as part of their family. Women of any age or from any country seemed to be sharing the same sorts of feelings. It’s probably worth a read if you have a sister. I give it a 6 out of 10.
86. The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I read a good review of this book in Baltimore’s City Paper awhile ago, which is why I decided to read it. Plus I’m always interested in reading books that take place in Baltimore. Luckily it was a nice short book because it wasn’t that good. The story is about the childhood of the author growing up with a father who was a fairly militant Black Panther. His father has a number of children by 4 different women. The author being the next to youngest. The other son referred to in the title of the book is his older brother and I guess he kind of compares their lives, but I didn’t really understand the point or why this brother should stand out from any of his other siblings whose stories he didn’t tell. Unless you’re really into memoirs written by Baltimoreans I wouldn’t bother. I give it 3 out of 10.