It’s been some time now since I’ve written much here about what I’ve been reading. There’s a variety of reasons for this – some personal, some related to being busy with work, and just a general apathy toward laying out my reactions in a coherent, appealing format. It took this post by Birnbaum (I love “escape appliance” more than words can convey) to remind me that not only am I not restricted to writing thoughtful, reasoned opinions and breakdowns of the books and articles I read, I’m actually free to write whatever the hell I want about anything at all.
I read this article by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food) in last week’s NYT Magazine, and although a couple of the ideas presented there seem like a bit of a reach, on the whole it’s required reading for anyone who cares at all about food. I think there’s a perception on some people’s part that he’s a vegetarian, organic, arugula guy. (I dropped the a-word.) This isn’t true; he’s not opposed to meat eating, or use of pesticides, and on that latter point especially I disagree with him, but he’s got valid reasons for every stance he takes. And his points about the wastefulness, the outrageous cost, and the idiocy of our current system(s) of food production are all right on the mark. When he noted Wendell Berry’s “elegant solution,” I got really angry, because food corporations have hoodwinked otherwise rational people into thinking that we’ve got a workable, long-lasting system of food production. The “elegant solution” is to two major, major problems facing our country: the depletion of farmable soil (and our attempts to remedy that with oil-based fertilizer), and the incredible polution caused by factory farms (essentially city-sized warehouses filled to bursting with chickens, cows, what have you) (along with the need for incredible amounts of antibiotics to keep those warehouse models workable, which has shown to be leading us toward the creation of “superbugs” that we won’t be able to stop) – the solution, put the animals back on the land. They eat the weeds, they crap in the soil, the soil is replenished, the animals are healthier (which equals better tasting, healthier meat) and the need for oil is diminished. This is just a fraction of the piece, which I finished reading and thought: How can I spread the word about this article? How can I do anything more than throw a pebble into a pond, and watch it sink with barely any effect?
… then I read this installment of the election series running over at The Morning News, and it was like the sun breaking through a week’s worth of cloudy skies, because: Obama read it too, and he gets it. Like the gentleman writers, I’m filled with hope, and that scares the shit out of me.
I come back to this Soft Skull book from time to time. Especially when I’m pissed, because then I can be angry and negative and also laugh about it. Yesterday’s negation applies to this post-thus-far, and reads as follows: “In Chinese, the word for “crisis” is written by merging the words “danger” and “opportunity.” This explains why, in a crisis, I not only experience fear from the danger; I also experience fear that I will miss out on some great opportunity because I am too busy worrying about the danger.” FTW, right there.
Speaking of negations. When did Paul Auster’s ability to write non-hackneyed dialogue completely leave him? This book is a million bits better than his last two efforts, but largely because in structure it’s pretty much the same book as his Oracle Night, except about war instead of writing. Despite the heavy theme, this is another installment of Auster-lite. (I was going to put together a “Write Like Paul Auster” Mad-Lib, but then I didn’t.) I’m not saying I didn’t like this book; it was fine, despite the dialogue. (He writes everyone from the same point: the “agitated old man with exaggerated agitation about everything.”) It had some flashes of Good Auster, and as books-about-the-Iraq-war go, you could do worse.
The first of two recent books I read where my expectations and anticipation weighed down my enjoyment, and the first of (at least) three recent books with mental illness writ large across the pages. (You’d think I would leave work at work.) I loved the cover, I loved the book, but when a book comes in the mail and I take it out of the package, grip it with both hands, and make girly squealing noises, I should know by now that I’m setting myself up for disappointment, unless it’s Cloud Atlas meets The New York Trilogy meets The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov meets Remainder meets Old School, which of course no book ever will be, unless I chop all those books into sections and read them like The Unfortunates, another book in the TBR pile that elicited squeals.
But, back to AD; first sentence: “Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife.” Dr. Leo’s gone off the rails on a crazy train, and I was hoping there was more to it than that – maybe the 49 were real? – but, in the end, he’s just a sad mess. That said, it’s a fine, fine book.
The Amnesiac is that employee that you have, the one who always does what’s expected and makes the right moves and says the right things, and you wish they’d just, I don’t know, settle down for a minute. This was book two in my “mental illness 2008” trilogy. I’m sure other readers would favor more of a science fiction interpretation, to which I would say “And?” Just kidding. Sort of. Ron Currie, Jr., writes on the back that this book is a mash-up of murder mystery, thriller, and sci-fi. That’s about right, but I was hoping for a fourth – maybe a little more ambiguity about the whole thing. The best part was the essay about Tomas Ryal, “the philosopher who controversially denied the existence of memory.” Again, great book that I loved up until the end, at which point I realized my jacked-up expectations of supreme reading enjoyment were going to be denied in favor of just another really good book. (Boo hoo, right?)
More to come.