Browsing Archives for Book Reviews

Eat Pray Love a Review

April 2nd, 2009

I finished Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, two weeks ago. It is a wonderful book about a person picking up the pieces of a busted heart and trying to put them back together by uncontrolled gelatto consumption in Italy, consulting the Oracle known as Richard from Texas in an Ashram in India, and finally hanging out with the conniving poor in Indonesia. The author, Ms. Gilbert, is spectacularly… dizzingly…. scarily honest in her book. She is really messed up at the beginning of the book and only slightly less messed up at the end of the book… but she thinks she is better, so I guess that is all that matters.

Personally, I think ending the book by diving headlong into yet another relationship was sort of just like starting over again, but the author made it work for herself, so hey, what do I know?

I do have to say something about the whole ‘selfishness thing’. Many people after reading her book, labeled her as a selfish person for taking a year of her life to travel, eat, meet new people, eat, pray and yes… eat some more. She even speaks to this subject on her website! Personally, I did not feel she was selfish. This girl’s heart had been flung against the ragged cliffs of Dover as the waves held her there, beating her against the jagged outcroppings over and over again. Some of these beatings she admittedly administered to herself and others were the result of an ugly divorce, followed by a whirlwind romance, followed by a crushing break-up, followed by a replay of the whirlwind romance, followed by some more crushing break-up, followed by spiraling depression, followed by attacks of mania, followed by getting back together with Mister Whirlwind Romance, etc, etc, etc.

To pull herself together and to put some space between herself and Mister Whirlwind, she takes a trip. She takes a long trip. She eats lots of fabulous Italian food. She makes new friends. She learns how to speak Italian. She seeks God. She seeks God in Italy in the cheese, wine and red sauce. She seeks God while scrubbing floors in an Ashram. She seeks God while speaking with a medicine man on his porch in Indonesia. She seeks God and at times she finds God and when she does… God is good. I cannot fathom how any of this is selfish. Is travelling selfish? Is eating fabulous food selfish? Is seeking God selfish? Or is it the combination of travelling, while eating, while seeking God, that is selfish? Someone please explain – because me no get it.

Life is too short to let everyone else decide the rules for you. I am so proud of her for taking this journey and for writing about it (which was a beautiful act of giving and also funded her trip) and for seeking God in a world that says either…

Hey you! This is God… RIGHT HERE… in this particular religion… MY WAY… and you either find God MY WAY or you can just go to Hell (literally).

Or

God?

What God?

Or

God?

Whatever.

If only we could all spend a year seeking God… while eating fabulous food…. travelling the world and making new friends. In my best estimate the world would be a lot less selfish as a result… and a lot more fun.

Eat… Pray… Love

Rechelle

The book, Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, left a bad taste in my mouth. Something about it was off. Too ripe, too green, too moldy, too full of worms… I don’t know, but the book did not agree with me and it has resulted in a churning stomach for the past several days. Maybe my innards just don’t agree with a ‘locovore’ diet. Give me an orange, give me a pineapple, I never realized that eating fruit could do so much harm.

Ultimately I think it is because I simply don’t understand Ms. Kingsolver’s particular brand of lunacy, which quite frankly was not lunatic enough for my own personal tastes. If you are going to go off the deep end and live by an extremely narrow regime that revolves around eating for one entire year, only food that either you or your nearby neighbors produce then by cracky, you oughtta be able to make that experience a lot more interesting than Ms. Kingsolver did.

What makes a challenge, any challenge, interesting for people to read about is the suffering that occurs as a result. Personally, I try to avoid suffering at any cost. But I don’t mind reading about other people suffering… once in a while… maybe… not really.

Here is my definition of suffering…

Suffering – One single solitary second of discomfort.

The Country Doctor would disagree with that definition. His would be more like this.

Suffering – Proof that you are alive.

This is Barbara Kingsolver’s definition of suffering…

Suffering – Let’s not be unreasonable. Who wants another cup of coffee?

Kingsolver was not really willing to suffer for the sake of her ‘art’ in this book. Her family did not give up chocolate, coffee, olive oil, or spices. They ate out occasionally. If an item was really necessary to make a special dish they would purchase it. For instance, they were unable to find a local source for organic whole wheat flour, but they did not give up homemade bread. Just don’t ask for a banana at their house. It will result in a stern lecture in the car on the way to the store. Bananas are shipped on trucks from far away and that uses up gas. Evidently wheat flour, coffee, chocolate and exotic spices all fly to Virginia on the back of carrier pigeons.

The only time I felt the book had any intrinsic charm was when Kingsolver wrote about her chickens and her turkeys. A momentary spark would flicker and flare as she spoke of her birds. Her daughter Lily was the primary poultry farmer in the family and the chapters that revolved around her and her chickens were sweet and fun to read. Then Kingsolver would go right back to reciting depressing farm factoids, speaking of CAFO’s (whatever those are) and her one and only joke – the professional turkey masturbators .

Yes, I just said turkey masturbators on my blog. I have been de-sensitized to the term now that I have read it four hundred times in Kingsolver’s book. Everything else made me feel judged, paranoid, or wishing the book was over already.Oh and also – the book is almost entirely mirthless (except for the solitary turkey joke). Sorry Kingsolver fans, but I have spent far too many joyous hours wrapped inside of a book about one man or one woman or one family, embracing and rejoicing in a back to the land lifestyle . I have read too many wonderful books about people who live the dream of producing their own food, glorying in the natural world, and understanding their dependence on their neighbors and their community in a much more dramatic way. I am speaking of books like Green Mountain Farm by Elliot Merrick and We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich. These books tell with arching beauty the struggle to survive off the land underneath the author’s feet.

Then there are books like Back to the Damn Soil by Mary Gubser and It Takes a Village Idiot by Jim Mullen which celebrate a life lived in the grasp of Mother Nature due to either economic necessity or to quit smoking (ha ha) with wit and humor.

These books mentioned above revel in the non-stop wrestling match of attempting to grow all your own food and they manage to delightfully scissor a story from the unyielding earth, the wily livestock, the crazy neighbors, and the inevitable visits from the green horn city folk.

Barbara Kingsolver does not even use the terms ‘green horn city folk’ in her book. Nor does she mention any crazy neighbors. Did she really live in the country? Or did she just make this whole book up?

Kingsolver is not the first person to attempt to live off a patch of land and subsequently write a book about it. She is just the first person to make that experience excruciatingly boring while at the same time passing judgement on everyone who grows a crop outside of her narrow ideal. (Except for the coffee and the chocolate farmers).

Now, who wants a copy of Animal Vegetable Miracle?

Anyone?

Anyone?

Seriously, lots of people purchased this book. Whether they managed to slog through to the end of it, I don’t know. I have two copies to give away today. It is possible that you will enjoy it far more than I. You could also give it away on your blog, or to someone who you are trying to impress with your ecologically sound choices.
 


I also have a copy of Elliot Merrick’s book Green Mountain Farm to give away today. Merrick is the author of the adventure classic True North. I have never read True North, nor the subsequent Northern Nurse, which told the story of his wife’s life in Labrador, but I have been utterly swept away several times, by the literary beauty of Green Mountain Farm. This book is everything that Kingsolver’s book is not. Merrick shows.. he doesn’t tell. If his book does not make you want to run to Vermont and buy a derelict, windswept farm just so you can crash through the ice on your cross country skis, when you are not chopping wood, planting a garden or attempting to resurrect a house and barn from scrap lumber, I don’t know what will. Like Merrick himself, this book is layered in lyrical beauty, sparkling with wisdom gained from extreme hardship and crosshatched in wit. Perhaps I should send a copy to Barbara Kingsolver?

This giveaway has come to an end.

The Once Upon a Time Business

November 25th, 2007

The title of this post is from the web site for author Phillip Pullman. I love this quote. What he actually said is this…

As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don’t think it’s the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means. The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader’s mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I’m not going to explain. Anyway, I’m not in the message business; I’m in the “Once upon a time” business.

Can I just repeat that last part…

He’s in the Once Upon a Time Business and not the Message Business.

There’s been a lot of stuff floating around cyberspace about this man and his work. I have read all three of the “His Dark Materials” books. They are very good. The first one The Golden Compass is a work of art. The second one The Subtle Knife is a great story. The third one, The Amber Spyglass is very dense and complicated and tricky but also a fascinating read.

We live in a culture of emptiness. We give our kids plastic and Disney and Cartoon Network and McDonald’s happy meals and it is the same as giving them nothing. Because that is what all that stuff is. There is no depth, no merit, and no knowledge to be gained. We put their young minds in tepid water and expect them to grow. Even when we give our kids books!

As a former children’s librarian I can vividly attest to the amount of crappy children’s books that flood our market place EVERY DAY. I know because part of my job was to peruse every single new children’s book that came into our library. I both loved this job and hated it. I hated it because there was so much crap being published that I wondered how on earth it ever reached the market. I loved it because every once in a great while, a volume would come from the “new book cart” to settle in my lap that would shimmer like the stars.

From the first page of these rare books, I would recognize a brilliance, a skill, and an ability – to weave a story together, to hold a child (and an adult) spellbound, to captivate an audience.

I worked at the Manhattan Public Library in Manhattan Kansas for only one year, but during that short time I compiled a mental list of must reads for kids based on the new books that came through as well as a few classics that were new to me. Phillip Pullman was one of those authors.

He does not treat kids like morons – he respects their minds and their imaginations. He is not writing to create a marketable product, he is writing to create a riveting story. A story that I have no doubt, will become a classic.

Due to some of the hype from the upcoming release of the movie, The Golden Compass, there seem to be many people living in paralyzed fear of this brilliant author – I hope you at least read the first book before you make your judgement. It is ridiculous to forward those silly panic stricken e-mails without first reading these books.

I do realize that Phillip Pullman is a self proclaimed atheist. He admits to this on his web site. I myself am not an atheist – but I occasionally have doubts about the existence of a benevolent God. What thinking person does not? It might be easy to believe in a caring God in our nice warm homes with our loaded refrigerators. But perhaps not so easy if you are an Iraqi citizen or a family in India living on the streets, relying on your three year old to generate enough pity for a loaf of bread.

Maybe Phillip Pullman just has a harder time shutting down the part of his mind that us church going Americans so easily turn off. Not that we don’t care and give and try to help, but do we really let it in???

I refuse to demonize a brilliant, creative man for his personal beliefs when they are founded in hard thinking, but I do pray for him. And as a fan of great children’s literature, I celebrate his books. They are worth a read. And they may even deepen your own faith as you gotta think about things a bit after you read them. Which is why I love his books to start with. The thinking part. It is especially good for kids to have to use their brains once in a while.

Oh dear – this was a bit of a heavy handed post for me. But it has been on my mind for a long time. Tomorrow something much lighter – I promise!