I'm not exactly an organic food goddess, but I do try to eat home-cooked meals, even if they aren't always the healthiest! I've really discovered cook...moreI'm not exactly an organic food goddess, but I do try to eat home-cooked meals, even if they aren't always the healthiest! I've really discovered cooking over the last few years, and my repertoire of meals that I can successfully make is gradually expanding. I cook a dinner from scratch every night. One thing I've noticed is that the more I eat meals I have made myself, the more that ready meals or sauces from a jar taste wrong. My taste buds must have acclimatized because ready made pasta and chilli con carne sauces now taste overly sweet and ready meals just taste salty, missing the range of different tastes that come when you cook the meal for yourself.
I was interested to read Salt, Sugar, Fat to find out more about processed foods and the way ingredients are used to create combinations that leave us craving more. With a section devoted to salt, sugar and fat separately, Moss covers the history of the use of these ingredient in processed foods, and how the major (mainly US-based) food manufacturers use them to cultivate dependency, heavy use and therefore large profits.
That salt, sugar and fat are bad for you is hardly going to be news for the majority of readers and indeed, Salt, Sugar, Fat contains lots of information that I've heard before, from lots of different sources. Some of the familiar facts included; fizzy drinks make you more hungry, cheese is chock-full of fat and too much salt can lead to heart conditions. A book like this always runs the risk of preaching to the choir but luckily Moss also includes information about newer research findings, such as the way sugar lights up the same pleasure centres in our brains as hard drugs, or that it can be so addictive that rats will willingly undergo electric shocks in order to get another slice of cheesecake. There is no 'stop signal' in our bodies when it comes to eating fatty foods, and it becomes invisible to consumers as soon as sugar is also added.
The most interesting part of the book for me was when Moss interviewed industry insiders and looked at the social implications of their product development and marketing. Poorer families and districts are deliberately and explicitly targeted. I teach in a socially deprived area of inner London and the majority of children in my class eat processed, fatty, fast foods every single day. According to Moss, this is a deliberate move, presumably as chaotic families lack the skills or budget needed to resist. At one point, Moss interviews a food executive who was in charge of opening up a new market in Brazil. As he tours the slums, the exec realises that whilst the children and families there need a lot of things, they don't need a can of Coke. The morality of such marketing campaigns deserves to be questioned.
Reading Salt, Sugar, Fat was fascinating, but it was all heavily US-based. I think the problem of processed foods is larger than that, it's a problem the whole Western world faces, so it would have been interesting to see some acknowledgement of this in the text. Apart from that, I found it engaging and well written, one I would definitely recommend.
You will enjoy Salt, Sugar, Fat if:
You are interested in the politics of big corporations and their effect on society. You enjoy social history. You are interested in where your food comes from or in trying to eat healthily. You simply like well written, engaging non-fiction.(less)
Most of us tend to think of slavery as something that happened in the past. We imagine Africans at slave markets, on overcrowded ships or working on p...moreMost of us tend to think of slavery as something that happened in the past. We imagine Africans at slave markets, on overcrowded ships or working on plantations. In Enslaved, Jesse Sage and Liora Kasten, the directors of the American Anti-Slavery Group, hope to enlighten people to the fact that slavery still exists in the modern world in a number of forms, from the traditional to sex slavery to labour camps. Inspired by the slave narratives of the nineteenth century, each chapter is the narrative of a person who has been a modern day slave, in a variety of different contexts.
Enslaved was certainly eye-opening. Whilst I was aware that modern day slavery existed, I had no idea of the extent and scope of it. To pick just a few narratives, in this book we meet: Micheline, a Haitian woman trafficked to the USA; Abuk, captured in a raid in Sudan; Jill, kept as a sex slave in suburban America; Beatrice, who thought she had got a job as a maid only to be enslaved and Harry, a victim of Chinese labour camps. There's also a narrative of a slave owner in Mauritiana, that still operates what we would think of as a traditional slavery system. Taken together, the chapters definitely raise awareness and they opened my mind to the suffering of millions of people around the world.
The more I read, the more the connection between slavery and poverty became clear. People who are living in extreme poverty are the ones that will apply for au-pair or maid positions abroad, without knowing enough about the situation to know if they are safe. They are the women driven to work as prostitutes, vulnerable to sex trafficking. The final chapter in the collection is about what we can do as readers and abolitionists, but it didn't really address this connection. Whilst I agree that there's much Western citizens can do about slavery (raising awareness being the least of them), until poverty as a whole is tackled it will continue. Corrupt governments and failing states have much to do with modern day poverty.
I think Enslaved is an important book, one to pass one and discuss with the people you see regularly. Modern slavery is an invisible thing, suffered by people that generally aren't educated or literate enough to raise awareness or push for change. It's not an easy read but it will make you think.(less)
Our modern societies are obsessed with virginity and the loss of virginity, but it's not something people talk about openly very often. In The First T...moreOur modern societies are obsessed with virginity and the loss of virginity, but it's not something people talk about openly very often. In The First Time, Kate Monro aims to shine a light on what virginity means to us by conducting interviews with men and women of all different ages, religions and experiences, be they straight, gay, disabled or asexual. The interviews are organised into chapters on defining virginity, the changing roles of women during the twentieth century, virginity loss for men and the reasons people might decide to stay a virgin. Each chapter contains interviews as well as some commentary on relevant social issues by Monro.
I actually really enjoyed The First Time. I was impressed by the range of experiences that Monro was able to find and document; there is no heterosexual bias in the book and Monro goes out of her way to include experiences by disabled people as well as those who were coerced or even raped in situations of domestic violence. Although not all of these experiences made for happy reading, the book was strengthened by the diversity of the interviewees and it meant that it could offer a more panoramic portrait of what virginity loss is like.
On the whole, the social commentary was informative but it was nothing ground-breaking, and this made it the weaker element of the book. In particular, the chapter on women was full of information that anyone who has even a most basic knowledge of feminism would be familiar with. It was interesting to see how women's attitudes towards virginity had changed over time as their roles in society changed, but the commentary itself was nothing new. On the other hand, the chapter about asexuality was much more interesting, as this isn't something that is widely discussed in society. We have a tendency to think anyone who doesn't have sexual urges is very strange, so it was good to see Monro exposing and challenging that mindset. I also liked that Monro adopted a very open definition of virginity loss, acknowledging that it means different things to different people.
On the whole, The First Time is well worth reading for the interviews alone, as the commentary is a bit hit and miss. Anyone particularly interested in social history or gender issues will surely get a lot from this book.(less)
Hannah Payne lives in a dystopian version of America where conservative Christians are in control and criminals serve their sentences out in public, m...moreHannah Payne lives in a dystopian version of America where conservative Christians are in control and criminals serve their sentences out in public, melachromed for easy identification. Hannah has commited the crime of having an abortion (classified as murder) and for that, every inch of her skin has been dyed bright red. Having spend some time on the Chrome Ward as part of a sinister reality TV programme, Hannah must now try to adapt to life as an outcast, subject to prejudice and abuse. Her every movement can be tracked and she soon becomes a target for the Fist, a radical group that hunts out and punishes chromes. With her family turning away from her, can Hannah adjust to her new life?
When She Woke is a modern retelling of the classic The Scarlett Letter. Unfortunately, I've not read the latter so I can't judge how faithful to the original it was. Hannah does refuse to name the father of her unborn child but this isn't as integral to the plot as I had imagined it to be. When She Woke is more about the dystopia of Jordan's imagined American society than anything else.
It's hard to make a judgement of this book as the first and second halves are remarkably different. The first half is about the society Hannah lives in and the reactions of her friends and family to her having the abortion, whilst the second is more action packed as Hannah struggles to escape the Fist. I liked the first half but found the second implausible and a bit silly. I was most interested in the psychological impact on Hannah - what would it be like to be branded forever as a criminal? The passages where Hannah is free and trying to interact with members of the public were fascinating.
I think some of the impact of this book was dulled by me not being American. I'm British and whilst some people here may feel strongly about abortion, it's not a large issue and definitely not a political one. No one finds out whether our politicians are 'pro-choice' or 'pro-life' and it's rare to see a discussion or debate around abortion. Had I been in America, where I know abortion is more highly charged, abortion equaling murder would have been more powerful. Consequently I wanted to know more about Chromes that were different to Hannah - the blues, yellows and greens. Were they treated differently than she was?
As I mentioned above, the second half of the book was a bit of a let down. Hannah is targeted by a radical group and starts on an action packed journey to escape. I think Jordan is trying to portray Hannah's character growth as she starts to care less what others think of her but this comes across as rushed and unbelievable. There's even the inclusion of a lesbian scene that seems completely out of character for Hannah,given that only a few months earlier she was regurgitating all her evangelical parents' beliefs as facts. I truly hope the author wasn't associating feminism with lesbianism i.e because Hannah becomes a feminist, she must find other women sexually attractive. Hannah would have changed, but not as fast as Jordan made her.
On the whole, the premise of When She Woke was stronger than the execution. I'm still thinking about Chromes almost a week after finishing the book but the plot didn't measure up. A thought provoking read.(less)
Subtitled A History of The First Sexual Revolution, The Origins of Sex promises to explain how the Western world, and England in particular, went from...moreSubtitled A History of The First Sexual Revolution, The Origins of Sex promises to explain how the Western world, and England in particular, went from policing sexual behaviour to a more liberal viewpoint in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drawing on court records, novels, newspapers, art and debate, Dahoiwala argues that the Enlightenment changed sexual behaviour in ways that still impact us today.
Thoughts: I was excited about starting this book as I'm usually a big fan of social history. I was instantly hooked by the descriptions of attitudes towards sex in the 1600s, of men and women hanged and beaten for engaging in adultery or pre-marital sex. The idea of sex as part of public life, policed by the community rather than something private seems so foreign to us now.
Dabhoiwala then goes on to explain how attitudes changed. There are four main arguments made throughout the course of the book; that the breakdown of religious authority led to people being allowed to have contrasting views, that the Enlightenment made society more liberal, that women started to have a public voice for the first time and that mass media publicised sex and made celebrities out of famous mistresses. All these factors meant that sex came to be seen as something private, not something to be policed by the legal system or by members of the community.
I found the arguments convincing and the subject matter fascinating but unfortunately reading this book was a struggle. The same arguments were repeated over and over again, just with the use of different examples. I know Dabhoiwala had completed an impressive amount of research, but I don't think the reader needs to hear about all of it in order to appreciate the arguments. The tone of the writing is also very academic and dry and I don't think I would have finished the book if I hadn't agreed to provide a review for it. It's just a shame as the subject is so interesting but yet the writing makes it less so, by the time I was half way through I was wanting to move on to something else. (less)
It's a non-fiction examination of problems facing women in the developing world and includes issues such as sex trafficking, female genital mutilation...moreIt's a non-fiction examination of problems facing women in the developing world and includes issues such as sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, maternal health and rape. The examination of these topics is enhanced by individual accounts of the women Kristof and Wudunn met and also success stories of organisations working at the front line improving lives for women across the world.
Half The Sky is a shocking book. Even though I knew about most of these issues individually, it was still a shock to read such a comprehensive account of all of them together; when I closed the book I was very grateful to be a British woman living comfortably in the Western world. The statistics on rape were the ones that really got to me - in the Congo over 90% of women past the age of puberty had been raped, often brutally in a way that meant their health was forever ruined. I can't even get my head round that statistic.
Kristof and Wudunn make it clear that lots of these problems are easily overcome, that it's an issue around the way women are perceived around the world. Young girls in families are more likely to be malnourished because what food there is goes to boys. Women given treatment to prevent them passing on HIV to their newborn children often refuse to use the powdered milk because that's 'not how it's done in their village'. Improved maternal health is relatively easy to provide, it's just not a priority because women are not seen as a priority.
But despite all of this, Half The Sky isn't all doom and gloom. There are many stories of women who have overcome terrible situations (one story about a young girl trafficked into being a prostitute and then infected with HIV really got to me) but who have gone on to lead positive lives. As well as this, there are organisational success stories of normal people saying 'enough is enough' and actually doing something to make the situation better.
Interestingly, Kristof and Wudunn seem to be against traditional aid agencies. Whilst recognising that they can do a lot of good, the emphasis is on grassroots organisations and the ways that the West can support without 'going in there to sort it all out'. There are links provided to organisations in the appendix and it's easy for the reader to find ways to support them (I am now offering a microloan through kiva and would recommend it to others).
This kind of book isn't really about the writing but it's clear, accessible and easy to read. I would recommend this to everyone, male and female as it's something that is worth investing time in. These issues aren't just women's issues, they are issues facing humanity as a whole. (less)
Although The Diamond Queen is marketed as a very personal account of the life of Queen Elizabeth II, it isn't really. It's a history of her dynasty (t...moreAlthough The Diamond Queen is marketed as a very personal account of the life of Queen Elizabeth II, it isn't really. It's a history of her dynasty (the Windsors) and her reign. It covers major world events, her relationships with various Prime Ministers and above all seeks to answer the question of whether monarchy is still relevant in twenty-first century Britain and what the Queen's role actually is. Of course there are mentions of various scandals and her private life is covered, but anyone expecting a gossipy account of relationships should look elsewhere.
On the whole, I enjoyed The Diamond Queen. Marr's writing was simple and easy to follow and his arguments were always explained clearly. He has an interesting spin on events and the writing comes across as if he is in the room talking to you, which makes the book lively to read. I liked the structure of the book; where long chapters on the history of various decades were broken up with 'interludes' about a theme that doesn't depend on time, such as money or travel. This prevented the book from being too dense and it never felt like a struggle to pick it up.
I was particularly interested to learn that lots of things I take for granted about the monarchy were only decided by the Queen's Grandfather, and that the role of the monarch has constantly evolved, even in Elizabeth's reign. For example, Elizabeth's mother was the first 'common' (i.e. non Royal) woman permitted to marry into the Royal Family, before that it was all princes and princesses. There was a section at the end of the book where Marr speculates how the role of monarchy will change again when and if Charles becomes King; will he still be the head of state for Canada and Australia?
As in most non-fiction books, some parts were more interesting than others. I was more engaged in the later sections as I have actually lived through these times and was therefore more familiar with the material. Marr admits in the introduction of the book that he is a pro-monarchy so there is no criticism of the Queen to be found here, although he does sometimes criticise the behaviour of other members of the family, providing some balance. On the whole, it's interesting as a history of the times and as an examination of how the role of the monarch has changed in recent years. (less)
City of Sin is an examination of the oldest business in the world: prostitution. From brothels to Roman bath houses to modern day sex scandals and ren...moreCity of Sin is an examination of the oldest business in the world: prostitution. From brothels to Roman bath houses to modern day sex scandals and rent boys, Arnold tells the history of London through the eyes of it's sex workers. And it's a history of 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' with the same characters coming up in different guises throughout history; high class call girls, desperate working-class prostitutes, madams and aristocratic clients.
The book's main strength is that Arnold is a very good writer and each chapter is evocative of the time period it centers on. Arnold is especially good when describing the murky, sinister London of Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd, I almost felt as though I had been transported back in time. More importantly for a book like this, she doesn't judge or defend the people she is writing about - she just relates facts and experiences in an interesting way without being sensationalist. As I originally come from the East End of London myself, I particularly enjoyed the parts about the docks and sailors and working class families of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Another thing I enjoyed was the wide scope of the book - from Ancient Roman through to modern times and not just about prostitution in the traditional sense. There were also interesting sections on homosexuality, organised crime and writers such as Oscar Wilde.
My only criticism of the book is that I felt it was very obviously written by someone who had studied English Literature rather than history. Whilst I like English Lit and did enjoy some of the literary references and quotes, I felt like there were just too many and not enough actual history. Occasionally I did turn a page and think "oh, not another poem!".(less)
The back of this memoir states that it is a book about a relationship between a fifty-one year old man and a seven year old girl. And it's controversi...moreThe back of this memoir states that it is a book about a relationship between a fifty-one year old man and a seven year old girl. And it's controversial because it is about just that, a relationship. A socially unacceptable, manipulative, controlling relationship, but a relationship nonetheless and Fragoso writes about it honestly, resisting the temptation to paint herself sympathetically to appeal to readers.
Margaux is seven when she meets Peter at a swimming pool - she sees him playing a game with two boys and decides that she wants to join in. Over time Margaux and her mentally ill mother come to like and depend upon kind, generous Peter as a way of getting away from Margaux's father, who has good intentions but is at best absent and at worse an alcoholic brother. Gradually Peter makes himself indespensible to Margaux and starts to groom her. When their relationship becomes sexual, Margaux sees it as something she must just put up with in order to get the love and affection she craves. Even when she has a chance to get away from Peter, she can't bring herself to give up the only person in the world that she thinks truly cares for her, despite all of the things she hates doing. She shuts away that part of herself into a new persona and becomes slowly desensitised.
Although a memoir like this, in which conversations are recreated and events described in great detail, can only capture the essence of what happened, Tiger, Tiger felt like it had a lot of truth. I've read some other reviews of it and lots of people are reacting against Margaux for becoming sexually manipulative and not getting away when she had the chance. But for me, this only shows Peter's power as he has manipulated Marguax to the extent where she becomes the instigator and sexual behaviour is completely normalised, something to put up with to get treats. I think it was brave for Fragoso to write it like that and to show ambiguity in all of the people she includes, rather than making it just black and white, good and evil. There is a scene that people object to in particular, where Marguax tries to become sexually manipulative with someone else, but that is how children who are abused often react, and that's usually how the abuse comes to light.
The worst part for me was how lots of the adults knew what was going on, but decided not to know and to look the other way. All they do is spread gossip rather than help. I think that does happen in society - no one wants to think that a child could be getting abused, so people find reasons to think something else. In the afterword, Fragoso writes that she hopes the book will help people to become more aware that paedophiles don't look like monsters and don't act stereotypically, and I hope so too.(less)
The Cellist of Sarajevo is an extraordinary novel about ordinary people caught up in a war they did not want and have no control over. The siege of Sa...moreThe Cellist of Sarajevo is an extraordinary novel about ordinary people caught up in a war they did not want and have no control over. The siege of Sarajevo is the longest running siege in modern history, lasting from April 1992 to February 1996 and killing around ten thousand people. An average of 329 shells hit the city every day and snipers in the surrounding hills targeted civilians, making everyday tasks like a game of Russian Roulette. When the difference between life and death becomes totally random and out of your control and the person walking next to you can be shot down whilst you survive, life becomes unimaginable.
The Cellist of Sarajevo follows three characters. Dragan has managed to get his wife and son to safety but was unable to leave the city he loves himself. Kenan must make several dangerous journeys to find fresh water for his family. And Arrow has joined forces with the counter-snipers, trying to defend her city. All of them are struggling to come to terms with what happens when civilisation as you know it melts away.
Despite all of this, it is not a novel of despair. There are moments of humanity and hope amidst all of the destruction, such as people coming under sniper attacks themselves in order to save strangers. All three of the main characters struggle with how much humanity and civilisation they are going to allow the snipers to take away from them, and for one of them the simple act of walking with your head held high and greeting passers-by becomes an act of defiance;
"He will behave now as he hopes everyone will someday behave. Because civilisation isn't a thing that you build and then there it is, you have it forever. It needs to be built constantly, recreated daily. It vanishes far more quickly than he ever would have thought possible." p216
The most powerful part of the book for me was how random death had become for the inhabitants of Sarajevo. At one point Dragan is waiting to cross an intersection and he witnesses some people cross without incident whilst others are gunned down and tries to figure out why some are targeted. But there is no answer and I can't imagine having to come to terms with that.
I was very impressed with Galloway's writing. Considering it is quite a slim book, he didn't need many words to create a powerful impact. The ending was extremely powerful and it's a book that I've carried on thinking about long after I put it down.(less)
The subtitle of this book is 'A Crash Course in Current Affairs', and it pretty much does what it says on the tin. It's divided into chapters arranged...moreThe subtitle of this book is 'A Crash Course in Current Affairs', and it pretty much does what it says on the tin. It's divided into chapters arranged alphabetically, each of which is about a different current affairs issue (from topics such as politics, health, the economy, other nations etc). Each chapter is then divided into shorter sub-sections that give you a brief outline of the issue, assuming you have no prior knowledge of the subject whatsoever.
Score: 4 out of 5
I consider myself to be a relatively well-educated person and I both watch and read the news, but whilst reading this book I was amazed at how much I didn't know. I found the history of nations with conflicts particularly interesting, especially the chapters on Sri Lanka, Burma and Georgia. The chapters dealing with economics or finance were less interesting for me personally, but still informative. I would like to say I now fully understand hedge funds, but that would be a lie!
The best thing about this book is that it gave you lots of information at a beginners level and beyond without being at all patronising. The writing style was simple and straight-forward and the information chunked into short memorable sections. There is also the odd touch of humor to keep things light and away from the academic zone. There could always be arguments about what is kept in and what is omitted, but as an introduction or a refresher in current affairs, I don't think it could be beaten.
The major downfall is that this is the kind of book that will date extremely quickly. Already reading it in 2010 rather than when it was published in 2009 there was some out of date information: Gordon Brown is no longer Prime Minister, and the last UK coalition goverment wasn't in 1945 anymore! The whole book is written from a UK perspective, but I found there to be a good balance between domestic and foreign issues.
Overall, it was easy to read, informative and a good refresher course in what is going on in the world. Recommended.(less)