The Snowberger family owns and operates a funeral home in Snapfinger, Mississippi. The three children—named Tidings, Comfort and Merry (the last presu...moreThe Snowberger family owns and operates a funeral home in Snapfinger, Mississippi. The three children—named Tidings, Comfort and Merry (the last presumably because the mom’s name is already Joy) have grown up around death, and they understand it in a healthy and respectful kind of way.
Toddler Merry naps in an empty casket while her parents work and has a little bit of trouble distinguishing between people who are sleeping and those who are actually dead. Thirteen year old Tidings (who must be based on the same person in Deborah Wiles' life that inspired Uncle Otts in her later book "Countdown.")keeps the grounds shipshape and directs parking for large funerals.
And because the kids attend every funeral hosted by the business, 10-year-old Comfort has been to 247 of them. She also submits hilarious obituaries to the local newspaper, “Life Notices by Comfort Snowberger: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter."
This is a difficult time in Comfort's life as she deals with the deaths of beloved older family members as well as a bad break-up with her best friend, and she has been put in charge of her annoying, whining, nervous little cousin Peach. And nothing in her experience, where death is just a usual part of life, prepares her for true loss. I can’t remember the last time I cried so hard at the end of a book. The story is beautifully warm, funny, honest, heartbreaking, and heartening. It’s probably my favorite book this year.
There is no way that any compassionate and responsible person could read this book and not want to begin taking steps to end his or her contributions...moreThere is no way that any compassionate and responsible person could read this book and not want to begin taking steps to end his or her contributions to factory farming.
Jonathan Safron Foer is not an animal rights activist and that’s not what this book is about. At the same time, it is not another Omnivore’s Dilemma, either. Eating Animals is a much more honest analysis of factory farming and it is also far more honest about the solutions. (In fact, it’s fair to say that this book makes Pollan look rather ridiculous with his boar hunting and elitist Slow Food movement.) Eating Animals is a powerful indictment against factory farming. And it shows that solutions are fewer and more complicated than what Pollan and others would have us believe.
Foer is a gifted writer and story teller. His multigenerational family and his Jewish culture both figure prominently in his perspective on the issues about which he writes. This gives his book extraordinary appeal. It is highly readable and entertaining. It’s pretty wonderful that, while he is writing about a most serious and heartbreaking subject, he’s not afraid to tell a few stories that make us smile (like those about his grandmother.) And he’s funny, too (as in his account of breaking into a farm in the middle of the night: “I am accompanied tonight by an animal activist, “C.” It wasn’t until I picked her up that I realized I’d been picturing someone who inspired confidence. C is short and wispy. She wears aviator glasses, flip-flops, and a retainer.”)
While Foer chooses vegetarianism, he also speaks to our moral obligation to the 27 million animals who are slaughtered every day in the United States while a mere 1 percent of the population chooses ethical veganism. That those animals suffer horribly in life and at the time of death is absolutely undeniable. And anything that can be done to lessen their suffering matters. But while he supports the idea of more humane types of farming, Foer is very clear about the fact that “humanely-produced” animal food isn’t a readily available solution. “We shouldn’t kid ourselves about the number of ethical eating options available to most of us,” he says. “Any ethical-meat advocate who is serious is going to be eating a lot of vegetarian meals.”
And while Foer is moved and impressed by the few (very, very few) farmers who are trying to give animals a decent life, he remains resolutely vegetarian. There is the whole issue of raising animals just to kill them, of course. From his perspective, though the more important concern is that totally humane treatment of animals on even the very best farms is not guaranteed and, in fact, not at all likely. The farmers admit it, too, particularly in regard to slaughter. In the end, so-called humanely-produced animal foods are seen as choices that are at least much better than factory farmed foods for those who will refuse to go vegetarian. It’s a compromise, though, and Foer never pretends otherwise.
One of the most wonderful aspects of this book is that he doesn’t shy away from including the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy in his own circle of compassion. He makes an emphatic case against eating fish. There are environmental reasons for this (trawling for shrimp is described as “the marine equivalent of clear-cutting rain forest”) as well as the fact that fish are social and sentient creatures. They “build complex nests, form monogamous relationships, hunt cooperatively with other species, and use tools.” And the ways in which they are killed—both on fish farms and in the wild—are horrific. “No fish gets a good death. Not a single one. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did.”
It’s disappointing that he isn’t vegan, especially when he has suggested that giving up eggs is the most important dietary change a person can make from an ethical standpoint. He describes himself (not in the book, but in recent interviews) as somewhere between vegetarian and vegan, not consuming dairy and eggs in visible forms, but still occasionally eating them as ingredients in foods. It seems unlikely that Foer has reached the end of his own ethical dietary journey, though. And since he is writing for a very mainstream audience, it is actually kind of good that he can say that, yes, he is struggling with these changes, too. And he does a great job of balancing different perspectives about what it means to eat ethically, including non-vegetarian perspectives. Even when I didn’t agree with those he interviewed, I felt it was important to hear what they had to say.
Although the very facts about factory farming will challenge anyone’s conscience, Foer doesn’t preach and he hardly even suggests. But while he insists in the book that it is just about his journey and decisions, he has admitted in interviews that, of course, there is an agenda here. He wants his readers to look at their own choices and what they mean.
“Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?”
Daniel Brown is a fantastic storyteller, and--no doubt about it--the saga of the Donner Party is a fantastic story. Even for Donner Party nerds like m...moreDaniel Brown is a fantastic storyteller, and--no doubt about it--the saga of the Donner Party is a fantastic story. Even for Donner Party nerds like me who already know most of the details, this book was a page turner. I loved it.
My only (very, very tiny) complaint is that it would have benefitted from a map showing the route the immigrants took, along with the infamous Hastings Cutoff, and the sites of the various camps in the mountains.
Since I also loved Brown's earlier book Under a Flaming Sky, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next! (less)
Frank Tuoti describes contemplation as “the infused loving knowledge of God," which he says is passively received, not induced by any spiritual practi...moreFrank Tuoti describes contemplation as “the infused loving knowledge of God," which he says is passively received, not induced by any spiritual practice.
He writes from a Catholic perspective but looks to other religions, particularly Buddhism, for insight and direction. Tuoti notes that people of deep spirituality are able to transcend foundational teachings and precepts (without surrendering them) in order to communicate with others of different spiritual paths. Therefore, he says, it must be the mystics who speak for Christianity if there is to be any fruitful dialog among people of different religions.
Throughout the book, he emphasizes that contemplation is not about achieving “inner peace.” Rather, the result of true mysticism is compassion and service. The author quotes Thomas Merton on the subject of “bourgeois spirituality,” described as an “evasion of responsibility in order to enjoy interior comfort.”
With lots of quotes from among the Who’s Who of Christian contemplatives down through the ages, this is an easy and inspiring read. (less)
Julian of Norwich was a 14th century anchoress and mystic, and it's believed that she was the first woman to write in the English language. Her theolo...moreJulian of Norwich was a 14th century anchoress and mystic, and it's believed that she was the first woman to write in the English language. Her theology—-which focused on love and compassion—-was somewhat revolutionary, including the fact that she perceived a feminine God. This book is a very accessible translation of her famous work and it would be difficult to rate St Julian as anything less than "amazing."
A riveting account of the sinking of the Titanic. It doesn't matter that you know how the story ends--the book is a page turner! The author, Walter Lo...moreA riveting account of the sinking of the Titanic. It doesn't matter that you know how the story ends--the book is a page turner! The author, Walter Lord, was a wonderful writer and a class act—he tells this story very well and with great compassion and fairness. In Lord’s Wikipedia entry, historian David McCullough says that he was “one of the most generous and kindhearted men” he had ever known, and that does somehow come across in Lord’s writing.
There is great detail here. Lord researched his book painstakingly and interviewed more than 60 survivors. Even the list of passengers at the end of the book makes for great reading; it is still heartbreaking to see how many third class passengers—including entire families—died compared to those other passengers whose lives were considered more valuable. (less)
I think I would love almost any book about the Donner Party; it is such an amazing tale!! This just happens to be a book I found at a library book sal...moreI think I would love almost any book about the Donner Party; it is such an amazing tale!! This just happens to be a book I found at a library book sale for 50 cents. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down. (less)
I picked this book up by accident at the library—-thought it was something else—-and am glad I did!
When an asteroid hits the moon and knocks it into...moreI picked this book up by accident at the library—-thought it was something else—-and am glad I did!
When an asteroid hits the moon and knocks it into an orbit that is closer to earth, the moon's gravitational forces wreak havoc on earth, causing devastating natural disasters. The protagonist, 16-year-old Miranda, lives in Pennsylvania. She is not close to the sites of the disasters, but her family feels the effects through food shortages and loss of electricity, heat, and communication. The story is told through Miranda's journal entries and it is a page turner. I had to use great restraint to keep from peeking at the end of the book. This is a young adult book, and is a great book for both teens and adults. It touches on important questions about sacrifice, family bonds, and whether there is room for altruism when survival becomes a day to day struggle(less)
Most people think of *Good Night Moon* when they hear the name Margaret Wise Brown. I think of *When the Wind Blew*. It's her best book--a charming an...moreMost people think of *Good Night Moon* when they hear the name Margaret Wise Brown. I think of *When the Wind Blew*. It's her best book--a charming and sweet tale that will win the heart of any devoted cat mom. Sadly, it is out of print and hard-to-find. (less)
One of Dr Seuss's earliest books, and for me, his all-time best. I adore Horton! His determined goodness and those wonderful expressions on his dear f...moreOne of Dr Seuss's earliest books, and for me, his all-time best. I adore Horton! His determined goodness and those wonderful expressions on his dear face. I still read this several times a year and never fail to be pleased that things work out well for Horton in the end. And clearly Dr Seuss was ahead of his time; as it turns out, research into their lives in the wild reveals that elephants are indeed faithful (one hundred percent).
I still get the giggles remembering certain passages from this book. Betty MacDonald is better known for her memoir of life on a chicken farm—-The Egg...moreI still get the giggles remembering certain passages from this book. Betty MacDonald is better known for her memoir of life on a chicken farm—-The Egg and I--on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. The Plague and I chronicles her experience as a patient in a tuberculosis sanitarium in the late 1930s. That doesn't sound very amusing, but it is indeed a very funny book and a fascinating peek into how TB was treated at that time. This is on my list of all-time favorite books. (less)