I'm really surprised I didn't read this book as a child. I was totally into the "kids living on their own" theme when I was in junior high. I actually...moreI'm really surprised I didn't read this book as a child. I was totally into the "kids living on their own" theme when I was in junior high. I actually wrote a book in eighth grade about a girl named Kia who escapes from her large family into a secret room in her house and then gets scurvy.
Okay, so maybe my book wasn't exactly like this one, which is about a girl who escapes an arranged marriage by heading out onto the tundra and living on her own (with the help of a pack of wolves). But the themes of escape and self-sufficiency are in both. Well, except that my heroine wasn't exactly self-sufficient.
Fine, my book wasn't at all like this one, but I still think I would have liked Julie of the Wolves had I read it as a kid. My eight-year-old sure loves it, but I think she loves it more for the communicating-with-animals part (the same reason she loves Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series).
I guess I'm not sure if it would really be so easy in real life to win the trust of a wolf pack, but then I've not tried. It didn't seem so far-fetched to me that it detracted from the story, though. It was all a part of Julie/Miyax's set-apartness. I loved how everything that others saw as backward and a result of poor decision-making, Julie saw as wonderful. She was almost magical in her specialness and her self-confidence. Naturally, she chafed in the life of the city, even as she tried so hard to belong there. But then, I think Jean Craighead George painted a scene in which Eskimo culture itself was chafing in the life of the city where the compromises of the old ways proved too much to maintain a sense of self.
This story left me feeling nostalgic for the time when magical things seemed possible to me, before grown-up pragmatism and self-consciousness boxed in and tamed that sense of possibility.
Will Julie's magic make it through her adolescence, or will she be forced to compromise it? I'm almost too afraid to read the next books to find out.(less)
The way it's structured reminds me a bit of Iain Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost, but People of the Book is les...moreHoly cow. This book is incredible.
The way it's structured reminds me a bit of Iain Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost, but People of the Book is less conspicuously a mystery (and, for me at least, more satisfying even though I enjoyed Fingerpost).
The story follows the investigations of a book conservator into the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish religious text that's survived 500 years of war, pogrom, and book burnings including the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and the Bosnian period of "ethnic cleansing." Chapters on the conservator's discoveries in the present are interspersed with chapters tracing back the origins of each clue to a different time period and set of characters for whom the haggadah was meaningful.
Brooks drew me along on this tale from the first page. Her characters are multi-faceted and feel like real people with all of our strengths and weaknesses all rolled up together. I loved the delightful feeling of disorientation I got at the beginning of each of the historical sections, which dissolved into clarity as the light Brooks shined on the setting expanded to illuminate the time and location distinctly. This book also helped me to understand better the appeal that old books---and even just library books, which pass from hand to hand---hold for me. It left me wanting to be a book conservator. Maybe in my next life.
When I closed the book this afternoon, I felt a desire to turn it back over and read it again from the beginning immediately. I won't do that, though, because I've got four other books to read that are due back at the library in two weeks. I love this one, but it will be a while before I allow myself the luxury of re-reading it.
With NaNoWriMo coming up, I'm hopeful that such incredible writing will rub off on me and make my own efforts better than they otherwise would be. A woman can hope.
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn that I've read Geraldine Brooks before. Her Nine Parts of Desire was a text in my "Women in Religion" class in college. I don't remember the book, though, which I find somewhat disappointing, but there was a lot of reading for that class. The details of my college reading are largely lost to me now. *sigh*
A quote from People of the Book:
"It was the cold hour, just before sunrise. I stared at the flames, thinking of blackening parchments in a medieval auto-da-fé; of youthful Nazi faces, lit by bonfires of burning books; of the shelled and gutted ruin, just a few blocks away, of Sarajevo's library. Book burnings. Always the forerunners. Heralds of the stake, the ovens, the mass graves."(less)
I read this aloud to my children (ages 3 and 7) as an addendum to the older one's history lesson for the week. It was recommended in the workbook that...moreI read this aloud to my children (ages 3 and 7) as an addendum to the older one's history lesson for the week. It was recommended in the workbook that accompanies volume 2 of Susan Wise Bauer's The Story of the World, and I'm very glad we picked it up. Both of my kids enjoyed it, and so did I. The drawings are enjoyable and precise, and the text isn't overly wordy. I liked that Macaulay emphasized the participation of three generations of the community in building the cathedral; it helped to put into perspective just how large a project this was.
And I finally learned what exactly a flying buttress is. Maybe I'll recognize them if I ever see a cathedral in person.(less)
I thought I'd read this in college, but if I did, I retained none of it. Maybe I just needed to wait for the right time to read it. I read this book r...moreI thought I'd read this in college, but if I did, I retained none of it. Maybe I just needed to wait for the right time to read it. I read this book right after I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and the combination was just what I needed to get me to start writing again (other than reviews on Goodreads, comments on Facebook, and nightly journal entries). I found it so encouraging to read about the writing habits and motivations of other writers. When I took up my notebook to start writing last night after the baby was asleep, I was able to recognize the jitters for what they were and not let them stop me from putting pen to paper.(less)
I tend to prefer books with words in them (and so do my kids), but this one really captured our imagination. My 2yo, especially, loves the flying frog...moreI tend to prefer books with words in them (and so do my kids), but this one really captured our imagination. My 2yo, especially, loves the flying frogs. He likes guessing their emotional state from their facial expressions.(less)
Jacqueline Kramer gives information about her personal journey through pregnancy and motherhood from a Buddhist perspective, and guidance for all moms...moreJacqueline Kramer gives information about her personal journey through pregnancy and motherhood from a Buddhist perspective, and guidance for all moms hoping to realize the spiritual potential of motherhood. I found the suggestions realistic, and I could really relate to the situations she described. It helped me take another step towards fully embracing and enjoying the "mom" role that I've chosen to make central in my life.
For anyone who reads this book and wants more, visit Jacqueline's website -- www.hearthfoundation.net -- for information about her free online classes.(less)
Wow. I admit that I was tepid about this book much of the way through it. Still I read on, gripped by the story in spite of myself. The ending, howeve...moreWow. I admit that I was tepid about this book much of the way through it. Still I read on, gripped by the story in spite of myself. The ending, however, was phenomenal, and after reading it, I felt all the pieces I thought hadn't fit together well throughout the book just kind of slide into place.
I particularly like the idea that there is an invisible barrier between the awful thoughts we might have and our actions, and that the most terrifying thought is the reality that there truly is no barrier. I remember having a feeling like this when I first got my drivers license and I realized that there was really nothing keeping me from driving off the road. Around the same teenage time, I remember sitting in a quiet class and thinking there was nothing keeping me from just screaming. I never drove off the road and I never screamed in class, and until reading this book, I never thought of why exactly it was I hadn't.(less)
Beautiful illustrations alongside a touching yet kid-friendly retelling of Siddhartha's life and teachings. I love that this book included the Eight-f...moreBeautiful illustrations alongside a touching yet kid-friendly retelling of Siddhartha's life and teachings. I love that this book included the Eight-fold Path. I read this curled up on my daughter's bed with my two-year-old falling asleep in my arms and the winter sun peeking in through the windows, which may also have influenced my impression of this book.(less)
Back when I was a doula, I had this thought that working with women through the birthing process must be similar to working in hospice with people who...moreBack when I was a doula, I had this thought that working with women through the birthing process must be similar to working in hospice with people who were dying. I didn't share this thought with many people. In general, I would try not to mention death to pregnant women, and I worried that anyone not involved in doula work might think I was just weird. But to me---next to being born, which for most of us is stored only in our implicit memory and therefore inaccessible with our conscious methods of "remembering"---giving birth was the closest one could get to the process of dying without actually dying. I kept this notion largely to myself and quietly kept my eyes out for people who'd worked with both laboring women and dying people to either confirm or disprove this idea, all the while wondering if I dared try doula-ing to the dying and finding out for myself.
And then I started this book and read in the third chapter:
"As nurses who care for the dying, we see ourselves as the counterparts of birthing coaches or midwives, who assist in bringing life from the womb into the world. At the other end of life, we help to ease the transition from life through death to whatever exists beyond."
The authors go on to draw parallels between the medicalization of birth and the medicalization of death, in which both natural processes were moved out of the sphere of home and family and into the closed-off corridors of medical facilities. Birth and death became events cloaked in secrecy and silence rather than transitions to be experienced surrounded by those who love us. Thankfully, this trend seems to be shifting.
Mostly the book is made up of brief accounts of the last moments of dozens of individuals. I read these with the emotion and enthusiasm with which I used to read birth stories in the days before I'd ever attended a birth or given birth myself. I read them hungrily, with the sense that there is a hidden truth in them and that I need only see these stories from the proper angle for this truth to be revealed.
The authors point out the similarities between different stories, and encourage the reader to find significance in these similarities. They give suggestions for maintaining the awareness and open-mindedness necessary to receive the often cryptic or confusing messages that dying people sometimes try to convey. They encourage the reader to remember that the dying person is still a person---an individual going through a momentous transition and experiencing a wide range of emotions and sensations that we can only guess at. The authors encourage compassion and connection, and they talk with reverence about the honor of being a part of these families' lives, if only for a short time.
This is all so very similar to how I feel about being with a woman in labor. Probably in part because it was so familiar, the insights from these stories helped ease some of my fears about my own inevitable death. They helped me to see the beauty in the transition and the many gifts that the dying have to offer us, and it reminded me that emotional pain isn't always bad, isn't always something to avoid. The message I got from this book is that there is tremendous power and grace in opening ourselves to the emotional pain that accompanies death. It is a beautiful, powerful book, and I would recommend it to everyone. (My only caveat: I would caution against reading it sitting in the back of the library story room while your children are in Story Time. People seem to feel a little uncomfortable when a woman is choking back sobs while children sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes".)(less)
Here's what I don't understand: why was Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma all over the place but I never even heard of this one until I accident...moreHere's what I don't understand: why was Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma all over the place but I never even heard of this one until I accidentally saw it in the cookbook section of my library? It could be because I don't keep up with The New Yorker's book reviews, because they apparently loved it. But there was a period of time when I couldn't turn on the radio without hearing Michael Pollan's voice, and yet Eating Animals didn't even show up on my radar.
Maybe it's because Pollan's message is more palatable. He tells us that it's okay to eat meat as long as we make ethical choices around how we eat it. Safran Foer offers no such comfort.
For seven years, I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian who occasionally ate fish. I began to eat poultry when I became pregnant with my daughter and found my bread-and-cheese diet insufficient to meet my nutritional needs. Several months after I gave birth, I was about to go back to a vegetarian diet when I discovered that my daughter and I both had food sensitivities that ruled out so many foods in our diet that I couldn't bring myself to eliminate meat as well. At that time, I ate only poultry, fish, and vegetables, but when I became pregnant with my son, my cravings for red meat became overwhelming, and I began eating beef as well.
When purchasing meat, I always tried to buy from ethical, non-factory sources. I bought local grass-fed beef, local pastured pork, and local eggs from "galavanting chickens," as the labels on the egg cartons said. I knew the farmers personally, picking up pork and beef from the farmer and his family when the meat CSA shares came in, and passing the time with the poultry farmer when she dropped off eggs every week for me to sell from my porch. I got my Thanksgiving turkeys from my egg supplier, which brought awareness to the difficulties of finding slaughterhouses for small farmers. I carried a Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch card in my wallet to help me make sustainable seafood choices.
But when preferred sources weren't available---like when the farmer's heirloom turkeys were all preemptively slaughtered by raccoons a few weeks before Thanksgiving---rather than go without meat, I would buy from the most ethical source available, even if that source wasn't ethical at all (i.e., was a factory farm). After we moved cross-country, I was unable to find small, local farmers to supply our meat, so I just bought it from the grocery store (Whole Foods, mostly, but a national chain grocery store nonetheless).
I was already swinging back towards a more vegetarian diet before I read Safran Foer's book (the result of talking with an ethical-vegan friend while engaged in an eight-week meditation program which had reawakened my desire to consume foods from less violent sources), but I think Eating Animals has pushed me over the edge into---*shudder*---veganism.
Safran Foer tackles the ethics of eating animals from many different angles. He points out the environmental costs (e.g., polluted water sources) and human health costs (e.g., antibiotic resistance) of factory farming, along with the workers' rights violations endemic in the industry, its calculated contribution to the demise of the family farm, and, of course, the extreme and widespread animal cruelty.
I admit: sometimes he almost pushed me too far on the animal cruelty side of things. There's a point at which I'm reading yet another account of cruelty---cattle hung by their back legs and skinned while still conscious, male chicks of egg-laying hens being funneled into what is essentially a wood chipper because they are unnecessary byproducts of the egg-laying process---that I say, "Enough." There is a point at which, instead of becoming too much to ignore, the cruelty becomes too much to pay attention to. I wanted to put the book down and go eat some bacon. And when he drew back the curtain on egg production and commercial fishing techniques, I had a moment of fear as I wondered what on earth I was going to eat.
But luckily this wasn't the whole of the book. His starting place is with facts, but he argues that the decision of what to eat is one based in relationships, culture, and compassion. This resonates with me because it's not denial of the facts that keeps me from eating a plant-based diet, it's fear of alienation from the people I care about. Safran Foer spoke to the social discomforts of choosing to eat differently than the mainstream. The section on what to have for Thanksgiving dinner was particularly poignant to me, as Thanksgiving was a sticking point for me every one of my seven years of vegetarianism. Saying, "no, thanks," to a serving of turkey was saying, "no, thanks," to a shared experience, a tradition of culture and family that draws loved ones together. To refuse to take part is to refuse to be a part. Safran Foer offers a different take on this, suggesting that hosting a vegetarian Thanksgiving can be the opener for discussions about compassion and can actually help us to be even more aware of the purpose of the holiday. I found this comforting until I imagined telling my kids we wouldn't be having turkey for Thanksgiving. They're not that old (only seven and three), but that tradition is already ingrained in them. A vegetarian Thanksgiving wouldn't be popular with them, but it wouldn't fly at all with most of our other relatives (but then, we've not shared a Thanksgiving with our extended family for eons, so this probably won't be a very big problem).
Safran Foer recognizes the discomfort of talking about one's food choices at the same time that he asserts the importance of doing just that. In the midst of reading this book, some friends offered me spring rolls with shrimp in them. All I could think was "26 pounds of by-catch for every one pound of shrimp," a stat that had shocked me from the book. I asked myself two questions: do I eat the shrimp? and, if not, do I tell them why I won't? I couldn't bring myself to eat the shrimp, but neither could I bring myself to say the reason out loud. "No thank you," I said. "I ate before I left my house."
The personal reflections Safran Foer offers hit much closer to home than those in most of the books on American food production that I've read (The Omnivore's Dilemma and Fast Food Nation are the titles that are most prominent in my memory). The only other book that struck me so personally was Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is where I first learned that commercial turkeys are unable to reproduce without human assistance. The similarity between these two books is that they were both written by novelists, people who make a living conveying and eliciting emotion via the written word. It's not surprising that their books had this effect on me, but it was still rather delightful anyway. I felt understood, which is always nice when standing on the brink of a socially awkward lifestyle change.
So, now that Safran Foer has practically guaranteed that my father-in-law is going to make fun of me next time we eat together and raised the thorny issue of what to do about feeding my own milk-drinking, bacon-loving children, I'm not entirely sure where to go from here. I never wanted to be vegan because the majority of my experience with vegans was with the shrill, all-or-nothing ideology of the PETA-vegans on my college campus. I did not want to associate myself with that level of fanaticism, nor did I want to make every social outing that involved food into a rant about animal cruelty. I have enough trouble with social interactions as it is. But, as Safran Foer writes, now that I know, I don't think I can go back to the way I ate before without some heroic act of self-deception.
Safran Foer recognizes in his book the strong emotions surrounding food choices and the defensiveness with which people respond when confronted with someone who chooses to eat differently than they do, but he stops short of telling us how to bridge the gap and maintain connection from our perch atop the moral high ground. With any luck, he'll write a follow-up book that focuses only on how to be an ethical vegan and still nurture one's relationships.
In the meantime, I'll keep eating before I leave my house.
Holy schmoley! I forgot how wonderful this book is!
My kindergarten teacher gave me a hardcover version when my family moved away, and while I remembe...moreHoly schmoley! I forgot how wonderful this book is!
My kindergarten teacher gave me a hardcover version when my family moved away, and while I remember reading it, I also remember having a really tough time with the dialect and the Indian words and phrases. And, of course, the significance of Mary being born in India of British parents didn't hit me at all at age seven. Mostly I just remembered that Mary was a brat.
Then when my husband, daughter, and I moved away from California again, my friend gave my daughter this illustrated edition. My daughter (now seven herself) read it aloud with her dad before bedtime, and they both loved it so much, I picked up the audiobook (read by Finola Hughes) so we could all enjoy it on long car rides.
The book is delightful by itself, but hearing Finola Hughes' "broad Yorkshire" really helps our Yankee brains to understand the dialect. Inga Moore's illustrations in this edition are beautiful and heighten the whimsy in the story.
I had forgotten how wonderful this book is. I appreciate the subtlety and innocence of the discussion of "Magic." I especially loved the portion of a chapter written from the robin's point of view. It was a little jarring at first because it was so different from the rest of the book, but once I got my bearings, it really added an interesting dimension. I didn't like so much the chapter written from Mr Craven's point of view. It was less colorful and more difficult to follow than the others, although I understand its importance in illustrating how he made such an abrupt transformation from how he seemed at the beginning of the book. Burnett's treatment of culture is respectful and focuses on the universal elements that connect us all, regardless of our heritage. She treats nature almost like another culture, suggesting that an understanding of nature goes hand-in-hand with understanding other people.
As I finished one of the later chapters, I found myself impelled to go out to my own garden and weed. I even braved the creepy spider webs and cleaned out the shed. Alas, the book's effect so far has not been enough to get my kids to go outside and work in the garden with me, but I still have hope. I also hope that, if I do manage to get them outside most of the day, they might be less picky about the "victuals" I set in front of them.(less)