Telling this story from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy really gives Foer a lot of freedom to explore the types of "off-the-wall" thoughts a lot o...moreTelling this story from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy really gives Foer a lot of freedom to explore the types of "off-the-wall" thoughts a lot of us (I think) have when trying to make sense of tragedy. As grown-ups, I think we censor our thoughts or tend to try to reason our way out of grief. Oskar doesn't try to reason his way out of his grief. He just tries to arrange his world so it makes some sort of sense after something far beyond understanding happens. It's not surprising that this way of organizing his world looks strange to those not inside his grief.
Layered in with Oskar's story is the story of his grandparents and their response to the fire-bombing of Dresden when they were teenagers. There's a comment here about the long-term ramifications of not finding a way to deal with one's grief or perhaps simply about the length of time it can take to find a way to live with grief and with a reality that is incongruous with what we think we know about the world.
I stayed up late and finished this book in one day (and night), something I haven't done since I became a mother because in most circumstances, sleep has been more important than finishing a story. I'm going to try to read books that are less engaging for the next couple of months so I can catch up on my shut-eye.(less)
As usual when I read the book/story that defined a genre, while reading In Cold Blood I had to fight the sense of, "oh, this has been done before." Be...moreAs usual when I read the book/story that defined a genre, while reading In Cold Blood I had to fight the sense of, "oh, this has been done before." Because the amazing thing about this book is that, in fact, it had not been done before.
I enjoyed this book on three counts. First, I enjoyed the experience of reading the "first of its kind." Second, I enjoyed the effect of the storytelling, which drew me into the characters' lives, including Perry Smith's and Dick Hickok's, which was rather disconcerting. And third, I enjoyed trying to determine which pieces of the story Capote got from what source (interviews, evidence, courtroom testimony, personal correspondence, etc).
Another reviewer mentioned that the author's presence was heavy in the story. I didn't experience this. On the contrary, I was impressed at how well Capote stayed out of the story (he did refer to himself once towards the very end of the book). He did describe the scenes in a rather personal way, I suppose, making comparisons to aid his descriptions of towns, people, buildings. This I could see someone interpreting as Capote being too present, but I think this is to be expected from any piece of journalism (objectivity can only take a story so far).
Overall, I found this book to be a powerful read that I couldn't put down. I know there are images in this book that will remain with me for a long time.(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.
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)
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)
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)
My kids and I read this book as part of our history unit about ancient China. We almost didn't get to it before it was due back at the library, but I...moreMy kids and I read this book as part of our history unit about ancient China. We almost didn't get to it before it was due back at the library, but I snuck in a little reading after breakfast.
My children loved this story. The illustrations are gorgeous and the story is a classic one along the lines of Baucis and Philemon about the rewards that come when we're generous. My children were enchanted by the idea of a man riding on the back of a crane in flight and painting a picture that came alive when people danced and clapped. It also gave us a chance to have a discussion about the reasons for and against being generous.
I do have some reservations, though, about these tales that always connect tangible rewards with generosity. (The only story of generosity I've read that doesn't connect kindness with rewards is "Uncle Ry and the Moon," a Zen Buddhist tale retold by Jon Muth in his Zen Shorts.) In Lord of the Cranes, the innkeeper didn't feed the beggar because he was expecting a reward, but the tale wouldn't have been quite as interesting if the beggar just took the food and the innkeeper's life just kept on as it was (or if, at the end of the month, the innkeeper discovered that, because he'd given away so many free meals, he couldn't pay all of his bills and he lost his business and ended up a beggar himself). Because he got a reward for his kindness, I worry that children may end up with the idea that they should get something in return for being generous. Rather than feeling fulfilled and happy when they share their money or their time or their possessions, will they feel cheated if reality doesn't match all of the stories they've been told?
How do we teach children to be generous even if there's no reward attached to it for us? Oh, wait...I guess that's my job as their mother to lead by example. I'd probably better get working on that.(less)
When I read this in elementary school, I found it very boring. But then, what could a child addicted to television find appealing about "playing Pilgr...moreWhen I read this in elementary school, I found it very boring. But then, what could a child addicted to television find appealing about "playing Pilgrims"? As a grown-up homeschooling mom, I found the book delightful. I read this just after reading almost all of Jane Austen's novels and the contrast was quite refreshing. The March girls are just the kinds of heroines I want my daughter to emulate. They are real characters with real faults that they are able to overcome through sincere effort. They are brave and daring young women who are not saved by marriage, nor is making a financially advantageous match their first goal when choosing a mate. Marriage in this book is just what I hope I'm modeling for my children: a partnership based on mutual love and respect, and held together through loving compromise rather than sacrifice by one party or the other.
This book was also particularly interesting after having learned more about the intellectual and spiritual culture of New England during the second half of the 19th century.(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)
The fact is, this book is about being trapped by history. Or herstory. Yourstory and mystory. It's a mystery, myst...moreThe fact is, this book makes me cry.
The fact is, this book is about being trapped by history. Or herstory. Yourstory and mystory. It's a mystery, mystory.
The fact is, it's brilliant (and infectious) the way Ali Smith plays with language. Puns, jokes, double entendres.
(The fact is, although I scold myself for the hours I've spent watching the racy and historically irresponsible series The Tudors, I wouldn't have caught the reference to Thomas Tallis had I not watched the show before I read this novel.)
The fact is, the book itself is a history trap. You start where past and present meet, move through the story, and circle back again.
The fact is, the characters in the story are trapped because they can't let the past stay behind them, nor can they let the past and the present coexist. The past keeps intruding, unbidden, catching them by surprise because they refuse to see it. They can't move forward because they keep circling back.
The fact is, one man finds a way out by shutting himself in until he's traveled far enough in his little room that he's ready to circle back and look his past in the eye.
The fact is, once a person can look the past in the eye and accept that it's all the same---past, present, future, all beneath our feet in this moment---once a person can do that, she is free.
Or at least that's what I took away from this book. That and comfort with a few more vocabulary words.(less)
Both The Kite Runner and this book are absolutely beautiful books. Hosseini paints this lush and vivid picture of the beauty of Afghanistan and then c...moreBoth The Kite Runner and this book are absolutely beautiful books. Hosseini paints this lush and vivid picture of the beauty of Afghanistan and then contrasts this image with the violence and brutality of the past several decades there. I normally picture that entire region of the world as arid and empty, the landscape itself hostile and unwelcoming.
Hosseini shows us the beauty of the region, helps us love the area just as his characters love it, so that our hearts break along with theirs when their land becomes unrecognizable to them.
This is an emotionally difficult book. It starts out bleak, and just when I thought things couldn't get any worse for the characters, they get worse, and worse again. But through all of the deceit and oppression and fear, the characters still are able to carve some semblance of a happy life, like a lone flower forcing its way up through a crack in pavement. They show what it's like to choose dignity in the face of those whose aim is to defile.
I sat on my comfy sofa under my electric lamp with a snack, a cat, and a glass of wine beside me, the rest of my family snuggled warm in their beds while I read these scenes of desolation, deprivation, and violence. I had an urge to get rid of most all of my possessions and to take better care of those that were left. I wanted to clean the kitchen and hug my children. I felt acutely the privilege with which I've grown up as a member of the American middle class. I felt gratitude tinged with shame.
This was a thoroughly satisfying read for me. The scenes of this book I'm certain will continue playing out in my mind for a long time to come.(less)