Sedaris is a touch more intimate and revealing here than in his previous collections. And also somewhat more prone to discuss the darker side of humanSedaris is a touch more intimate and revealing here than in his previous collections. And also somewhat more prone to discuss the darker side of humanity. But that's just what makes his writing so endearing....more
What an enjoyable read! I liked how for Huttenen the knowledge found in 'books' is of no use to him: the 4H promotional pamphlets on growing vegetableWhat an enjoyable read! I liked how for Huttenen the knowledge found in 'books' is of no use to him: the 4H promotional pamphlets on growing vegetables don't explain the actual process, the scholarly tomes on mental illness fail to identify his particular malaise, the study-by-post business course -despite his best intentions- is utterly wasted on him out there in the wilderness. And ironically, even though he's not much of a Bible reader, JC still 'speaks' to him. There's always a part of our self that can't/won't accomodate to social conformity, and one readily identifies with anti-heroes like Huttenen. The problem with most stories of this genre is that authors tend to overexaggerate the satire, by making the character suffer to the utmost for his stance against the powers that be. When the worst possible befalls the protagonist, the situations are so extreme or incredible that the reader loses that 'connection' with the anti-hero, and the character is reduced to a pawn in the schematic plot of satirical fiction. In this tale, The Howling Miller's ordeals are kept within the limits of credibility, the misunderstanding and injustices he encounters are ones we can accept as occuring on a daily basis somewhere if not here. The black humor is indeed funny, yet not so painful to read that we cringe. Huttenen's is a credible personality and our emotional identification with him remains intact to the very end. As I was nearing the last of the book's pages I eagerly wanted to find out whether he would howl his last howl or not.......more
Initially I thought Sister of my Heart was going to turn out a disappointment; the first chapter [ http://www.chitradivakaruni.com/books... ] remindedInitially I thought Sister of my Heart was going to turn out a disappointment; the first chapter [ http://www.chitradivakaruni.com/books... ] reminded me of everything I disliked in The Mistress of Spices - the fairy tale references & the saccharine magical realism. What saved it for me is the construct of alternating the chapters between Sudha's & Anju's narratives. Interwoven in the linear account of the story, there develops the silent subplot of what each girl desires to tell the other but is unable to vocalize. This unspoken narrative made the story more immediate and authentic, with the dramatic tension centered on the fluctuating relationship between the two girls, rather than on their individual struggles with social expectations & destiny. ...more
It's a pity that Donald McRae's writing - in this particular book - does not do justice to the subject matter. (He won the "William Hill Sports Book oIt's a pity that Donald McRae's writing - in this particular book - does not do justice to the subject matter. (He won the "William Hill Sports Book of the Year" award twice & taught English literature before switching to journalism.) It was impossible not to be irritated by the mixed metaphors and the transposition of emotional values onto inanimate entities to produce strained phrases, such as: "the veins standing out in purple welts", "the skin on the masochistic back of his body", "the Cross was an area of dark tumult", "he watched me through the filmy flare of smoke", "one reliable totem in the swirling storm of chaos which framed her dark nights out on the streets", "dinner with the gushingly Gish-flushed Greta", "a human dustbin fit only to be dumped on in some kind of raging wasteland", etc. (And for a long-time sports writer, it's unfortunate that he mispells "Evil Kinevil.") But I stuck it to the very end, hoping to find value in this unnecessarily lengthy 440-page book. I do believe that the main 'body' of the facts could have been adequately conveyed in half the space. On the one hand, it's actually quite a relief that there is hardly any 'sociological' commentary. There is an unending stream of feminist tracts for/against prostitution analyzing the finer points of the subject (a few of which actually use this book as reference, eg. Sex, Work, and Sex Work & Consumption and the Management of Identity in Sex Work). What impressed me in this volume is the realization that the subject of prostitution goes beyond issues of gender politics and gender power struggle. In the cases of gay escorts, boxing fists for hire, and teenage rent-boys portrayed in the second half of the book, one realizes that certain constructs regarding prostitution don't stand up to multifaceted complex social reality. It's refreshing - if such a thing can be said about the matter - to read about the male 'professionals' in the prostitution industry and their varying experiences. But here, too, the faults of the investigative journalism are evident. I wish McRae would include additional material on the male prostitute profiles. While the author provides ample background information on the pre-prostitution personal (and yet stereotypical) 'histories' of the female prostitutes, those type of details (& motivations) are glossed over in the most glaring example of exploitation, that of the underage & sometimes homeless boys "selling butt" in the public lavatories of railway stations. Whether McRae respectfully refrains from overstepping into the Fassbinder wanna-be Matti McLean's documentary film project, or whether he honestly doesn't know how to interpret these kids' activities, it's here where the most problematic aspects of prostitution are staring him (and us) in the face. Like Matti's romanticizing on the beauty of these youths, McRae does not appear curious to pursue a more comprehensive understanding on this particularly disturbing social phenomenon. Instead, he returns to Mandy, his original source, and closes the investigation with her 'retirement.' And so, even after 440 pages, I feel there is more that remains to be documented & understood... [For hyperlinks, see my original review http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/3... ]...more
The story starts out with a short passage involving a woman of undetermined age & sexual orientation watching a porn film. The reader still is unaThe story starts out with a short passage involving a woman of undetermined age & sexual orientation watching a porn film. The reader still is unaware that it's Lulu. Although confusing as a first chapter, it does introduce Lulu's unconventional personality, a woman with a vivid & unrestrained fantasy. Then the story goes back in time to the 'proper' beginning, starting with Lulu's teenage encounter with the older Pablo. There's a comment Lulu makes in this passage, about the evening being a successful theory lesson, as well as the loss of her virginity (the theory being the post-Franco socio-political beliefs of Pablo and Marcelo). It is her first rebellion, breaking free from the fold of her family, becoming her own person, making her own choices. Despite the unconventional adventures that follow in the rest of the narrative, when Lulu is now a married woman with a child, and the explicit description of the sexual encounters, the book is closer to a 'theoretical'story (realism) rather than 'fantastic' one (eroticism), centered on Lulu's personality as she matures from idol-struck teenager into an independent adult, rather than simply a lurid account of Lulu's sexual gratification. Pablo becomes less likeable as the story progresses, and I'm still not sure whether Lulu's personal choices are meant to spite him, or if it's the author's intent to use Lulu's obessions (which result in ordeals rather than orgasms more often than not) as some sort of feminist commentary. In the end, I do feel that Lulu's profile is not given its proper due, as if it's more of an exercise in 'theory' on the part of Almudena Grandes, a feminist-political statement about contemporary Spanish society, an expression of the fact that the time has come when women are able to write pornography - and this pornography is going to grate the bourgeios sensibilities -- a double provocation -- much like Catherine Millet's The Sexual Life of... is a book about a woman writing, more so than a titillating tell-all memoir. ...more
A well-written, balanced book. I enjoyed reading it, not so much for the political-thriller suspense, as for the way that Shamsie masterfully writes hA well-written, balanced book. I enjoyed reading it, not so much for the political-thriller suspense, as for the way that Shamsie masterfully writes her protagonist's first person narrative. I was pulled into Aasmani's story, her complex character, her authentic voice, and the credibility of her emotional conflicts.
Another aspect that I liked is that Shamsie is unashamedly depicting the Pakistani educated/sophisticated/privileged class she is familiar with, rather than pandering to Anglo readers' expectations for something folkloric or epically historical. The story is set in the present day, and the extensive references to the politico-historical background of the country in which it is set is merely that, a referential background to the characters' personal & familial conflicts, which are ultimately the driving force of the story. (And for my own personal reasons I was *charmed* by the Wizard of Oz references....)...more
After being impressed by The Lovely Bones and Lucky I was disappointed by this novel. I couldn’t help but compare it to another book I’d just finishedAfter being impressed by The Lovely Bones and Lucky I was disappointed by this novel. I couldn’t help but compare it to another book I’d just finished, Rachel Cusk’s "Arlington Park". Although the plot lines of these books dont' have anything in common, they share the same narrative frame: The events and thought processes of the characters within the duration of a single day. (Incidentally both novels also refer directly or indirectly to Virginia Woolf.) But the prose style of the two couldn’t be more dissimilar, and in retrospect I can’t help admiring Cusk’s rich and textured writing all the more now. Granted, Sebold is writing in the first person, and that by definition is limiting, in that it is Helen who is speaking to us. But this is exactly what makes the novel unconvincing. Helen’s narration is so controlled, rational and orderly that there is no way the reader can mistake her for a truly troubled or deranged person. Rather than being overcome by the extraordinary events of those 24hours, Helen seems more concerned about making everything crystal clear to the reader. There is no narrative agitation, no confusion, no contradiction, and therefore no‘detective work’ for the reader to perform. A case in point: When Helen is sitting for the drawing class, she says, "Now I felt the menacing bones of this rabbit behind me..." But the reader doesn’t sense any real paranoia on Helen’s part, as she has just previously explained in detail exactly what this rabbit is, where it came from, when it happened, etc. Also, in the last moments of the day, when Helen’s mind is flitting between images of serial killers, and thoughts of artists/writers made famous by their dramatic suicides, she still has the presence of mind to give us a description of the variations in the landscape as she drives from Natalie’s/Hamish’s house to her mother’s neighborhood. This passage in Chapter 15, especially the focused description of one resident’s cinderblock wall is the most problematic moment of all in Sebold’s novel. Here Helen is no longer the agent in her own unfolding story; she is the voice reciting the narrative, and her tone becomes philosophical: "I had begun to think of him as a homunculus who contained within him all the fears of modern man. There were no pictures of him because he looked like all of us. His fear made him into a phantom who changed shape behind his walls..." Sebold is getting carried away here; it’s no longer Helen who is speaking to us. The cinderblock wall in this urban landscape assumes a literary significance similar to that of the emblematic billboard eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby. This wall stands for Helen’s clothes as she disrobes for the art class, for her father’s plywood figurines, for her mother’s towels & blankets that were used to shield her as she ventured out of the house, and of course the prison walls Helen is running away from. It’s a nice literary flourish on Sebold’s part, wrapping up all the themes and images into a single metaphor, but thoroughly unconvincing if we are to take Helen’s frame of mind for what it is supposed to be at that particular moment.
The Almost Moon also begs a comparison with Elfriede Jelinek’s "The Piano Teacher": The story line (female protagonist obsessed with her mother & also with art, seduces a young man) as well as theme (critique of contemporary family structures & culture). ...more
Arlington Park is a series of untitled & unnumbered passages; each one focuses on a different woman coming to grips with her suburban life's dissaArlington Park is a series of untitled & unnumbered passages; each one focuses on a different woman coming to grips with her suburban life's dissatisfactions. This variation on a single theme comes dangerously close to making the narrative obsolete as a whole. It's difficult to center one's attention on each separate character; the women's identities & responses almost merge into a single persona by the end. That there is no worthwhile plot and each character's fate is indistinct from that of the others is appropriate to the theme of the book: Time passes, nothing happens. Rachel Cusk paints a rather bleak picture of each woman's plight, the daily anxieties of the suburban mother/housewife/consumer, and it is easy for the reader to be overcome by the claustrophobic & strangulating details of these women's existence. "A downpour would come or a reprieving ray of light, and in the end you didn't know what the difference was, what it all meant, what it added up to, what set against the necessity for just surviving and getting through." "'You've just got to steer your own course. That's all you can do really, is steer your own course through it and not think too much.'" What makes the book worthwhile is that Cusk recognizes that Juliet, Maisie, Amanda, Solly, and Christine have at the core of their being a common existential dilemma: they are all equally incapable of enunciating their reality into words, and of speaking about it amongst themselves. Therefore someone else must speak for them. Arlington Park then becomes a testament to their predicament. My question is whether Cusk manages to give us something more to ponder on, beyond the obvious thematic references to Virginia Woolf and Philip Larkin.
I was curious about Wifey as I had read & enjoyed her YA (young adult) novels several decades ago when I was a teenager. Reading Wifey today, I haI was curious about Wifey as I had read & enjoyed her YA (young adult) novels several decades ago when I was a teenager. Reading Wifey today, I have to say this book is not particularly memorable. The blurb "Over 3 million copies sold" on the cover makes one wonder why it would sell in those numbers. It's my guess that back in 1978 when the novel came out, the story of a sexually & emotionally frustrated suburban housewife introduced to us on page one as a woman stirred to action by the sight of a naked man pleasuring himself outside her window was more likely to cause a sensation amongst the female reading public than in today's Sex and the City-satiated times. Overall the novel is lightweight and superficial, and a far cry from the complexity of Erica Jong's 1973 ground-breaking "Fear of Flying." Sandy the 31-year-old protagonist is described by her husband as possessing half a brain, and sometimes it feels as if Wifey is written for a younger (than Sandy) audience, or for women who fit Sandy's IQ description. That's what bothered me in the end; Wifey doesn't challenge the reader in any intelligent way. The situations come off as formulaic and Sandy is quite stereotypical in her marital malaise. I also got the impression that J. Blume is trying to play both sides of the fence, delivering the goods to readers expecting a modicum of titillation, and at the same time avoiding the complexity of Jong's writings & other texts coming out of the women's lib movement during that decade. After saying all this, there is a part of me that wonders if I'm being too criticial of Blume's writing, in the light of her committment to stand up against censorship....more
I’m glad I read this book and I hope a lot of people read it in order to familiarize themselves with the multiple issues concerning transgenderism, buI’m glad I read this book and I hope a lot of people read it in order to familiarize themselves with the multiple issues concerning transgenderism, but in the end I found it hard to accept the overall tone of the book - that typically American ‘small town’ ‘feel good community’ attitude that prevails. Yes, there are moments of nastiness, confusion and strung emotions, but on the whole the book gives me the impression that the author is taking too much care not to go too far or too deep, by offering a mainstream (albeit well-researched) & ordered story in a not-too-challenging narrative format. Thematically and temporally the story is limited. I would have appreciated much more detail into Dana’s past, into his personal struggles, leading up to his decision. Unfortunately the story begins after that phase, when Dana’s appointment with her future is a fait accompli. Thus the story is one-dimensional, covering the interpersonal & social repercussions, rather than venturing deeper into the past and giving us a clear understanding of Dana's all-consuming, life-altering personal dilemma. But since this dysfunctional personality is the underlying cause leading to the relationship, professional & social conflicts, I wanted to know much more about that person's history. I think it’s Will who points out that in order for gender-reassignment to receive approval (and by whom? that’s not clear), the ‘subject’ must demonstrate that he/she has been diagnosed with a clinical disorder which cannot be treated unless through radical surgery. One of the criteria for being diagnosed with gender dysphoria is that “There must be evidence of clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” Well, I would have liked to know more about this, the details of Dana’s psycho-sexual history leading up to where he is at that moment we are introduced to him. When we meet Dana, he’s a very together person, and there’s no background information, no flashbacks or transcripts with the evaluating psychiatrist, for example, providing salient information regarding the distress and impairment that necessitates the shift to becoming a she. Instead, the narrative focuses primarily on Allie’s past & present emotional distress, which, although crucial to the plot, is not really informing us about the thematical center of the story, that of Dana’s gender transformation. ...more
**spoiler alert** For a T.C. Boyle book, this is a very quick read! I'm done reading, and have also spent a couple of days taking notes (something I d**spoiler alert** For a T.C. Boyle book, this is a very quick read! I'm done reading, and have also spent a couple of days taking notes (something I do for all my books), & The Inner Circle is already on its way to Aramena. Compared to Boyle's other works, this is a straightforward and simplified narrative. That's because it's in the first person voice, and the 'voice' is that of John Milk, speaking into a recording device after having imbibed several Zombie cocktails before heading out to Professor Kinsey's funeral. It doesn't take long to understand that Milk is a too-loyal disciple, eager to be accepted by the dominant father figure of Professor Kinsey, and unable to speak out when his "moral" instincts indicate that he should resist Prok's "scientific" agenda. Therefore the limitations regarding the scope of the story can be attributed to the protagonist's all-too-human shortcomings. Endearing to the reader Milk may be, but his point of view limits the depth of the narrative, and there are moments when it reads more like a domestic drama than anything else. And yet, Boyle's verve and love of language manifests itself from time to time. There are certain moments when the choice of words is clearly the mark of the author's style rather than the character's: "the susurrus of bare feet in the grass", "horripilated flesh", "a great and vast soughing of bench, chair, muscle and sinew", "moths threw themselves at the screen in soft, anthropodal explosions", etc. Phrases like these are what makes T.C. Boyle exceptional as a writer, but in this novel, it's a stretch of the imagination to accept that they originated from Milk. This criticism aside, "The Inner Circle" is an engaging novel. Yes John Milk displays weak judgement (following his urges/instincts rather than his mind a few times too many) but that's what makes his story interesting and worthwhile. He does appear submissive & easily manipulated, sexually, emotionally & professionally. Though I interpret his docility as a virtue, & given the connotations of his surname (earthy, pure, safe for children), I would place him along with Violet and Iris (the flowers-on-the-wall wives), and symbolically antithetical to Mac, Prok, Corcoran (these two names suggestive of the male appendage) & Rutledge (the first syllable referring to the male animal during mating season). I considered for a moment that Boyle could have used Prok as the focus of the novel, made Prok the narrator, but as I read on I quickly disabused myself of this idea. It would have been a daunting enterprise for the writer, and no doubt I'm sure Boyle is one of the few who can (write the story from Prok's point of view), but as a reader I'm not sure I would want to know what "really" went on in Prok's mind and (non)emotional state! ...more
"Οιι αναφορές είναι ελάχιστες και επιγραμματικές." Και σαν δεν έφτανε αυτό, στο τέλος υπάρχουν οι επεξηγήσεις για το ποιός ήταν ποιός. Αυτό ήταν τελικ"Οιι αναφορές είναι ελάχιστες και επιγραμματικές." Και σαν δεν έφτανε αυτό, στο τέλος υπάρχουν οι επεξηγήσεις για το ποιός ήταν ποιός. Αυτό ήταν τελικά, δεν υπήρχε κάτι καινούργιο προς ανακάλυψη. Περίμενα κάτι παραπάνω, και συχνά μου θύμιζε το Φόρεστ Γκάμπ, στην προσπάθεια να περιελάμβει όσο πιό πολλές ιστορικές αναφορές δυνατόν. Από αυτή την σκοπιά τότε η ίδια η Ιστορία γίνεται ο πρωταγονιστής του μυθιστορήματος. Μόνο που η Ιστορία είναι ένα αρκετά προβληματικός αφηγήτής, και ακόμα πιό προβληματικός χαρακτήρας.
Αυτό που με προβλημάτισε περισσότερο είναι που ο αφηγητής διαλέγει να μας παρουσιάσει ιστορικά γεγονότα που τελικά έχουν περισσότερη σημασία/νόημα στον σύγχρονο αναγνώστη που αναπολεί το παρελθόν, παρά με τον 'τότε' χαρακτήρα που ζεί το παρελθόν (μας) ώς το παρόν (του), που κοιτάει προς το μέλλον, ή έστω και να κοιτάει προς τα πίσω, αλλά με την περιορισμένη ματιά του 'τότε' (χωρίς να γνωρίζει αυτά που γνωρίζει ο σημερινός αναγνώστης για το παρελθόν και για το τί έχει ή τί δεν έχει σημασία πιά).
'Ισως εάν η αφήγηση καταπιανώταν με λιγότερους χαρακτήρες (δλδ με λιγότερες γενίες της οικογένειας Ασημάκη), και να είχε λίγο περισσότερο ζουμί, λίγη περισσότερη φαντασία (ειδικά με τόσες αναφορές στον ντανταϊσμό, έλειπε ο αυθορμητισμός*) γιατί μοιάζει περισσότερο με περίληψη παρά με αφήγηση εκ βάθεως. Κάτι που αισθανόμουν πολλές φορές, η ιστορική περίληψη είναι σαν να προέρχεται από λογοτεχνικά κείμενα ή βιογραφίες λογοτέχνων & πολιτικών, παρά από μία βαθειά μελέτη της ιστορίας. ΠΧ. οι λεπτομέριες για την Αφρική είναι από τα βιβλία του Κόνραντ και της Ντινεσεν, την αλληλογραφία του Ρεμπό, τίποτα καινούργιο δηλαδή. Απογοητεύτικα που είχε συνεχές αναφορές στον ντανταϊσμό αλλά συχνά με επιπόλαιο τρόπο (π.χ. ο Ουλιάνοφ να χτυπάει πάνω στο τραπέζι ά λα Χρούτσωφ...και να δόσει την έμπνευση για την λέξη). ...more
I first read this at a young age (12 or 13) and now (at age 40) I still remember that at the time I did indeed thing there was something 'strange' toI first read this at a young age (12 or 13) and now (at age 40) I still remember that at the time I did indeed thing there was something 'strange' to this book. Well now I know exactly what it is - the contrived language! This is a simple story, with a straightforward journal-style narrative, with no flashbacks, reminiscences, expository passages or any particularly unique details. The voice of Alice tends to devolve into corny expressions of sentiment, particulaly in the 'first' diary, & oftentimes they seem to echo Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz": - "Oh, why, why, why can't I? (September 16) - "It was wild! It was beautiful! It really was." (July 20) - "I would! I definitely would!", "I must, I simply must be better." (July 23) - "Oh, terrors, horrors, endless torment." (August 9) - "And I'm glad I'm back. Glad! Glad! Glad!" (January 24) - "I love life and I love God. Oh I do, I really do." (Another day) - "I think it's sad, dear friend, I really and truly and desperately do." (July 26) - "I wish, I wish, I wish, I wish." (August 5) - "Oh, glorious, marvelous, wonderful, incredible, fantastic day!" (August 8) - "Home, Home, Home. Oh what a beautiful, wonderful, divinely lovely word." (September 6) - "I didn't know I was that good! I really and truly and honestly didn't!" (September 17)...more
The Dard-e-Dil family saga, the stories and the secrets, told by the young Aliya is the means by which she attempts to find the rhyme and reason of heThe Dard-e-Dil family saga, the stories and the secrets, told by the young Aliya is the means by which she attempts to find the rhyme and reason of her attraction to the 'wrong' type of guy, a fellow Paksitani unfortunate to have been born on the opposite side of the tracks as herself. Discovering the truth behind the unmentionable, the fate of her starred not-quite-twin will, she believes, lead her to the right choices she needs to make. It sounds just like any other tearjerker love story, but it's smartly told, with tongue in cheek humor and deft wordplay along the way. But it's not all meta-narrative, the story is well-grounded on several themes, eg, the personal tragedies caused by the Partition. I wish though that the frequent references to exotic foods (especially the title) would have been less prominent, as it brings to mind the sappy magical realism of Laura Esquivel. ...more
Although there are times when Pollan's focus begins to wander (in the forest collecting mushrooms, no less) I find it overall a well-written book, andAlthough there are times when Pollan's focus begins to wander (in the forest collecting mushrooms, no less) I find it overall a well-written book, and a good introduction to the subject. Eric Schlosser’s "Fast Food Nation" may contain a wealth of facts and figures, but it lacked the personal (and therefore, the moral) touch. Here, in "The Omnivore's Dilemma," I feel that Pollan has tried his best to be as honest with himself and with the subject as he can.
I recall reading "Diet for a Small Planet" when I was in my mid teens. I was living in Lebanon, and combined with my Greek origins, the truth is that at the time I didn’t quite understand what the anti-meat fuss was all about. The culinary heritage of both nations is grain/legume/vegetable-based, with meat being considered a festive (ie, ritual) exception to the daily regimen. It wasn’t until I moved to the USA that I understood what’s wrong with the “Western” food culture, and why books like "Diet for a Small Planet" were important.
I wish Pollan would have investigated the concept of 'western' capitalism in agricultural production to a greater degree. Although I personally don't care to make political distinctions, the term is useful in differentiating what's wrong with 'biotechnology' and other scientific so-called advancements, when they are justified in their application to agriculture according to 'capitalist' notions of progress. Pollan does explain how so-called ‘organic’ agriculture in the U.S. is no longer ‘ethical’ or ‘environmentally conscious’. But he doesn’t analyze in-depth how both conventional and organic agriculture in the US is not a matter of cultural tradition, of history. It's a matter of 'science' and that is a western (capitalist?) concept that has prevailed, unlike other nations where history & tradition have not lost their currency. It's sad to read that farmers like Salatin are considered renegades or pioneers against mass-scale monoculture; they are in my mind simply re-creating, re-learning forgotten wisdoms, that in other parts of the world has survived as 'traditional' knowledge. If Pollan had ventured beyond the N. American borders I think he would have understood this first-hand. So it's not simply a matter of individuals, and individual farms resisting industrial agriculture, it's also a matter of entire cultures resisting the progression of the biotechnology/chemical machine. There are voices beyond the U.S. who speak louder than the 'quaint' Joel Salatin about this.
It’s regrettable to see how large corporations (Whole Foods) are monopolizing the market share to the detriment of ‘local’ co-ops (having worked in one), thereby enforcing consumer realities which are contrary to the slow-food and carbon-neutral ideals. But again, this ‘trend’ is not a fait-accompli. Alternatives thrive elsewhere, beyond the N. American borders. The diametrical opposite, the ‘ideal’ Polyface Farm is not a unique notion; I am surprised that Pollan doesn’t make the connection of the methods used by the Salatin family with the biodynamic model of agriculture. In fact, Pollan only mentions the word once, without defining it for the reader. That is a shame, because now that we know ‘organic’ certification has been hijacked by industrial agricultural concerns, it may be that the ‘biodynamic’ certification can provide a viable alternative to better gauge the ethical treatment of animals used in ‘organic’ agriculture. I have been purchasing biodynamic-certified foods (Demeter) whenever possible, and it seems to me there is a palpable difference in the quality of the flour, eggs, cream, etc. over the merely ‘organic’ products. Could it be that the biodynamic-raised animals are less stressed than their ‘organic’ cousins?
Pollan describes his own personal journey of discovery of the slow-food culture. He could say a lot more, or say it more forcefully, about what this type of consumption entails. It’s not a ‘personal’ choice to switch; the concept of slow food exists as a norm beyond the N. American domain. In my mind, it's a matter of culture, not just a matter of 'capitalist' market forces or the 'military-industrial' complex controlling the production, and then a matter of individuals resisting this by looking for small-scale alternatives elsewhere. He makes it seem as if the choice to resist is a personal one, but in fact the entire society is involved. In Europe, for example, people en masse have spoken loudly and clearly, and have been successful in convincing both their national govermnments and the EU central bureacracy to resist GMO's, BGH, etc.
To be 'American' (vs. being 'Asian', 'African' 'Greek' etc.) is, in my mind, defined by possessing very few culinary skills, no knowledge of that nation's culinary tradition. The contrast between Angelo Farro and Michael Pollan is not merely that one is skilled in foraging, hunting, preserving etc while the other is not. The contrast is that Angelo is Italian, and to be Italian presupposes that this particular national identity includes a mastery of specific knowledge about food and food production that would be a matter of having a 'hobby' or a 'profession' for an American individual. What I'm saying is that being 'American' does not require any complex knowledge about food, there is no cultural/personal history that one acquires as part of that particular national identity. I grew up tri-cultural, a Greek living in Lebanon and attending an American school. When I came to the U.S., it puzzled me to see that there is no national/cultural concept of 'food' in the way that there is in Lebanon and Greece. To be either of those two nationalities, one must learn specifics of food, in terms of what the food is, how it is made, and how it is consumed. Furthermore, in both of these cultures, the provenance of each food staple is of primary significance. Olive oil from Tripoli or olive oil from Saida; each Lebanese has their own preference as to which is 'better' or 'more appropriate' for a specific use (cooked or raw). Feta from Mount Parnassos or feta from Mout Taygetos, which is richer in flavor; that's the question each Greek consumer ponders at the cheese counter. These are concepts that any person, regardless of economic standing or educational level is bound to have an opinion on; it's not a matter of being a food writer, a chef, a connoisseur or a gourmand. ...more