Monday, February 15, 2010
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Friday, February 5, 2010
Lately by Sara Pritchard
"I love this book because it is both hilarious and sad. Pritchard populates her fictional Cook County with strong, unconventional characters, who look back over their lives and wonder at how it deviated from what they expected. There’s Maggie, whose “divorce party” is the subject of one story, Jack, whose house is filled with paint-by-number illustrations of the last supper and Fanny, whose father may or may not have left her family to join the circus. Lately is a short story cycle, so each story is linked to the others, which means you get the pleasure of figuring out how the various characters are connected as you move through the stories. Reading this book has made me want to track down anything and everything else Pritchard has written – it’s that good!"
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
"I love all of Salinger’s work, but especially this book, which shows the author at his best – written after The Catcher in the Rye and before his later, longer, more digression prone stories. The book’s two stories complement each other beautifully and illustrate some Salinger's main concerns, particularly, the problem of getting along in the world while maintaining one's ideals and sensitivity. There's a number of endearing details in this book, particularly Franny and Zooey’s father, Les, who tries to help Franny recover from her nervous breakdown by serving her a tangerine."
Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the 50s by Steven Cohan
"I was assigned this book a few years ago for a class, but found myself unable to put it down. Cohan’s book is an examination of masculinity in 1950s American films, but despite the academic subject matter, the book is very readable. I see it as a smarter alternative to other books on movies from that era – which tend to be light on substance. A highlight is the chapter on the rise of boyish rebel stars like James Dean and Montgomery Clift, who became popular as a reaction to the uncomplicated WWII hero types who previously dominated the screen. Another chapter that stands out is called “The Age of the Chest,” discussing the era’s obsession with male chests on film and in movie posters. If you have an interest in old movies, I highly recommend this one."
Melanie lives and works in Washington, D.C. She writes mmmetropolis, a blog about books and food.
What: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Díaz’ sophomore novel that created a literary firestorm for it’s stunning and fantastical account of a multi-generational family haunted by a supposed curse, the fuku. Told in brilliant color and dialogue, Díaz is able to narrate in the voice of four different characters, infusing his dialogue with Dominican vernacular and poetic prose to illustrate life’s tumultuous and satisfying moments.
Why: The Brief Wondrous Life is a book whose hype has not overshadowed its magnificence and beauty. Díaz manages to merge important literary references with relevant pop culture without skipping a beat. At once hysterical and heartbreaking, Díaz’ novel illustrates a people navigating through pain, love, violence, and redemption, with the stubborn tenacity of their character and the omnipresence of divinity guiding them.
Rating: 5 stars
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
When I open emails from accessories retailers, I don't expect to see gorge images of women reading, but sometimes I do. This arrived in my email this morning from queen of the cute person, Kate Spade.
And, really, we all know love of reading and great style go hand-in-hand, right?
Friday, January 29, 2010
What: Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance, a diverse collection of istwa, Haitian Creole for “both story and history.” After a proud, rousing foreword by Haiti’s high priestess of Literature, Krik? Krak! author Danticat, Bell sweeps readers into the multi-layered ’90s world of Haitian women. While Bell’s introductory passages are more academic, with passages on the island’s political history and women’s movement, they create a perfect balance to the often emotional stories of the 38 Haitian women storytellers.
The women represent the full range of Haiti’s ethnic and economic diversity, from Lise-Marie Dejean, former Minister of the Status and Rights of Women, to “Tibebe,” the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man and a maid, who was given away and raised as a restavék, a child slave. Full of hope and the unyielding résistance that led their ancestors to rebel centuries ago, these women walked on fire and lived to tell the tale.
Why: Any story or book or historical knowledge that helps us understand the people of Haiti and their spirit, right now and in the futire, is a good thing.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
In other literary news: Apple's new iPad offers book publishers a deal to compete with Amazon's monopoly on the e-reading industry. Random House appears to be the only holdout. [NYT]
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
USA: So should everyone be a vegetarian?
Foer: My book is not a case for vegetarianism. It's a case against factory-farmed meat. Basically, that's meat where animals are raised in enclosures, where they don't get to see the sun, don't get to touch the Earth, and they're almost always fed drugs to keep them from getting sick or make them grow faster.
I think there are a lot of responsible conclusions one could reach (about whether to eat animals). There's selective meat-eating (from responsible growers), there's being a vegetarian.
The thing I can't respect is the willful forgetting, the kind of people who say "I simply don't want to think about it."
USA: What was it that you found so morally problematic about factory-farmed pigs and chickens, the focus of your book?
Foer: The rule is animals in tiny cages where they can't turn around, in just this very ordinary kind of misery. The just insane vastness of the industry, 50 billion animals that are factory-farmed every year. It actually just boggles the mind.
USA: What were your assumptions going in?
Foer: That raising animals for food had to necessarily involve a kind of carelessness or violence. And in the process of writing this book, I met a number of small farmers who aren't that way. If my book has heroes, it's some of these small farmers. I was surprised by how moved I was by those farmers. And how statistically negligible they were.
USA: How many are there?
Foer: I thought such farmers might comprise half or a quarter of American agriculture. In fact it's significantly less than 1%. If there's a tragedy in the book, it's that those farmers are the exceptions. (In his book, Foer describes visiting small, boutique pig and cattle farms where animals are given ample space in conditions that at least attempt to allow them natural behaviors and social conditions.)
USA: What about people who can't afford to buy expensive meat from small farms?
Foer: It's exactly the opposite that's true. Factory-farmed food is an elitist food; it's a food that's making hundreds of millions of dollars for CEOs of corporations at the expense of normal people. Yes, it seems cheap when we go to the supermarket, but that's because we're being lied to about the true costs. We pay for them in our health care costs, the destruction of the environment and our values. What we call cheap food is the most expensive food in American history.
USA: But is it realistic to expect that people will stop eating meat because of a moral stance?
Foer: Sometimes we take apart very big things because we come to terms with the ways they're wrong. It's easy to forget that we had slaves in this country until quite recently, we treated women as second-class citizens who didn't have the right to vote until very recently, racism is something we're still working with. These things that have been going on forever can change very quickly.
USA: What suggestions do you have for people who take your research to heart?
Foer: One way is to stop eating meat entirely. Another way is to say, "I don't want to eat that kind of meat, but I still want to, so I'm going to seek out small farmers who raise the pigs and chickens outside."
USA: What choice did you make?
Foer: Not to eat meat. It would be very hard for me to reject factory farming without not eating meat, because I don't really have the time or energy or expertise to know where the meat comes from. (For those who have the time, Foer suggests buying at farmers' markets from farmers themselves after visiting their farms.)
USA: Do you think eventually everyone will be vegetarian?
Foer: There's a very good chance that there's going to be a rejection of factory farming. I think that will happen in my lifetime. The trend has been away from meat. People are eating less meat every year.
USA: You're a novelist. What responses have you gotten about writing a treatise like this one?
Foer: I've been very, very happy with the response I've gotten. Even if they say "I'm still going to eat meat, but you've given me a lot to think about."
USA: Will you be doing more books like this?
Foer: No. Novels.
Text from USAToday.com. See the interview here.