Yay me! I have successfully installed another new Amazon widget. It's been up for a while now, but I am just now getting around to celebrating it. Publicly. I am always so excited any time I do anything new here and it A) doesn't cause my entire blog to disappear into cyber space and B) seems to work!
**Edited 3/5/10-I've noticed that I seem to get a lot of traffic here from people searching for "reading widget" or something similar. I figured I should probably jump in here to avoid any frustration caused by looking for a widget that no longer exists-I have replaced my Amazon widget with a Goodreads widget. I think it was because I was using the carousel format (see "Hot Titles from Amazon" widget toward the bottom of the page) and you have to have a minimum number of titles in order for that to work properly, and I wasn't consistently reading 6+ books or whatever it was. So...just wanted to put that out there for anyone who might have come here searching for information on Amazon widgets.**
So, anyway, I figured since I have this list of "What I'm reading now" I should probably comment on it once in a while, so here is a quick synopsis of my current reading list (I'll try to update more regularly so as to avoid the long posts):
Stuart: A Life Backwardsby Alexander Masters-I actually finished reading this a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed this look at homelessness in the U.K. As the title implies, the book mostly follows Stuart's homelessness which is due, at varying times, to his running away from home, mental illness, violence, drug use, and various combinations of the above all the while dealing with MS and multiple incarcerations as well. The author is quite honest throughout the book, not glossing over his ill-will toward Stuart at times even though the politically-correct thing to do would have been to be sympathetic for his plight and make allowances for Stuart's terrible childhood and apologetic for these fits of disgust toward Stuart. Masters is not heartless, but Stuart is very difficult to like at times, even with a good understanding of his tortured background. As Stuart himself points out, a lot of people have gone through hard times and not turned out the way Stuart has. Stuart, while actually being quite a success story as someone who has worked his way through "The System" from homelessness to having his own actual private residence, is still a complete mess. He is quite honest with Masters about this as well. He's messed up, he knows he's messed up, but he can't quite figure out how to get un-messed up. Overall, it's a good look at the homeless plight in England and how difficult it can be to work one's way back up out of it.
Born Standing Up: A Comic's Lifeby Steve Martin-I actually finished this a while ago too, but wanted to include it here. I don't have a lot to say about it other than it was a quick, easy read and it was enjoyable. One thing that struck me about Steve Martin is that he had only good things to say about the people mentioned in his book. Everyone knows Steve Martin is a funny guy, but I walked away from this book feeling that he is a classy guy as well. Granted, some of the people mentioned were mentors to him or people who helped get him started in "the biz," people for whom you would expect some obligatory high praise, but there were ex-girlfriends and former co-workers and the like mentioned as well, and I don't think he ever took a shot, glancing or otherwise, at any of these people. He always made a point of mentioning the good things about them and did so very genuinely and graciously.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Mealsby Michael Pollan-I am about 3/4 of the way through this right now. It's a dense read. I'm not flying through it the way I thought I would, and I sort of have to keep making myself go back to it. It's not that I dislike it, it's just not grabbing me the way I thought it would. Pollan visits farms of different scale and various production methods to see what is really going n with our food. It starts with a study of corn. Americans eat a ridiculous amount of corn. Thanks to our government, we literally have more corn than we know what to do with, so we make up things to do with it. This might seem like a good problem to have, but it has, in large part, led to the downfall of the American diet. High fructose corn syrup-where do you think that came from? Corn-fed beef? It's got a great, consistent marbled texture that we all love so much, but cows don't normally eat corn. Look around the next time you are driving through Iowa. Do you see any cows out grazing in the corn fields?
After giving us a thorough run-down on corn, Pollen visits industrial feedlots where cows are mass-produced. They are fed corn because it's cheap and it fattens them up better than grass, and nutritional supplements to fortify the corn, some of them consisting of fats from other animals...you know, like the cows would eat in the wild...when they're done grazing on their corn. Additionally, they are given antibiotics and other drugs because the conditions they are kept in are not conducive to cleanliness and illness is common and because they are not good at digesting corn. Pollan visits "organic" industrial farms-same concept, mass production, but the animals are fed organic corn. Also, they have access to outdoor areas, but by the time most of them reach an age where they would be allowed to go outside, they have no interest in doing so and are so stressed by their indoor conditions that exposure to outdoor elements is likely to lead to disease or infection anyway. Pollen also visits a "grass farm" (the owner claims to farm grass, not cows). In this model, cows are allowed to eat grass, chickens eat the grubs that grow in the cow dung, chickens (and cows) fertilize the grass, and pig tails don't have to be clipped in order to prevent other neurotic pigs from chewing them to bloody stumps, something which is apt to happen on a standard industrial pig farm when the piglets are weaned from their mothers too soon, all in the name of mass production. Basically, the cows, chickens, and even the pigs, are used in one way or another to ensure that the pasture is as healthy as can be. As a result, the farmer gets beef, chicken, eggs, and pork all off of one relatively small tract of land and all without the use of chemical pesticides or herbicides. As an additional bonus, the meat from grass-fed cows is said to be healthier for us because of the balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which is different in grass-fed cows than it is in corn-fed cows. Grass-fed beef also has less saturated fat than corn-fed beef, and eggs are more nutritious because the chickens convert all the good stuff in grass into good stuff in eggs.
At the end of all this, the author is still trying to decide what to do with this information. At one point he decides he wants to make a meal out of ingredients grown, hunted, or gathered by himself. The growing part, he's ok with, but he's never fired a loaded gun before, and his mother has filled him with the fear "that put picking a wild mushroom in the same class of certain-death behaviors as touching downed power lines or climbing into the cars of strangers proffering candy." Thinking about these food choices-dangerous vs. non-dangerous-leads him to thinking about other food choices, and he does some reading on the philosophical values of vegetarianism and decides to give it a try.
This is about where I am now. I definitely think this is a book worth reading, even though it takes a little work to get through. People, in general, are very out of touch with where our food comes from, and there is a lot of vagueness and misunderstanding about labels like "organic," "sustainable," "sustainable organic," "grass-fed," etc. that Pollan manages to shed some light on. While Pollan seems to be pro-sustainable-organic and, possibly, pro-vegan by the end of this book (???), you can see where his leanings come from as the book unfolds. He does not attempt to villainize the industrial farmers who are earning their livings doing what they know how to do. He does rant a bit about the government, but I think it would be hard not to after seeing its policies in action.
Latticework: The New Investingby Robert G. Hagstrom-I'm not quite half-way through this book yet. It's taking me a while as well. In a nutshell, it takes theories like equilibrium, evolution, and other "big ideas" from psychology, sociology, biology and the like and tries to show how they are related in a latticework of ideas. This latticework is then to be applied to investing for a smarter way of investing. I guess. Basically, there's more to investing than just crunching numbers. I have recently started dabbling in stocks, and I like this idea because this is sort of how I go about my investing. I really don't pay any attention to much more than the current price, historical prices to a degree, what I think of the company, and why I think the company will or will not do well. I am not day trading in the sense of trying to buy and sell at the absolute daily high or low, but I do like to watch my stocks from day to day and see what its going on and try to time my investments a little bit. I don't know if this book will help, but I want to explore the theories within. Bonus-I like the artwork on the cover! (See, this is about how I pick my stocks, too! LOL.)
Icy Sparks (Oprah's Book Club)by Gwyn Hyman Rubio-Eh. I did manage to finish this, but it was work. It's a story about a girl growing up in 1950's rural Kentucky who has Tourette's syndrome. Obviously, nobody knows what the heck is wrong with her, but I didn't find her at all sympathetic. Maybe I am just amazingly intolerant, but I mostly just wanted to slap her and tell her to get her sh*t together. For me, part of it was her tendency to tell stories. I think this was supposed to make her endearingly creative and therefore make us feel even more sorry for her when her imagination would run away and get her into even more trouble than she was already in, trying to escape the woes of her troubled existence and all. Instead it made me want to slap her and tell her to quit lying. She ends up in a treatment facility and eventually finds comfort in religion. I liked the book better toward the second half, as Icy grew up a little bit and was able to find her voice a little more. The message of tolerance in the book is good, I just found it hard to get to...because I'm so intolerant.
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the Worldby Michael Pollan-I've picked up several of Michael Pollan's books in the past and mentally shelved them on my "want to read someday" list, not realizing that they were all by the same author. After watching Michael Pollan's talk at TED about how we are all pawns in corn's plan to take over the world, I finally went on a Michael Pollan borrow-a-thon from the library. I haven't started this yet, but I am accruing late fines already. Some day they are going to have to name a library wing after me.
The Road (Oprah's Book Club)by Cormac McCarthy-I haven't started this yet either but it's gotten strong reviews from several people I know.
A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Centuryby Witold Rybczynski-Frederick Law Olmsted is the guy who designed Central Park. I was really excited to see this book sitting in the "what people are reading now" section of my library. I like reading about gardening and huge undertakings by inspired visionaries. I've only just started it, but I don't think I will finish it. I am usually not very critical of writers' styles, but this guy drives me nuts! He's providing a lot of background info which, quite frankly, I just don't think is going to be relevant to the story; and he makes a lot of suppositions and presumptions which seem to go against everything he has learned about his subject. As a biographer and a story-teller, I suppose that's his right, but he just seems awfully contrary. Hmph. I was expecting something more along the lines of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed Americaby Erik Larson, which I think might have actually included Mr. Olmstead and his amazing vision. I would recommend reading that before this.
Getting Started in Value Investing (Getting Started In.....)by Charles S. Mizrahi-This was also sitting in the "what people are reading now" bin at the library, and I had JUST started my stock dabbling, so I took it as a sign and grabbed the book. I honestly have no idea what it is about other than getting started in value investing. I'll let you know if it's any good.