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review

This is probably one of the best books I have read since Lolita. Author of Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer sets out to learn more about his grandfather’s past by reaching out to an agency called Heritage Touring that helps people find their Jewish ancestors. He comes across Alex and Alex’s grandfather, who run the company and take him through Ukraine in search of Jonathan’s past.

The story goes back and forth between present day and a mystical past, but manages to weave the two narrative stories together into one by the end. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to laugh out loud reading a book — the characters are endearing and you never want to put the book down. Highly, highly recommended.

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book review: eat pray love

February 3, 2011

in Play,Work

So when Lo and I were trying to recruit members into our book club of two (but open to new members!) recently, two people that we talked to about it asked, “So what’re you guys reading? Eat, Pray, Love?” I was taken aback both times because I wouldn’t ordinarily associate myself with such a book, for reasons I won’t get into here.

It’s one of those books that I’ve secretly been wanting to read, but also didn’t because it’s embarrassing to be seen reading it. But why should I care if people are judging me based on what I’m reading, right. It’s definitely not anywhere along the lines of what I ordinarily read (except for when I obsessively read three of the Confessions of a Shopaholic series, where immedialy after I finished each one, I literally drove to Borders to buy the next one… but I wasn’t ashamed of that).

I found myself trying to hide the cover of this book, though, often when reading it on the subway and buses during my commute. To my shock, however, the cover of this book is apparently so easily-identifiable that folding over the back to the cover and revealing a mere 1-inch sliver of the cover will still allow people who know the book it identify it. Case in point: while I was waiting for my soy latte at Spaha Cafe in East Harlem, the barista exclaimed, “Isn’t that a great book?! I’m reading it too!”

It does turn out that the book isn’t half as bad as I thought. But it’s only half good too. The beginning is kind of annoying and whiny, but you gradually develop some sympathy for the author as she describes her life, divorce, and struggle with depression. After a particularly terrible divorce, she embarks on an independent journey to Italy (eat), India (pray), and Indonesia (love).

My favorite section was Italy (maybe for obvious reason if you’re reading this blog…), probably followed by India, and I mostly didn’t like Indonesia. Also for reasons I won’t get into here — you can ask me in person. But it’s sort of a fun read too if you’ve been an expat living in another country for a while because no matter what country you go to, that initial wonder is always there and it comes across in the writing. To her credit, it’s not patronizing and I like that she doesn’t do that whole “the States is so much better in this and that respect” in writing about her experience.

The ending is predictable, but that’s sort of to be expected in a book like this. Overall, it’s a fun read for the subway, especially because the chapters are short, it’s easy to get into, and goes by fast.

[And in case you're wondering, the title of this book is not how I came up with the name of my blog. In fact, I didn't know about the book until after I had made my blog!]

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I was pretty excited to pick this book up, given that we were reading about the tobacco settlements and the FDA last semester with David Kessler leading the effort in many ways. This book, however, was hugely disappointing — perhaps the worst of the food politics, food advertising & marketing, and food policy books I have yet to read.

It starts off sort of on a personal note, as Kessler explores motivations for eating. Why is it that some people are unable to control their eating, far beyond the point of being satiated? To do this, he randomly asks people he knows to comment and describe scenarios in which they can and cannot control their eating. That’s fine — but it gets repetitive, and at a certain point, kind of patronizing. It is also overly-driven by emotion and scarce on the facts and investigative reporting that many other books (e.g. Food Politics, Fast Food Nation, the China Study, Eating Animals) have. Don’t waste your money.

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book review: the china study

December 30, 2010

in Play,Work

The China Study is probably the best book I read all year. If you ever need to be convinced that a vegetarian diet is your best bet for a number of health issues (although I’m guessing most people don’t want to be convinced of this anyway…), this is a must-read. Without getting into it too much, it provides scientific backing based largely upon longitudinal studies within a number of cities and provinces in China, analyzing the correlation between chronic disease, lifestyle, and diet.

The majority of the book breaks down support of the vegetarian diet by disease type and the effect of switching over fully. He cites studies such as the Framingham Heart Study — a seminally important study by most accounts and readings — and discusses its flaws in presentation of data, skewed by what the agriculture industry and lobby groups have pushed for throughout the food history of the United States.

The final portion of the book talks about the long-term health consequences that we are already seeing in the U.S. — rapidly rising rates of obesity, heart attacks, chronic conditions, health care costs, and more. He also talks about the politics of changing perceptions and attitudes on food, especially interesting as the foodie culture has been a major influence on food trends more recently.

[Check out the interview that the New York Times did with Colin Campbell a few days after I finished reading it. It recently got a lot more publicity because President Clinton mentioned it as his major source of influence in turning to a mostly vegetarian diet. Here's that CNN video if you're interested.]

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What happens when the New York Times needs a new food critic? Apparently everyone but the food critic herself knows she’s getting the job and her picture gets plastered across New York City, warning servers across the city that she’s on her way and no one had better not know what she is.

That’s the premise of Garlic & Sapphire, one of the more amusing books I’ve read this year. Ruth Reichl writes about her experience as the food writer for the Times, except that because she’s recognized by everyone, decides to disguise herself and play different characters. It’s fun at first, albeit a bit repetitive, and gives sort of an inside look at the sorts of treatment (and mistreatment) she gets being an ordinary person versus an identifiable food critic. Fun book for the train rides. And good food tips and restaurants inside!

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There’s not much that I can say about this series that hasn’t been said a million times already. Does it live up to its hype? Yes, and sometimes no. Are the books better than the movies? Yes, way better (I confirmed that after watching all 6 of them within the last week I was in Shanghai).

I bought this box set back in Beijing over a year ago and sort of let it sit there and collect dust with my other books. But because I was leaving China and I didn’t want to carry the whole box set with me, I decided to finish the last 6 books before I left. Still going with my at-least-one-book-per-month new year’s resolution for 2010, I finished Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban (my favorite) in June, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix in July, and finally the Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows in August. In case you think I didn’t read any real books in that time, I did! See?

The books all sort of start off a bit slow except maybe the last 2 because it sort of has to re-set up the plot. When you read through them one after another, it gets repetitive, but I guess if you had read them as they were published, it’d be fine. I read them so much near the end (because they are so much longer) that I often dreamt about Harry Potter. For example, I once dreamt that I was trying to conjure up a expelliarmus-like spell to rid my body of urine because I needed to get up to go to the bathroom. I also often dreamt of other scenes from the book to my annoyance because I am easily affected by any suspense in books (I often have to stop reading certain books because they scare me a bit if I’m alone in the house or apartment). And finally, anytime someone says “ridiculous” now, I think of “RIDDIKULUS!” said in the way that you might imagine it being said to a boggart. If you didn’t get that, you should read the books.

This isn’t much of a review since I can’t really explain anything that won’t give away the plot. But, I was pretty amazed by Rowling’s ability to weave the plot together like that. Maybe that’s how it is for every book series, but this is the first I have ever really read. The last 150 to 200 pages of every book are impossible to put down.

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