Author: Audrey Niffenegger
I was underwhelmed with this book. Niffenegger’s take on time-travel and its impacts on relationships is interesting, but I came to this book hot off of two acclaimed classics: Madame Bovary & Tom Jones. Bad idea. The story was melodramatic, the writing often vulgar (lots of four-letter synonyms for copulation), and some moments were, frankly, squicky – so I feel no compunction writing a review of the same flavor.
Henry DeTamble – the hero – is afflicted with some sort of uber-rare genetic disease which is hereditary (he passes it to his daughter), but apparently neither of his parents expressed this phenotype. (?) Maybe everyone & his brother is a carrier. But I digress.
He has no control over when or where he goes in time, but he does manage to look up winning lottery numbers on demand, and has a knack for showing up in his own life, either earlier or later – or in the lives of people he knows.
His wife, Clare, first meets Henry when she is six (he is visiting from another time, when he is an adult and married to the adult Clare) and they have many visits & rendezvous over the years when she is growing up. Kind of cute.
He & Clare have fertility problems (six, or seven? bloody miscarriages due to time-traveling fetuses!), Clare has a rich snob family and a manic-depressive mother, Henry has a wreck of a father who plays in the orchestra and a dead mother (killed in a violent car accident) who was a glamorous singer.
Henry & Clare are best friends with a married couple (Gomez & Charisse). Gomez has an inexplicable desire for Clare, who inexplicably indulges him more than once. Squicky. Although in “real time”, the age difference between Henry & Clare is 8 years, the 18-year old Clare loses her virginity to a 41-year old Henry who is visiting her from the future. Squicky.
And of course, the whole thing manages to almost-end with Henry getting shot to death while time-traveling. We are told that Henry very, very rarely is able to travel into the future with any “clarity” – we are given just a few instances – one in which he visits his daughter in the future (after his death), and another (melodrama alert) where he visits an 82-year old white-haired Clare… he has, however, managed to look up his own date of death.
It’s an okay bathtub read, I suppose. If you’re looking for an exciting, slightly lascivious read involving time travel, though, Diana Gabaldon does it better.
Rated Adult for vulgarity and sexuality.
Will I Buy it: No
Author: Gustave Flaubert
This book is a classic.
I made the mistake of taking it to read over summer vacation in the Boundary Waters.
Deservedly lauded as a supreme work of fiction and a seminal work of realism, I find absolutely no fault except one:
It made me want to swallow arsenic and die.
I just started this sampler a few days ago, and so far, it has gone well – some backstitching, straight stitching; standard cross stitches and lazy daisies. Then, at about 5:30pm today, that all came to a grinding halt as I faced down … a new stitch.
A new stitch for me anyway – my first Colonial knots. I haven’t done a tremendous amount of ribbon work, so when I run across some, it is usually slower-going for me. The Babe’s Honey Farm sampler that I’ve begun uses 4mm YLI ribbon to create these yellow roses. Now that I’ve got it down, I decided to post a little demonstration here – to help you, dear reader, and to help me, if I ever run across these again in the future.
The stitch used is a Colonial Knot.
The first step is to pull your needle up in the spot where you want the rose.
Next, make a D-shape by turning your needle back and going over, then under the ribbon. I find this easiest if I lay my needle flat on the fabric.
Next is the tricky part (not really, but the hardest part to describe). Slide the needle forward a little more. Then, with your left hand, take the remaining ribbon and loop it over, then under the needle. It will make a figure-8-like shape.
The hard part is done! Stand your needle up and drag the point over to a place close to the original starting spot (~1 thread over). Stick it in the fabric.
The next step is easy but critical. Gently pull the ribbon so that the loops are wrapped snugly around the needle.
Use the finger of your left hand to hold the knot in place while you pull the thread through.
That’s it! You’ve successfully made your colonial knot – in this case, a bright yellow rose.
Designer: The Victoria Sampler
I started this today, 8/10/12, on a stunning 75-degree summer day. I looked at various fabrics and chose 32ct Sandstone Linen as my fabric, although the design calls for “Golden Sand” in 28ct. So far I have about an hour in…perfect for a summer evening!
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
This is the September read for my workplace Book Club. I brought it home yesterday and dove in with enthusiasm…as a farmer’s daughter, avid gardener, canner, and lover of food, the book’s synopsis seemed intriguing, and like a whole lot of fun:
Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life – vowing that, for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.
Now, one day later, I am keenly feeling my disappointment. I am also a scientist, and this book is driving me bananas. Anyone in a technical field should be able to relate: the kind of bananas you get when you read an over-simplified misrepresentation of a scientific topic on, say, Yahoo News, with value judgments and sweeping statements layered on top for journalistic flair.
I started, of course, with Chapter 1. I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Kingsolver’s description of packing up her family and leaving Arizona, and I thoroughly agree with her that cities in the desert are unsustainable, water-guzzling time-bombs. I also agree that the out-of-season vegetables in the grocery store have large carbon footprints, and beyond that, they are likely to be less tasty than local, in-season food. Much is made of the 1500 miles the average food item travels – but nothing is mentioned about the economies of scale in food transport. That cucumber didn’t travel from California by itself, and that shipment didn’t end up on just your table. But it’s the beginning of the book, and while her argument (in my opinion) would hold water even if the information was presented in a more balanced way, I give anyone a pass in the first chapter. Have to capture your audience.
There’s some of the endearing (opinions will vary) self-loathing that we liberal-minded Americans are so prone to, over culture, fossil fuels, etc. I soaked it up. Then she had to throw in the hokey anecdote about rain, summed up with this gem:
When I recognize good agricultural sense, though, I’m not just thinking of my town but also my species. It’s not a trivial difference: praying for or against rainfall during a drought. You can argue that wishes don’t count, but humans are good at making our dreams manifest and we do, historically speaking, get what we wish for. What are the just deserts for a species too selfish or preoccupied to hope for rain when the land outside is dying?
That’s when it became pretty clear to me, that while Ms. Kingsolver now lives in “a county whose economic base is farming”, farming has never been her economic base. So what counts: wishes? prayers? When your livelihood is the land, there’s one thing you learn real quick:
You cannot control the weather. You have to let it go. If you don’t you will end up going stark, raving mad.
If you believe in God (as I do), then you believe prayers matter. If you do not believe in God, then all the wishes in the world are not going to make rain fall from the sky. That’s one wish that humanity can not make manifest. The effect of positive thinking is limited to the walls of your own mind.
Funnily enough, I do fully embrace what I think is Kingsolver’s point, stated in plain English: humanity has a stake in the weather, because the weather dictates the availability of food. People should at least be aware of it, just as they are aware of politics, the economy, wars, and other pertinent issues, and direct their prayers accordingly.
This is followed by more self-loathing about Americans who have no idea where their food comes from. I found this section rather hyperbolic. Perhaps because it’s because I’m a Midwesterner. I will admit, I once met a girl who thought strawberries grew on trees, and at the county fair, sometimes “us 4-H kids” would get a kick out of the people who did not know what a steer was. Honestly, though, they were the exceptions to the rule. Perhaps I need to spend some time in Tucson or San Clemente to see if the average American is truly so ignorant.
She’s got one thing right, though: The US Government policy toward agriculture can be summed up on two words:
Cheap food is grown in huge quantities. Variety is abandoned for scale. It is processed into shelf-stable, ubiquitously usable forms (high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, etc) which Kingsolver helpfully brands as “chemicals” (as if a whole ear of corn isn’t a glorious conglomeration of chemicals). It is boxed, branded, labeled, and sold, with subsidies making up for whatever cost is left after every efficiency has been pursued. As government policy, it is brilliant. People get cranky over taxes, they will complain about gas prices, but people will riot over food; hunger is the ultimate instigator of revolt. People with full bellies are easily placated.
And it is not designed for optimal health.
More pontificating over obesity, gluttony, consumerism…and finally, chapter 2.
As stated before, I give anyone a pass in Chapter 1.
Chapter 2 started out much more promisingly. Kingsolver is back in style, telling the delightful history of asparagus interspersed with (well-known?) information on growing habits and proper care. Only small touches of Euro-worship here, for example, holding up the Netherlands for their celebrations of the first asparagus cutting as
respecting the dignity of a spectacular food means enjoying it at its best
(I’ve been to the Netherlands, and while they love their asparagus, they also love their stroopwafels; not to mention several similar celebrations exist here in the states).
More editorializing, summed up in this sentence:
The main barrier between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements are patience and a pinch of restraint
But that’s quickly over, and we’re here, at the moment of truth, when their year of eating locally is about to start. And this is where the Kingsolver family decides that the are going to go for it, as stated in the excerpt
vowing that, for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.
They promptly decide that is well and good, but they simply can’t live without:
- Olive Oil
- “Grains” – presumably, corn, wheat, flours, barley, etc
- Dried fruit
- Hot Chocolate
And of course, they weren’t getting rid of the vinegar or other things they’d bought enough of before the experiment to last. After the previous moralizing, I have to admit I was a little surprised.
A wonderful, inspiring, true-to-life narrative of their visit to the farmer’s market early in the season; a scene I know very well from the seller’s side of the stand.
I finished out the chapter and put the book down, underwhelmed.
I woke up this morning, determined to give it another go. Again, we started off well… the exuberance of spring on the farm, and her adorable daughter. Three pages in, though, we’re subjected to it again. First the excoriation of traditional hybridization of plants vs gradual development of “heirloom” varieties. Both of these methods are scientifically completely innocuous; and both will produce food of equal quality. One is much quicker (hybridization) – it has immediate results but has to be repeated each year. The other (selection) can take generations, but creates permanent new cultivars (strains, I suppose you could say). Kingsolver states that hybrid seeds have to be purchased yearly from the companies that make them, but this is not true. Any aspiring gardener can create their own hybrids using the same parents as the big bad seed company, and enjoy the results.
Then we get to genetic modification. Opinions abound about this subject, and I do not take issue with Kingsolver’s obvious negative stance. Though scientifically, there is no reason to believe that genetically-engineered crops are any less nutritious than their non-engineered counterparts (I will eat something made from Roundup Ready corn without a second thought), I am not totally sold on the idea myself – mostly because of intellectual property and drift concerns (farmers’ rights). What I do object to is incomplete information.
The ultimate unnatural product of genetic engineering is a “terminator gene” that causes a crop to commit genetic suicide after one generation, just in case some maverick farmer might want to save seed from his expensive, patented crop, instead of purchasing it again from the company that makes it.
In terms of a boolean true/false, putting aside such value-laden words as “ultimate”, “maverick”, “suicide”, this statement is true. There is such a technology, developed by the USDA in conjunction with a seed company. That company, and the technology, now belong to Monsanto – which pledged never to use the technology in 1999 (under pressure, of course, but nonetheless), and has held true to that promise. The number of genetically-engineered crops on the market today that contain a terminator gene is zero. She goes on to refer to this technology again later in the chapter.
And then there’s this
Monsanto sells many package deals of codependent seeds and chemicals, including so-called traitor technologies in which a crop’s disease resistance relies on many engineered genes resting in its tissues – genes that can only be turned on, as each disease arises, by the right chemical purchased from Monsanto.
I can’t think of anything in the Monsanto catalog that fits this description, unless perhaps she’s referring to the rise of transcription factors in boosting gene performance – in which case, she’s got a few critical technical details wrong – not to mention, these are not yet marketed either.
I looked through the references trying to find a source, since plant science is not my particular discipline, and although my family farms, we cannot claim exhaustive knowledge of Monsanto’s offerings. The text is not footnoted, nor are the references organized by chapter or any other such thing. It says to visit the website animalvegetablemiracle.com for a complete list of references. I went there. Could not find one.
What kills me about this is these issues are very real – the increasing lack of diversity in crops, the cheap food policy, the loss of agricultural knowledge – and very serious. They don’t need to be dressed up with Fox-News style “information”. Kingsolver wants you to follow her so badly, wants to sell you on her vision so much, that she is willing to sacrifice objectivity to achieve that goal.
The redeeming grace of this book is the narrative – the story from the farmers market, the story of the swiss chard… but so far, that is a fairly small percentage, laden down with editorial monologue. And the recipes are chock full of forbidden non-local foods that the Kingsolvers decided were necessities: rice, lasagna noodles… “grains” is quite the liberal category.
I’m through Chapter 3. I’m a combination of bored, interested, and annoyed. The story may be enough to get me through it, maybe not. Here’s hoping things improve. If not, I’ll probably put it down and fill the void with a one of my favorite practical guidebooks to buying local, growing, and preserving your own food:
For now, on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I have to go with:
Will I Buy It: No
New Favorite: No
Author: Markus Zusak
Set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death, The Book Thief is a departure from the ordinary.
At first brush, the idea of narration by Death seems strikingly morbid. Instead, by taking the narration out of humanity, Zusak is able to create a blunt, direct, yet detached perspective… the view of a player who is not a participant; who has nothing to gain or lose. The human stories, individual human perspectives of desperation, cruelty, failure, triumph, love, and devastation that swirl around World War II are as “colors”: an abstraction, a detachment that makes this book palatable; gnawing but not haunting. Throughout the book, the narrator warns, and in some cases, explicitly tells the reader of events to come – like watching a sad movie: knowing the ending softens the emotional blow.
It is the story of a girl, a boy, an old man, a young man, a father, a mother, an orphan, a friend, a fighter, a people, a nation, a species, a world.
I am conflicted about this book. In one sense, it is excellent Young Adult fiction: serious subject matter, treated in a way that will not cause children to have nightmares. However, to gain the previous accomplishment, the emotional heft of the topic is necessarily reduced. Zusak makes no false representations: the facts stick and Death (our narrator) is everywhere. But the style does not invoke empathy…we are merely spectators – watching the people grieve, watching the people die, watching the people kill, as a child observing an ant farm. The people are not us. We are not grieving, dying, or killing along with them. A light touch from a heavy object.
Will I buy it: Probably
New Favorite: No