More 2007: bees, sun kings and fast food

January 30, 2008

A few more books from 2007:

Bee Season (Myla Goldberg) (Fiction).  The book is about Eliza Naumann, the supposedly normal or ungifted child in her family of high achievers and scholars.  Eliza discovers, however, that she has a talent for spelling, and the book depicts Eliza’s progression through the various local bees and ultimately the national spelling bee as well as how her new-found talent affects her family.  For Eliza, spelling provides a way to connect with her scholarly father, who begins to pay attention to her for the first time and believes that her talent has more mystical possibilities.  While they prepare for the bees, the rest of the Naumann family begins to disintegrate. 

As a former local spelling bee competitor (don’t guffaw), I thought the book sounded interesting, especially with the overtones of kabbala and how spelling could be a mystical experience (it never was for me!).  I  don’t think I liked the book very much.  It left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  It was fairly grim, and I didn’t really like the dysfunctional characters.    I just wanted to shake the family.  After I finished it, I put it down and remember thinking, “WTF?  Ugh!”  I know that characters don’t have to be likeable, but I was unable to connect with any of them.  It is s well-written, intelligent, and somewhat cold book,  and Goldberg tells the story well.  It’s also a quick read. I think I read it in an afternoon. 

Love and Louis XIV:  The Women in the Life of the Sun King (Antonia Fraser) (Nonfiction).  Though Louis XIV, the Sun King, ruled France as an absolute monarch, he was heavily influenced by the women in his life. Fraser’s book examines the women in his life (mother, sister-in-law, wife and several mistresses) and how they influenced him as well as how Louis dealt with his lusts while trying to rule France.   It was a well-researched, well-written book.  Fraser did a fantastic job of bringing alive the various women, and it’s a enjoyable peek into the life and court of the Sun King.  The only less-than-stellar comment I have is that the book deals with a long span of time, and it was confusing trying to remember who was who as each generation grew and married–often intermarried. 

Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser) (Nonfiction).   Schlosser’s book investigates the fast food industry, including the industry’s origins, business practices, production of beef and potatoes, and labor practices.  It was a very good book, and if it doesn’t make you want to resolve to quit eating fast food then and there, you have a cast-iron stomach.  I highly recommend this book.  I know I don’t look at McDonald’s or Taco Bell the same way after reading it (though my resolution to stop eating there quickly fell by the way-side unfortunately–those damn french fries are addictive!).  It helps that Schlosser investigates the entire industry and all the supply chains involved because you are able to form a complete picture of how the industry works.  Unfortunately, appalling practices can be found throughout the industry. 

 Other Recommendations: 

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2007 Revisited: The Post-Apocalyptic World & ART

January 25, 2008

While I’m trying to finish up a book so I can post about it, I thought I’d write about some of the books I read in 2007.  The ones I can remember anyway!  See, that’s exactly why I started this blog.  I know I read a lot of books last year, but I can’t remember most of them.  I prefer to think that means most of them weren’t memorable and not that my memory is slipping in my advancing age 😉

World War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War (Brooks) (fiction).  Through a series of individual accounts from survivors, Brooks chronicles the apocalyptic zombie pandemic that threatened and almost made humans extinct.  I know what you are thinking.  Zombies?  I couldn’t put the book down.  It was very well-written, and Brooks handled multiple points of view masterfully.  Parts of it were quite humorous, and parts were so sad that I wanted to cry.  It’s that real.  My only quibble was that I had to suspend my disbelief about the zombies and accept that I wasn’t going to know the “how” or “why”.  And that’s not really the point of the book.  The zombie pandemic is a metaphor for any pandemic or apocalyptic scenario.  You see how governments and individuals react as well as how politics plays a part.  What must we as a people do to survive such a pandemic? 

The Road (McCarthy) (fiction). I unintentionally read this book right after I finished World War Z, and it was an interesting pairing since The Road is the story of a father and his young son trying to make their way to the East Coast in a post-apocalyptic United States.  Like World War Z, you don’t know the details, though I have my suspicions, and again, the “what” or “why” doesn’t really matter.  It’s the aftermath that is important.  McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic landscape is very grim, and you get the feeling that survivors are barely hanging on.  There’s no food and no medicine, and other survivors definitely do not support the idea that humans are inherently good.  McCarthy’s tone is very lyrical, and the novel is loosely structured narratively.  It’s very haunting and very good.  It’s a good emotional companion to World War Z.   

 Everything Conceivable:  How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Men, Women and the World (Mundy) (non-fiction).   Woman Gives Birth to Sextuplets!  Woman Gives Birth at 65!  Woman Gives Birth to Own Grandchild! 45-Year Old Actress Gives Birth to Twins!  These are headlines you see in the news often.  Mundy, a journalist for The Washington Post, investigates the world of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) and how it is changing families and society by enabling women to give birth to children that are not genetically related to them as well as harvesting sperm from men unable to produce any because of disease, malfunction or injury, the dark side of the having the multiples the public loves to read about as well as homosexual family building.  Mundy explores the ramifications, ethics and issues surrounding the various scenarios including telling your child he or she is the product of donor eggs, selective reduction, social costs, buying parts of the reproductive process and leftover embryos. 

I thought it was a good book.  Mundy remained objective throughout and gives the reader much to think about.  I think that often we think of ART as having to do with other people, but Mundy makes it clear that these technologies are and will continue to impact society.   Do they change our definition of a family and the importance of genetic relatedness?  I think one of the most profound ideas that stayed with me long after I finished the book is wondering what we are doing, what havoc are we unknowingly wreaking?  If you are biologically unable to have a child, should you?  Is there an underlying pathology that evolution, nature, whatever is trying NOT to pass on that we are thwarting with ART?  I prefer to think that knowledge and technological and medical advancements are a good thing, but Mundy’s book made me wonder. We humans are impatient and spoiled.  We want what we want, when we want it.  Is that a good thing?