What I Am: Reading

I haven’t done one of these in a while — I haven’t done much of anything around here in awhile. Except hit you up for donations (get on that, will you?). (Just kidding.)

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Gregory is a new author for me, and I may check out some of her other books. I enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl — it’s not a new favorite or anything, but it was an entertaining, compelling read. I never gave much thought to the whole “behind the scenes” of the reign of Henry VIII, and this was an interesting glimpse. I had no idea of the intrigue (as portrayed in this novel, anyway) or how long it took for Henry to decide to set aside his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. And, you know, there was a reason her head was chopped off — I guess when I learned about this in history (?), I just figured he was the king; he felt like it. It’s a bit more complicated than that. Plus, I liked the voice of the protagonist, Mary Boleyn. All-in-all, an entertaining book that I would recommend.

The Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris

I have been devouring these, about one a month, for a while now. I have gone so far to buy the paperbacks — usually one per trip to Target. Buying books, especially paperbacks, is extremely out of character for me, but I certainly do not regret it. I am currently on Book 8, From Dead to Worse. I am enjoying the hell out of the series. Smartly paced, smartly written mind candy, with a truly likable, tough protagonist. I am usually all about all things vampire, but Twilight made me extremely cautious (because, frankly, I thought it sucked). Harris easily brings vampires out of the closet (so to speak) in the 21st century without breaking the ‘rules’. And no sparkling! It may be time to pick up the True Blood DVDs. I can only hope they are as good as the source material.

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes by Sharon Lamb Ed.D. and Lyn Mikel Brown

I have checked this book out of the library twice, and twice had to return it without finishing it. I am going to have to buy this one, too. It’s a scary look at the way marketers attempt to channel girls into two distinct roles: “you’re either for the boys or with the boys”. As a mom who has struggled with the messaging on clothing for my 5-year-old, this book was eye-opening. I’ve only gotten about one-third of the way through, and I have to buy it and finish it, and start talking to my girls. We can’t just tell our daughters they can be anything they can be because the message from the media is vastly different. This book gives parents the tools to discuss the messages their daughters see and dissect them. It’s practical and non-confrontational — and rather exhaustive in its examination of girl-targeted marketing. I’m looking forward to getting through it, and starting constructive conversations with my smart, feisty daughters!

These are a Few of My Favorite Books

A few weeks back, ChickLitLisa (as befits her handle on Twitter) asked me questions about books: what are my favorites, my least favorites? And why?

In general, I like escapist fiction, and have since I was young. From Narnia to Madeline L’Engels’ Wrinkle in Time series, that is what I have devoured. Now-a-days my taste runs more toward Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Charlene Harris, and J. K. Rowling. Just to name a few.

A few Lents ago, I gave up reading novels. It was good for me, as I discovered that I liked non-fiction. I just need it to be well-written, entertaining non-fiction. Bill Bryson is excellent for that. I’ve also developed a taste for Michael Pollan, Rachel Simmons, and Jon Krakauer. (I am always looking for suggestions, especially in non-fiction.)

I was surprised to learn that there are books I absolutely cannot read. Most of these have unlikable (to me) protagonists/lead characters. For example, Blue Angel by Francine Prose. The nominal protagonist is a whiny, married professor who starts an affair with one of his students. I remember that during their first tryst, he breaks a tooth. I don’t remember anything redeeming about him. I stopped reading it. With Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, I couldn’t even get through the first chapter. He describes his characters in such negative terms, I found myself thinking, “Why the hell should I care about these people?”

Now, unlikable and flawed, in my opinion, are two different things, the latter being more sympathetic. And mileage may vary. Wally Lamb’s characters are rife with faults, but I find his novels beautiful.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Favorite Non-Fiction
The Chicago Manual of Style — I’m sorry, I am a total grammar geek.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss — This book is an hysterical look at how to do punctuation correctly and why. I recommend it to fellow writers, editors, and/or language + grammar geeks everywhere.

Favorite series:
The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
I cannot count how many times I have read these seven books. From the time I was in grade school, right through reading all of them, aloud to my belly, when I was pregnant (and on modified bedrest) with Flora. When my children are old enough for chapter books, we are starting with these. I also want to add: until I was an adult (and newly returned to the Catholic Church) I did not get the parallels between Aslan and Jesus. They were just breathtakingly magical books to me. And that’s all I want them to be to my children until they, too, are old enough to see the parallels for themselves.

The Harry Potter novels, J. K. Rowling
What’s not to love? An orphaned boy discovers his past, his powers, and fights for his world’s future. The redemptive power of love, loyalty, friendship. Plus, they are a lot of fun! Quidditch!

The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
In the days before Rowling, Susan Cooper set out to write a series of novels, set in the United Kingdom, about a magical world within our own world: light against dark, the legacy of the legendary King Arthur. My Aunt Joanne and Uncle Frank bought each one for me as it was published in paperback. I tore through them, and eagerly awaited the next installment. My current set of paperbacks are tattered, and the last book has literally fallen apart. Time for a new set to pass on.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
If you’ve read these — and loved these — you understand why I love them, too. If you like wry (dry, British) humor and word play, you will love these too.

Favorite Book by Favorite Author: The Stand, by Stephen King
I don’t know what to say about this book. It’s amazing. The scope, the narrative, the characters and their development. King is phenomenal.

My Favorite Book (if I have to pick just one): The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Atwood has been hit or miss for me. I hated Oryx and Crake; The Blind Assassin was only okay; Alias Grace was very well done; Bodily Harm, The Robber Bride, and Cat’s Eye are all amazing. But The Handmaid’s Tale is Atwood at the very, very top of her game, combining a feminine view of sexuality, a cynic’s view of religious politics, and a dystopian world view that narrates a clash between the two. I have lost track of how many times I have read it, and I could pick it up and read it again tomorrow. The first-person narration is so true and affecting. Atwood gives voice to the real and complicated nature of sex, sexuality, desire and love, from a woman’s point of view. I always find it moving.

How about you? What do you love or hate in books? What on my list do you disagree with? We’re all snow-bound right? All we have to do is sit around and read! (Ha.)

Learning to Read

When I was a child, my parents read to us every night. I distinctly remember Richard Scarry books — anyone else remember those? — and putting my fingers on things, looking at the black marks beside them (refrigerator, stove, strawberries). Learning to recognize them.

We also watched Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

And, in the days before pre-k, or nursery school, or even daycare, that’s how I learned to read.

By the time I was 5, I was reading on my own, in my head at least. I don’t know how one “learns” to read, per se; I’ve heard tell of “contextual” learning, and of course, phonetics.

I can tell you, for much of my early childhood, I thought when you were very tired, you were fa-ta-goo’ed; and for the longest time “sat-is-fi-ca-tion” meant to be content. (As to the first, I read a lot — and I mean a lot — of Nancy Drew; that red-headed girl detective was always fatigued at one or more points in her adventures.)

And now, I read to my children every day. Whenever they want me to read them a book, I indulge them. I don’t adopt silly voices or act out the stories; that would make me feel too self-conscious. But I read with a lot of inflection and emotion (sometimes Kate asks me to tone it down; “Don’t say it like dat,” she pleads). I always read them a book before bedtime.

For months now, both my girls have taken books to bed with them. Kate will page through hers and narrate the action, usually starting, “Once upon a time…” I have come upstairs after putting them in bed to find Flora intently paging through whatever book she has with her. (Kate is usually passed out by the time I come back upstairs to check on them. That girl likes her sleep.)

For Christmas, we got Flora the LeapFrog Tag reading system.

She loves that thing. (And thanks to everyone who told me about the storage case. We’d have lost the ‘pen’ by now without it.) She recently took it to preschool for show-and-tell as her favorite Christmas gift.

Last night, Flora declared, “I can read Olivia. Look I’ll show you.” (Olivia is one of her Tag books.)

And she got it out and read it to me.

This is the first book that Flora has “read” to me (and Kate). She is very proud of herself (I’m a little proud, too). I know she is doing what Dan referred to as “sight reading”; there were words in the book that she forgot, and other times she asked me to help her. I’d like to start teaching her to sound out the words and letters. I’m treading a little lightly here because Flora becomes frustrated so very easily. And I don’t want her to become frustrated with reading — it’s so very magical.

I’m obviously taking a very low-key approach. I want reading to be a wonder, not a chore. I’m not the type of mom to crack out the flash cards (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Have you ever taught a child to read? What’s the best way to get Flora “really” reading, rather than “sight” reading?

I’m not really concerned about her ‘mispronouncing’ words at this point. I did that for years (reading aloud in class was always pretty interesting; thank goodness for very nice grade school teachers; I’ll never forget the first time I learned “satisfaction” only had four syllables), and I love to read. I want to instill in Kate and Flora the same love that I have for it.

I’m pretty sure we’re on our way there. But if there’s a nudge I can provide, I sure would like to know what it is. And if not, well, we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing.

****

Updates: Through the efforts of many, many people, the women in charge of the BRESMA orphanage are getting aid, but there is plenty more you can do. Updates can always be found at Jane Pitt’s Twitter feed (she took her blog down for now; too much coming in, methinks). CNN did a story about the situation; as did local papers (Post-Gazette; Trib-Review). Thank you for all your support. I hope you keep these women and the children in your prayers.

Oh, and I gave $50 to the Red Cross this morning. THANK YOU!

What I Am: Reading, Watching This Week

Under the Dome, Stephen King

My husband knows me very well. I hadn’t even mentioned this book, and he bought it for me for Christmas. I just started it (and it’s massive) last week. I’m probably about a quarter of the way through, and wishing I had more time to read!

So far: King starts things off with (literally) a bang. Within the first three pages, he kills two people (and a woodchuck), and over the next 10 to 20 pages, slaughters a bunch more. Spectacularly. Come to think of it, all of the people biting it so far in the book aren’t going out with whimpers: car accidents, plane crashes, murder, a ricocheted bullet — you get the idea.

It’s, uh, pretty violent.

I want to read it all of the time, which is impossible what with the job and the kids and so on. The massive question in the middle of it all: what is causing the Dome?

I do have one complaint: King clearly sets us up with protagonists and antagonists. The good guys, the bad guys (and girls in both cases). It seems to me, unlike in the King classic The Stand (my all-time favorite King novel), the nuance is gone. Jim Rennie is a corrupt politician, and cold-hearted to boot. There is nothing to like about him. So you don’t like him. Dale Barbara is probably more complicated a character (short-order cook, drifter, Iraq War veteran), but he is clearly a Good Guy. The bad guys (and girls) are caricatures, in other words (thugs, dummies, corrupt politicians, a crazy preacher, etc.), and the good guys (and girls) are more fully realized.

If you’re a King reader, think back to The Stand. Think about Larry Underwood: musician, ladies’ man, quite a self-centered prick when we meet him (and through a pretty good part of the book). How about Flagg’s right-hand man in Vegas — his name is escaping me? Not exactly the most sympathetic of characters, and he does side with the ultimate of King’s bad guys, The Walkin’ Dude, but you end up having sympathy for him anyway. (Or I did at least.)

Now, as I’ve said, I’m only a quarter of the way through. My desire to see Jim Rennie or his son Junior get comeuppance may be mitigated by the end (or even the middle) of the book. King can do that to you.

Lost, Season 5 on DVD

Are you excited, boys and girls? The last season of Lost is on the horizon, and I better get cracking on the DVDs I gave to myself (and Dan) for Christmas. So far, I’m only two episodes in (I think Dan is at least six in).

How do I forget what an awesome show this is? All I can say is: Watching Juliet gives me chills. Ben Linus is the baddest bad guy on TV ever. I’m over Kate. Sun is insane! And I’m usually not hot for Sawyer, but it was fun to watch him walk around without his shirt off.

I have to get caught up, and quick.

What I Am: Looking for Book Suggestions

Since October starts tomorrow, I decided I’d like to read some scary books. I like a good spooky/scary story — Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, after all.

I can go into October reading what I am reading now, which is Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. It is its own kind of scary, trust me. (And don’t order fish on Mondays.)

I just put I Am Legend by Richard Matheson on my request list at the library. I am very much looking forward to reading that.

It’s the perfect time of year for some ghost stories! What would you suggest?

What I Am: Reading this Week

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken

I have been avoiding this book since it was published in 2008.

To summarize, it’s a memoir about her first son, who was stillborn, and her subsequent pregnancy. In part I didn’t want to read it for the obvious reason — hello, been there, done that.

But there were more complicated reasons, too, not least of which was, “Why didn’t I write that book?” Of course, over the course of numerous journal and blog entries, I have written that book. Lots of parents have, unfortunately. What if she trivialized her loss, especially since she’s had a live baby since? (Unlikely.) What if her language was melodramatic or, conversely, dull? (Also unlikely; she’s a well-known published popular author, hence probably not boring.) What if it hurt too much?

Additionally, she and her husband decided to name the baby what they had called him when she was pregnant: “Pudding”. I never thought of naming Gabriel “Li’l Bean”, which is how we referred to him when I was pregnant. We had had names picked out, one for a boy and one for a girl, but we didn’t want to use one of those either. We finally settled on Gabriel for a boy; I don’t remember the name we picked for a girl, possibly a variation of Angela (for angel, obviously) or Dolores (which means ‘sorrow’).

My fears, as they say, were unfounded. (Well, except for the Pudding thing. She explains their choice, and I understand it, but it’s still a bit of an obstacle for me.) Reading this book is a lot like reading my own thoughts about Gabriel — and my subsequent pregnancy with Monkey. McCracken and her husband suffered their calamity (her word) in France, which lends an exotic twist to their horrendous experience.

At one point, McCracken writes about a man she encountered as a teenager in Boston. This man handed her a card on the subway that said I AM DEAF.

“I have thought of that card ever since, during difficult times… surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack of cards that explain it for you. When Pudding died, I wanted my stack. I still want it. My first child was stillborn, it would say on the front. It remains the hardest thing for me to explain, even now, or maybe I mean especially now — now that his death feels like a non sequitur. My first child was stillborn. I want people to know it but I don’t want to say it aloud. People don’t like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card.”

My brain and heart said in chorus: THIS.

An Exact Replica… encapsulates the pain of a baby lost parent, which is not simply the loss of the baby. (It is not simple in any way.) It is the loss of everything future; it is the loss of definition (am I a mother/father?); it is the complete confounding of discovery; the obliteration of joy. These are the things that our children mean to us: future, identity, discovery. Joy. And McCracken captures it, the horror of it and yet the matter-of-factness of it. We lose and continue; we continue and we grieve, and always grieve.

I also like the chapter of the book where she talks about the kinship of baby lost parents, the “family tree of grief”. That struck me, too, and I know it’s a part of the reason why places like Compassionate Friends and A Glow in the Woods exist.

I haven’t finished the book yet; I am at the point where McCracken is writing more about her subsequent pregnancy, and the way Pudding’s death affected her experience of that pregnancy, much of which so far resonates for me, also. I admit that I am taking a pause because my FIL is going to have triple-bypass surgery tomorrow, and I’d rather put some energy into praying for him and taking care of the people who need care, than toward dealing with the emotions roiling through me as I read this book. (Instead I’ve picked up Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard.)

Because An Exact Replica… does hurt to read, it does hurt to remember. But I’ve never been afraid of my grief for Gabriel, even when it was crippling. It’s okay to revisit it through the vehicle of McCracken’s book now. The pain is something familiar; the grief is something I’ve integrated into my life. It just is.

If you have not lost a child (and I sincerely hope you have not and never do), I don’t know that you would read this book. However, if you know someone who has lost a child under these circumstances particularly, someone you are struggling to understand or help or just, you know, not to turn away from, this can be a good book for you. The writing is powerful and direct, two things that it can be hard to be when you are brought down by grief.

What I Am: Reading This Week

Fodor’s Guide to Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard

You may or may not know this about me, but I’m a planner. When I travel, I like knowing where I am going, what there is to do, where I am living when I go there, and what I am eating. And when.

When I was 21 years old, I traveled to Paris with three of my college girlfriends. I went out and bought two guidebooks (Frommer’s and Let’s Go! if memory serves), read all about what to do in Paris and how, where to stay, etc., etc. I figured the other women I was traveling with were doing similar research.

I was wrong.

When we got there, two of the women I was with decided we were staying in a WAY expensive hotel in the 15th arrondissement. This would be like traveling to New York and staying in Philadelphia — no, someplace rustic. Like trying to see New York City from Connecticut.

After one night there — one night, in Paris, with nothing to do (I believe we stumbled onto a billiards room, so at least we got a drink. And billiards? Not the same as pool) — I said, “Look, I’m moving to the Latin Quarter, the 5th arrondissement. It’s on the Seine. The Pantheon is there. You’ve heard of these things, yes? Coming with?” They came with. We had to split up into two groups of two and stay in different — and much, much cheaper hotels — but we were in the real Paris.

We had a blast. We walked everywhere, including to Notre Dame, Champs-Elysees, and the Eiffel Tower. I had a mere smattering of high school French under my belt, but that hardly mattered. Four cute American girls in Paris? Language was not an issue, I assure you.

These girls had no idea how to travel. I’m not sure why I did, but I did.

So when DearDR decided he was going to register for and attend a week-long symposium in Cape Cod, I figured it would be a perfect opportunity for a family “vacation”. (I’ll explain the quotes in a mo’.) In the seven-plus years we have been married (excepting our honeymoon) we have never gone on a vacation alone; we’ve always been with his family or my family — which is not a bad thing (built-in baby sitting!).

I had been to Cape Cod as a child with my family, and I remember really enjoying it. I didn’t go when I was as young as my children are now, however, so I knew I had to find appropriate activities for the preschool set. The Internet is a fantastic resource, of course, and ClumberKim sent me many good links. Since I don’t have an iPhone, and I don’t want to walk around with a laptop, I also picked up the Fodor’s guide.

As I suspected, there are plenty of family-friendly activities to keep us busy while my husband is at the symposium. There’s a ZooQuarium (which Fodor’s refers to as “hokey”, but I’m going to guess that my children don’t know the difference between hokey and entertaining — yet), museums and nature centers galore, and even a Trampoline Center. I don’t know if we’ll go to Provincetown or Martha’s Vineyard; my kids may be a little too young to appreciate what those locales have to offer.

We are staying in a cottage not far from the hotel where the symposium is being held. It’s fully equipped with a kitchenette (with a coffee maker, I checked) and a TV; it’s two-bedroom, and has a deck off the kitchen, so there will be plenty of kid-free evening time for my husband and me. (Yay!)

All-in-all, I am pretty excited to be going. I’m not calling it a vacation; I’m referring to it as a “change of scene”. When you travel with young kids, it’s not necessarily a relaxing experience. But I’m okay with that (or so I think; ask me how I’m doing next Monday).

The Fodor’s guide makes me feel confident and prepared. It’s got maps, information, directions, and tips. It highlights the highlights, offers dining options for every budget, and points out family-friendly things-to-do. It will fit in my backpack/diaper bag.

All I need to do is pack a suitcase, some toys for the kids, and car-friendly snacks. We’re hitting the road Friday around 9 p.m. We’ll see how it goes.

What I Am: Reading This Week

Inkspell, Cornelia Funke
I am only about five chapters into this, the sequel to Inkheart. I am enjoying it, and I am curious to learn more about these characters, and about the Inkworld. I bought a hardcover copy of Inkspell on Amazon — I buy very few books. But since I had Inkheart (purchased cheap at Costco), I decided I would buy this one too. And when I buy a book, it’s a hardcover. I’ll eventually pick up Inkdeath, too, I imagine.

The first time I read Inkheart, I remember thinking that it was awfully violent for a children’s novel (that’s where it is categorized in the library — well, okay, Young Adult.). Upon a re-read, I still think that, but I enjoyed it more the second time around. If my girls want to read these books, they are going to get through the Harry Potter books first. (I have hardcovers of all of those, too.)

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
I finished this novel this past weekend. What a beautifully lyrical novel about how one decision — the wrong decision? — can anchor and affect whole lives. The story of David and Norah, Caroline, Paul and Phoebe is told over 25 years. Even the characters in the books who aren’t aware that the decision was made, that a lie was told, are forever changed. It’s truly amazing. And half of it is set in Pittsburgh, which made it even better. Edwards’ treatment of the city through the character Caroline reaffirms the love that people have for this city and why.

I am still arguing with myself if this is a story of redemption or not. If you’ve read it, what do you think?

*****

WIA Bonus: rpm’s car song of the summer: MGMT, “Kids”. Watch. Listen. Be thoroughly hooked.

What I Am: Reading this Week

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
This is a story about a fictional couple and their lives in the aftermath of a real event: Columbine. Caelum Quirk is an English teacher at the school; his third wife Maureen is a part-time school nurse. The day of the shootings, Caelum is in New England dealing with the death of his only relative, his Aunt Lolly; Maureen is in the library, where most of the children were killed that day, and where Harris and Klebold committed suicide. She survives the day by hiding in a cabinet, but she suffers severe PTSD.

I am about two-thirds of the way through the book. It is compelling. Several other storylines are woven into the lives of Caelum and Maureen: Caelum’s childhood as the son of an alcoholic man who commits suicide and a woman so damaged by her marriage she can barely tolerate raising her only son; the couple’s relationship with Velvet Hoon, another collateral casualty of Columbine — and more; the Mick couple, a bi-racial man and his white wife fleeing the destruction of Katrina; and the family of Morgan S, a teenage boy who crosses paths with Maureen with devastating consequences.

Wally Lamb has only written three novels, and I have been amazed by them all. His protagonists are broken men and women trying to piece their lives back together. Their humanity is so naked and raw, that I cannot help rooting for them. They are far from perfect, but I don’t find them unlikable.

What I find especially touching about The Hour I First Believed, told primarily through the first person perspective of Caelum, is the intense introspective nature of the writing. He knows how flawed he is, but he works to be better, to be strong for his wife, to help himself so he can help her. He takes missteps along the way, of course. He also discovers in his aunt’s papers the history of his family, which provides more insight into his own character.

The book is literate, with black humor and great dialogue. I don’t know where the story of Caelum and Maureen ends up; I am hoping for the best. It doesn’t have to be a conclusive ending, but I have to admit to hoping for a happy one. I’ve read Lamb before, though, so I can’t hold out high hopes for that.

****

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Suggested to me by Kelly at Peace, Love, and Flowers. I have to thank her for that.

This is a gothic novel set in the early 20th century. It has all the requisite elements: a single woman with a secret; an elderly woman with more secrets; secret rooms and passageways; ghosts; madwomen (and men); orphans (of the literal and figurative types); and startling revelations. Beautifully written with its own humor, the story recalls the classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I was thoroughly engaged and delighted.

****

“A Mother’s Day Uprising” from Newsweek.com

I can’t quite grasp the tone of this article. Satire? Commentary? Humor? Complaint Journalism? Encouragement? Commiseration?

I don’t know when I knew it was okay to not be and do everything — to not be Super Woman. After I became a mother, certainly. When I went back to work for sure. I try to keep my household running — that means decent meals, laundry, and minimum clutter (DearDR is helping more and more with that last one, because it drives him bonkers). I make sure my daughters know they are loved; I also make sure they are fed, bathed, read to; I pack lunches; I underline show & tell or other special school events on the calendar. I juggle our finances. I take the kids to the doctors and get their prescriptions filled; I do most of the shopping. I continue to tend to my relationship with my husband.

Do I do it “all”? No. I have yet to sign either of the girls up for “extracurricular” activities like swim lessons or Mommy & Me classes. The dust in my home is truly shameful. My sinks are a bit sticky. I have too many girls’ clothes of varying sizes all over the upstairs, too many clean clothes still in laundry baskets.

I feel I’m doing the best I can with what I got. Most days, this is perfectly okay. Sometimes, it’s a little embarrassing — I would be mortified if you, dear reader, came to my house unannounced. Occasionally, DearDR and I fight about it, and, occasionally, I find it depressing.

But I just refuse to stress out about it anymore. That is definitely not worth my time. I think it will get better as the girls get older. Some days, even now, I can see it’s getting easier for me, and different as well.

What are your expectations of yourself? As a woman, as a mother? Have they changed for you over the years? Do you think this mothering gig will get easier? Harder? Just different?

And what are you reading this week?

What I Am: Reading This Week

I have been making my way through The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, for six weeks now. I finally finished it yesterday. Which is good, because it’s due back at the library.

It is books like this that make me wish I could still ride the bus to and from work. I suppose I could try books on CD, but I’m a “visual” learner — frankly, my attention wanders during a two-minute NPR story. I’m not sure I would make it through an audio chapter. It’s probably akin to reading the same sentence ten times in a row.

Back on point:

How many times a day do you think or hear, “What’s for dinner”? As a mom, and the primary shopper and meal-preparer in my house, the answer for me is A LOT.

Michael Pollan set out to answer that question by examining from where our food comes. Over three sections, he surveys the way we get our food in this country, from factory farming, organic farming, and hunting and gathering (yes, there are people who still fall into this category). For more of an overview, see this review from the Washington Post.

This is my first time reading Pollan, but it will not be the last. My inability to actually sit down for an extended period and read this book is directly inverse to my desire to do the same. His writing is compelling, accessible, and honest. He takes a hard look at the way we eat as a culture, a species, and as individuals.

The first section, “Industrial: Corn”, makes me very glad to be a vegetarian. To sum up: If we are what we eat, then we are corn. And maybe some petroleum.

The second section, “Pastoral: Grass”, examines the movement of organic food; plus Pollan spends time on a small farm. The first part of the second section exposes organic industrial farming, and briefly made me consider giving up food altogether.

Then I got hungry.

The second part of the second section made me want to get a few chickens and maybe a goat.

The third section, “Personal: The Forest”, about his experience hunting and gathering, was my favorite. Probably because it’s much more removed from what I could ever see myself doing to get a meal. (Well, maybe I’d gather mushrooms.) It’s very entertaining to be taken along on Pollan’s experience and read his writerly reflections. I especially enjoyed reading about how he decided to cook and serve his foraged meal, and his thoughts about it.

One aspect about Omnivore’s Dilemma that I especially like is its lack of assertion. Pollan doesn’t declare of any one process: This is how one should eat! He recognizes the pitfalls in our American society that have led to the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), McDonald’s Happy Meals, and high fructose corn syrup, as well as the industrial organic complex. He condemns neither General Mills nor Whole Foods. Nor does he exhort us all to return to our hunter-gatherer roots.

The book is written in such a way to make you think about the way you eat, and to make you decide how you are going to eat. As for myself, I will continue to buy organic from my grocery store, but I think I will try harder to find local meat for DearDR. I will strive harder to go to the local farmers market regularly, or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). In time — like, 10 years — I want to get into the Slow Foods movement, too. (As a mom of toddlers, I’m aware that right now there is no space for Slow Food when it’s time for dinner.)

I especially appreciate the work he did deciding whether or not to be a vegetarian. Although he ultimately decides to remain omnivorous, he consciously chooses it, after reading such vegetarian advocates as Peter Singer and John Berger. In every section he is respectful, thoughtful, and honest. He buys a steer in the first part, and meets the animal at its CAFO before it is slaughtered. He works at a grass farm. He goes out into the woods to shoot a feral pig. Over and over Pollan literally looks his dinner in the eye.

His book asks us to do the same: “…[I]magine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost… [W]e eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world.”

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How do you eat? Where does your food come from? And what are you reading right now?