25 Years, 25+ Books: “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein

When I was little and still learning to read, my dad would read to me before I went to bed. One of my favorites was The Monster at the End of This Book, featuring Grover from Sesame Street. The other favorite was Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.

We read from that book so often that the binding is broken. Now, when I open the book, the pages fall out in four sections. One of my favorites was “Hungry Mungry.” I loved the rhymes of “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me, Too.” I hated and avoided eating peanut butter because of “Peanut Butter Sandwich.” Then there was “The Unicorn,” which explained why unicorns didn’t exist anymore.

Today, I still enjoy all of those poems. But there are gems that didn’t stick with me then like they do now. There’s the leading poem, “Invitation.” I inscribed this in the front cover of one of my journals from a few years back. And “Forgotten Language,” which resonates more the older I get.

Forgotten Language poem

 

This poetry collection should’ve been on my “25 Years, 25 Books” list. It should be number one, before the Little House books. In the end, I kept it off the list because it was the only poetry collection, and I chose to focus on fiction books. I pull it off the shelf every few months and flip through the pages (or, rather, chunks of pages) reminiscing and laughing at the poems I love so much.

Book Review: “Difficult Women” by Roxane Gay

Book Review: “Difficult Women” by Roxane Gay

If you asked me to name my top three favorite writers, Roxane Gay would be one of them. Probably number one. Actually, she would be number one. There is such an honesty in her writing that shines through no matter the style: fiction, essay, Twitter. So when I saw that Women and Children First bookstore would be hosting Gay in mid-March as part of her Difficult Women book tour, I bought the book (my ticket in) the moment it went on sale.

The week leading up to the event (on March 15) I read the entire short story collection. And I’ve got to say, it’s the best short story collection I’ve read. There was such a variety between the women Gay wrote about it, and so much depth. The women were written with depth, the kind that writers reserve for writing male characters. Gay said this at the beginning of the event to a large round of applause.

2017-02-17 15.03.54There are twenty-one short stories in this collection, and my favorites were “The Sacrifice of Darkness” and “Noble Things.” Both were toward the end of the collection, and when I finished both of them, I had to stop for a few moments to let them sink in.

“The Sacrifice of Darkness” is about what happened after Hiram Hightower flew an air machine into the sun and his darkness swallowed up the sun. His daughter-in-law is the narrator of the story, and she tells of what led to him flying into the sun, how she became friends and later married his son Joshua, and the hope their little family has for the sun eventually returning to the sky. It was a beautifully written story, and was more fantasy sci fi leaning than the previous pieces. The story reminded me of “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury, how the sun is only visible for one hour every seven years on Venus and how Margot didn’t get to see the sun because she was locked in the closet. “The Sacrifice of Darkness” showed how people can show animosity and place blame on one person. I began to wonder what life would be like without the sun. Would we survive?

The other piece I loved was “Noble Things,” which is set in an unknown year after the New Civil War. The South seceded once more, and this time, it was successful. There have been many times when this possibility has crossed my mind, but only for a second before I go about what I was doing before. And lately I’ve been wondering more and more, not necessarily about an impending Civil War but of what will come of the United States. This story held quite a few passages that sat with me for a time after I finished reading it, such as: “He had learned to live with the pain but lately, in a cold bed without a warm woman, the pain was too much, too fresh, a burden he was forced to carry because of the decisions of other men.” (223)

But none more striking than the final sentence:

“They tried to remember the before, when they were children and there was only one place to call home, one country, the flag billowing on windy days in front of homes up and down every street—bands of red and white, fifty stars, one nation, indivisible until it wasn’t, how quickly it all came apart.” (234)

At the event, Gay read “Open Marriage” and from “Difficult Women.” Both were short stories that I also enjoyed; they are toward the top if I were to order the short stories from favorite to “least” favorite. And when Britt Julious asked about the second short story—“Water, All Its Weight,” which is about a woman who is followed by water and decay—and how Gay came up with the idea, she told the audience about how all her stories are grounded in literal things, and then something more comes from that. For the second story, she was living in what used to be a laundromat and had noticed mold forming on one of the ceiling panels. “Water, All Its Weight” is rife with clues and meanings for reader to pull, meanings that Gay didn’t intend to write when she first noticed the mold on her ceiling: ”Sometimes as a writer, you nail it. And I nailed it.”

Seeing Gay for the second time (the first was with Gloria Steinem back in October 2015) was the bright spot in my week and quite possibly my month. The honesty that is in her writing is also something that comes through when she speaks. I wish the event could’ve been longer, or maybe a longer Q&A session. But she herself addressed honesty during that portion of the evening, and it is advice that I will keep with me:

“Honesty goes a long way. You never have to remember your lies. … Your truth is all that is needed. That is enough.”

Rating: 5/5

25 Years, 25 Books: “Little House in the Big Woods”

25 Years, 25 Books: “Little House in the Big Woods”

2017-03-05 09.28.38

Little House in the Big Woods was the first book that ever stuck with me long after I had read the last page. It kicked off the first series that ever stuck with me as well. The Little House series was my world for so long, only taking the passenger seat when Harry Potter came not long after.

Before I could read, my dad would read to me before bed. My go-tos were Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Monster at the End of This Book, and Another Monster at the End of the Book. I’m sure there were others that he read to me, but those three I kept going back to. I’m not sure who suggested it, but he read Little House in the Big Woods to me. What bothered me the most was that he constantly called Laura a “Cheesehead.” You know, because the book is set in Wisconsin. And it made me so mad. Imagine four-year-old Frannie, arguing with her dad about how Laura isn’t a Cheesehead because the Packers weren’t a thing back when Laura was little. My dad’s reply was that they wore wooden Cheeseheads, of course. I bet if I were to bring up Little House and Laura Ingalls Wilder to him, he’d probably call her a Cheesehead. And I would have to try not to get mad about it.

I’ve read the book a few times after my dad first read it to me; like the Harry Potter books, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read them. So opening the paperback version my mom mailed to me just for this challenge was like going home. I was back in the Little House world.

I had forgotten so many things about Big Woods. I forgotten about their cat, Black Susan. And about Laura’s corn cob doll. And how Ma slapped a bear, thinking it was their cow Sukey. And how Laura tried to collect all the pretty pebbles at the beach and the weight ripped the pocket out of her dress. And how evident her jealousy of Mary was this early on. I had forgotten all of this.

But not Pa’s twinkling blue eyes. Or how he would play the fiddle when they were falling asleep. Or the cousin who was naughty and got caught in a yellow jackets’ nest. Or that Laura always wore red and Mary wore blue. Or that Laura’s doll was named Charlotte. Or how Jack the bulldog would guard the log cabin.

Little House in the Big Woods was a trip down memory lane. I felt nostalgic reading each chapter and each description. In fact, the tone that this book was written in is very similar to that of Farmer Boy, which I read all the way through for the first time last fall (who wants to read about Almanzo when you want to read about Laura? I mean, c’mon). There were so many food descriptions, and descriptions of Laura and Mary’s trees, and of collecting maple syrup. I found myself wishing I still had the Little House Cookbook so I could recreate some of the foods (most of which I probably can’t eat because meat) myself. I remembered thinking the same things when I was reading The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure.

There were also some questionable lines, ones that I don’t think I ever stopped to think about before. Most of them were in the lyrics of Pa’s songs; one used the word Injun and another used the word darkey. Certainly terms that were “okay” in the 1800s, and when Big Woods was first published. It reminded me that these terms were in use not that long ago, and that Laura’s generation is only three or so back from me. America is not that old, and there are moments where that age becomes clear. I will catch this many more times throughout the series, particularly when they move further west.

Little House in the Big Woods will always hold a special place in my heart because it introduced a love of reading. Sure, that was already in place, but it expanded my world. It was my first history lesson, my first book series. It made history come alive, and it still does, eighty-five years later.

Book Review: “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood

Book Review: “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood

I’ve read a lot of books in the past twenty years or so. I’ve lost count. I’ve enjoyed narratives, characters, plot twists—you name it. But there are few times where I will read sentences, pause and reread sentences because I wonder just where the writer pulled that brilliance from. These passages, dare I say, amaze me, and make me think back over the pieces I’ve written knowing that I could never top the passages I just read.

I lost count how many times I did this while reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. This early twenty-first century novel combines elements of gothic drama, romantic suspense, and science fiction fantasy while using different narrative forms: novel within a novel, newspaper clippings, and a memoir-esque narrative. These alternate, blend together, to tell the story of the Chase family, particularly the two sisters, Iris and Laura.

Going into this book club pick, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it would be good; Margaret Atwood wrote it, and it won the Booker Prize. And I loved this novel. My library copy has so many sticky notes marking passages that made me wonder, made me nod my head at its truthfulness, and made me rethink how to write descriptions. Some examples:

“But some people can’t tell where it hurts. They can’t calm down. They can’t ever stop howling.” (2)

“‘Underneath it all, your father loves you.’ … Now I think it was more complicated than that. It may have been a warning. It may also have been a burden. Even if love was underneath it all, there was a great deal piled on top, and what would you find when you dug down? Not a simple gift, pure gold and shining; instead something ancient and possibly baneful, like an iron charm rusting among old bones. A talisman of sorts, this love, but a heavy one; a heavy thing for me to carry around with me, slung on its iron chain around my neck.” (107)

“Not much of a nightmare, you’d say. Wait till you try it. I woke up desolate.
Why does the mind do such things? Turn on us, rend us, dig the claws in. If you get hungry enough, they say, you start eating your own heart.
Maybe it’s much the same. Nonsense. It’s all chemicals. I need to take steps, about these dreams. There must be a pill.” (329)

“The summer heat has come in earnest, settling down over the town like cream soup. Malarial weather, it would’ve been once; cholera weather. The trees I walk beneath are wilting umbrellas, the paper is damp under my fingers, the words I write feather at the edges like lipstick on an aging mouth. Just climbing the stairs I sprout a thin moustache of sweat.” (48)

As with “The Hundred Secret Senses,” I couldn’t tell which narrative I enjoyed reading more: the novel within a novel called The Blind Assassin, written by Laura Chase, or Iris’s narrative about her family history and her relationship with Laura. The first part of the book—which begins with Iris’s narrative and goes into a newspaper clipping about Laura’s death and then into the prologue of The Blind Assassin—is set up to put assumptions into the reader’s head. As you read through the novel, those assumptions (whatever they were) are broken down as more and more truths are revealed within the various forms. Though I wasn’t much interested in the newspaper clippings at parts, I realized that they left clues about either the narrative preceding it or the narrative that was to follow.

And you need to pay attention to the chapters from The Blind Assassin and the newspaper clippings because Iris would inevitably leave things out of her memoir narratives. She would tell you perhaps eight or nine-tenths of her story, and you had to assume the information that she was leaving out. It made me wonder why she was picking and choosing which information to share. If she was writing this down for her estranged granddaughter or even Reenie, shouldn’t she provide more context, and perhaps all of the answers since they wouldn’t be reading this until after she had died?

One of my biggest queries as I read through the book, and well after I finished, was how Atwood went about writing The Blind Assassin. Which narrative came to her first? Did the science fiction novel within a novel come first? Or did she write Iris’s chapters first, leaving the newspaper clipping for last?

There are so, so many things I wish to air out in this review but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. (Though one of the “plot twists” revealed toward the end of the book I managed to piece together well enough to not be surprised; sometimes I miss the clues and I get to be surprised, but not this time.) You’ll just have to take my word for it when I say put this on your to-read list.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review: “In Search of Islamic Feminism” by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

Book Review: “In Search of Islamic Feminism” by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

From the moment I pulled In Search of Islamic Feminism by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea from our bookshelf, I was hesitant. The title interested me the most when I was scanning the book spines for my next read. But the book was written by a white Christian American woman—not inherently bad but not quite the right perspective for writing about Islamic feminism. Fernea, or B.J. as she is known in the book, has written several books on Middle East (i.e., Guests of the Sheik), filmed several documentaries, was a professor of English and Middle Eastern Studies, and lived in Morocco, Egypt, and Iraq for periods of time. She was not going into this book project blind in any sense; I still hesitated before I continued reading the book anyway.

This was my longest read of 2017 so far, beating out Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse back in January. There was a lot of information packed into each chapter, which focused on a single country. Eight countries were represented—Uzbekistan, Morocco, Kuwait, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israel/Palestine—nine if you count the United States, which was the final chapter. Many of the countries featured in the book I had a base knowledge of but not much more.

Most of the chapters were formatted as conversations she had with her friends and various people she interviewed in each country. I enjoyed hearing her interview subjects’ experiences from their own mouth; it made the information that Fernea was collecting feel more authentic, more personal. While the chapters featured these interviews, the narrative flow of the chapters could have used a lot of editing help. There wasn’t much narrative to begin with; it felt very scattered and would jump from one place to the next, and I couldn’t tell if she was retelling her visits and interviews chronologically or by most important. The chapters on Saudi Arabia and Israel/Palestine were the most succinct in how she presented the information. This is most likely because these were shorter visits, but the way these chapters were written could have informed the other country chapters.

There were many times when Fernea’s biases and assumptions would appear. What I did appreciate is that she addressed these biases a majority of the time. This happened most often when she was recounting interviews with certain subjects, when they would say something that contradicted what she had believed to be true. Fernea also acknowledged her shortcomings, especially in the Iraq chapter. It had been forty years since she had been in the country and much had changed, something she had to reconcile again and again.

Criticisms aside, I’m glad I read the book. It provided snapshots of women’s issues in those eight countries in the mid-1990s, and I would be interested in finding a similar book that was published more recently. A lot has changed since this book was published in 1998.

One thing I took away from this book is that there isn’t necessarily an Islamic feminism. Using that term, at least in my point of view, is akin to saying Christian feminism or Jewish feminism. One of the women Fernea interviewed in Kuwait, Lubna Abbas Muhammed, said it best: “I’m a Muslim. But I’m a feminist. Islamic feminist sounds like a made-up name, to pin labels on us again in the West. Why not just say I’m a feminist and I’m a Muslim. Is there some special brand of feminism that were supposed to have, according to Muslim rules, or something?” (192)

Many of the women Fernea interviewed said that “feminist” was heavily Westernized and thus many women avoided using that term to describe what they believed. I wonder if, twenty years later, there is still that feeling.

If you’re thinking of reading In Search of Islamic Feminism, I would recommend going one chapter/country at a time and don’t feel like you have to read the book from start to finish. This is definitely a book I would like to keep on hand as a reference.

Rating: 3/5

Book Review: “The Hundred Secret Senses” by Amy Tan

Book Review: “The Hundred Secret Senses” by Amy Tan

“Secret sense not really secret. We just call secret because everyone has, only forgotten . . . Memory, seeing, hearing, feeling, all come together, then you know something in your heart. Like one sense, I don’t know how to say, maybe sense of tingle. You know this: Tingly bones mean rain coming, refreshen mind. Tingly skin on arms, something scaring you, close you up, still pop out lots of goose bump. Tingly skin on top a you brain, oh-oh- now you know something true, leak into your heart, still you don’t want to believe it.” (102)

During my first Goodreads book challenge in 2015, I read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Ever since, I wanted to read more of her books. The Bonesetter’s Daughter, for example, but I never added it to my library wish list and never scanned the shelves for Tan’s books when I did drop by the library.

When I was browsing the shelves at the Wicker Park branch, waiting for the bus, I wandered over to the T’s and searched for Tan’s books. Sure enough, there they were. Except no Bonesetter’s Daughter; only The Hundred Secret Senses. I pulled the copy from the shelf and hurried down to the checkout desk so I wouldn’t miss the bus.

The Hundred Secret Senses is about two half-sisters: Olivia Laguni and Kwan Li. Olivia is half-Chinese, and uneasy with her patchwork family. Her half-sister Kwan, who came over from China when Olivia was young, speaks mangled English and embarrasses Olivia. Oh, and Kwan has “yin eyes,” which means she can see and communicate with the dead. The novel is split into two narratives. Olivia tells of her grudge against her sister, and Kwan tells a story of her past life in Manchu China.

Much like The Joy Luck Club, I loved reading Tan’s narratives. Luckily, there were only two to keep track of in The Hundred Secret Senses. Much of the time, I found myself wondering which narrative I enjoyed reading more: Kwan’s or Olivia’s. I wanted to know about Miss Banner (even if Olivia didn’t) and China in the mid to late 1800s. I also wanted to know why Olivia disliked her sister, why she was leaving her husband Simon, and if she would never not have a grudge against Kwan. Both narratives drove me to read to the next narrative to pick up where it had left off, and eventually, both blended together near the end of the novel.

“The Hakkas there didn’t admire my eye that a ghost horse had knocked out. They pitied me. They put an old rice ball into my palm and tried to make me a half-blind beggar. But I refused to become what people thought I should be.” (68)

As I was reading Kwan’s narrative, I realized how little I knew of Chinese history. I have a faint knowledge of China in the early 1900s, and I remember learning about the different dynasties in my AP World History class in tenth grade. But other than that? Nothing. There were times during Kwan’s story of Miss Banner where it was difficult for me to put into context what was happening around the world at that time. Knowing more about Manchu China definitely would’ve provided more context, but readers don’t need to know everything about Chinese history to follow Miss Banner’s story.

I don’t read books that feature two or more narratives that often. As I was reading The Hundred Secret Senses (and again when I was reading The Blind Assassin a couple weeks later), I wondered how Tan wrote the book. Did she write Kwan’s narrative first? Or Olivia’s? When the story idea appeared in her head, was it of Kwan’s or Olivia’s? Or did she write the narratives as she went along? It’s always interesting to see what writing process authors might have gone through.

I’m hoping I can add Amy Tan’s other books to my reading list this year. Because it’s been two years since I’ve read Joy Luck Club, I don’t know which book I enjoyed more. As with Joy Luck Club, The Hundred Secret Senses should be on your reading list as well.

Rating: 4/5

 

Book Review: “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai

Book Review: “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai

“Education is our right, I said. Just as it is our right to sing. Islam has given us this right and says that every girl and boy should go to school. The Quran says we should seek knowledge, study hard and learn the mysteries of our world.”

Much like many books that I’ll read this year, I Am Malala has been on my to read list since I heard about it. I just never got around to reading it until this year.

One of the reasons I made sure to read it was because I had just started reading In Search of Islamic Feminism by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. Though I had made a commitment to read the book, I was hesitant because it was written by a white Christian woman; why should I read her findings on Islamic feminism when I could read about it by a Muslim author. Then I remembered that I Am Malala was on my ebook wish list. So I opened up the Chicago Public Library Overdrive website, and lo and behold, it was available.

When I opened the first chapter, I wasn’t sure what all the book would encompass. I knew the book was a memoir, and that was about it. But throughout the chapters, Malala not only wrote about her life, but about her father’s, her mother’s, and Pakistan’s. She provided glimpses of the Pakistan she knew and what Pakistan had become while she was living there.

I didn’t know much about Pakistan before I opened her memoir. I hadn’t read many fiction novels set in Pakistan either; just mostly Afghanistan (Khaled Hosseini’s books and The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis are the first that I think of). She provided beautiful descriptions of Swat and its history, none of which I remembered to copy down before I had to return the ebook.

There was a lot of wisdom in this memoir, wisdom that isn’t expected of teenage girls. I don’t know that I would’ve expected myself to have that sort of wisdom in my mid-teens. Then again, I didn’t experience what she experienced. I’ve always believed that education is the key, and that everyone should have access to it. But I found myself asking nearly every chapter: would I have done what Malala did? Would I have written an anonymous, daily journal about my experiences getting an education with the Taliban threatening to shut down my school? Would I have given interviews affirming the importance of girls education? I don’t know if I would’ve at Malala’s age.

“When someone takes away your pens, you realize quite how important education is.”

I Am Malala is a memoir that should be on everyone’s to read list, no matter what age. This would be a good reading group option for junior high English classes. This book not only offers a view of a Pakistan but also is written by someone their age. That should be a determining factor, especially for teen girls.

Rating: 5/5

25 Years and 25 Books

25 Years and 25 Books

Last week, I turned twenty-five with little fanfare—of my own choosing. When it comes to birthdays, I’m basically Ron Swanson.

So, as per usual, I kept quiet that my birthday was coming up. But turning twenty-five is, I suppose, a milestone birthday. Yay, I can rent cars now. I tried to think of what I could do to make my twenty-fifth year special. Then I realized an obvious solution: I would reread twenty-five books that affected me in some way or another.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been wanting to reread a lot of books. Specifically reread some of my favorite series. Like Harry Potter, Little House, Among the Hidden, etc. But with my Goodreads challenges, I wasn’t counting rereads. And neither was Goodreads (until this year!).

Once I decided that I wanted to reread some of my favorites, I took that into account when setting up my Goodreads Challenge; hence only saying thirty new books instead of seventy like I originally planned. Then I sat down and wrote a list of books that stood above the other books I’ve read in my twenty-plus years of reading. It was tough to narrow down the list to twenty-five, considering Harry Potter and Little House took up fifteen spots.

But I did it. So for the next year (February 2017 to February 2018), I will revisiting twenty-five books from my years of reading and writing up a short (most likely long) reaction piece for each book.

Bring on the nostalgia.

25 Years and 25 Books

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  1. Little House in the Big Woods
  2. Little House on the Prairie
  3. On the Banks of Plum Creek
  4. By the Shores of Silver Lake
  5. The Long Winter
  6. Little Town on the Prairie
  7. These Happy Golden Years
  8. The First Four Years
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
  1. Alanna: the First Adventure
  2. In the Hand of the Goddess
  3. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
  4. Lioness Rampant
  1. Fever 1793 by Louise Halse Anderson
  2. Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor, England 1544 by Kathryn Lasky
  3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  4. A Novel Idea by Aimee Friedman
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  6. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review: “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer

Book Review: “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer

“But food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, and identity. For some, that irrationality leads to a kind of resignation. Food choices are likened to fashion choices or life-style preferences—they do not respond to judgments about how we should live. And I would agree that the messiness of food, the almost infinite meanings it proliferates, does make the question of eating—and eating animals especially—surprisingly fraught.”

—Jonathan Safran Foer, page 263

Disclaimer: I am a vegetarian. I have been since September 2014. And I promise not to turn this book review into a passionate case (like many others out there) for being vegetarian/vegan. If it does turn into that, I apologize.

Lately, my mind has been turning to the topic of food. I suppose it started when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Chicago Public Library’s One Book One Chicago pick) late last year. That transitioned into reading William Sitwell’s The History of Food in 100 Recipes. Both books are excellent and fascinating reads, and I recommend that you seek them out this year. In reading both books—and perusing the food sections of all bookstores I walk into—my mind drifted back to why I am a vegetarian. And, most importantly, that small voice in the back of my head that says, Maybe you should just go back to eating meat eventually. Hit that five-year mark just to say to made it, and then make yourself some fried chicken.

Then, as I was wandering among the bookshelves at the West Town branch after grabbing Percy Jackson from the hold shelf, I spotted Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I knew this was the book I needed to read. Maybe it would have answers that would help me determine whether I should stay vegetarian. I had never sought out animal rights documentaries, and never researched in-depth about why vegetarianism and/or veganism. I just let people assume what they wanted about me being vegetarian—you know, PETA, animal rights, save the environment, hippie—when all I knew was that I felt better when I wasn’t scarfing down meat nearly every day.

Eating Animals is the best comprehensive book I have come across. After his son was born, Foer began researching what meat is. Many people assumed the book was a case for vegetarianism, which I admit I also thought when I first gravitated to the bright green cover on the shelf. But it is not. This is a book that makes you more aware of where your food, specifically meat, comes from. Yes, it talks about factory farms and the treatment of animals in such facilities (I’ll spare you the details because I’m sure you know about the basics). It also talks about family farms, farmers who are doing everything they can to treat their farm animals well. Foer has essays, some anonymous, from people he talked to for the book. One is a vegetarian rancher. Another is a vegan who builds slaughterhouses. There is, of course, a short essay from a PETA advocate. Another essay from someone who sneaks into factory farms to rescue any animals. One voice that is missing is from of the bigger factory farms, such as Tyson, because they never responded to Foer’s requests. I would be surprised if they did respond.

I learned new things about eating animals. Factory farming wasn’t a thing until a Delmarva (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) housewife Celia Steele started the modern poultry industry after she allegedly received an order of five hundred chicks instead of fifty and decided to experiment with keeping the birds indoors during the winter. I panicked during the section about the Spanish influenza, and how there hasn’t been a pandemic since the 1968 Hong Kong flu so we’re probably due for one. Plus, the book is broken down into easy-to-read sections. It’s not a dry read, and the pages are not dense with text. There are typographic illustrations that lead into every major section of the book, accompanied by a food fact.

When I finished reading Eating Animals, I felt confident in my decision to be vegetarian. (I’ll save the nuances to my thoughts on the matter for a separate blog post, if I ever get around to writing it.) Food is complicated for everyone for various reasons—especially when it comes to eating meat. It is important to be informed on many issues, and I believe food and where it comes from is near the top of that list of issues. Reading Eating Animals is a good place to start.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan

Book Review: “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan

My quickest read so far this year is Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I made the mistake of starting the book the same night I picked it up from the library. If it hadn’t been a Tuesday night, and I didn’t have to work the next day, I probably would’ve stayed up until I finished the book.

I had seen both movies a few years ago (which were adaptations along the lines of Eragon and The Last Airbender aka Bad), so I didn’t remember much about the narrative. Only that Logan Lerman was Percy, and the forgotten Winchester brother from Supernatural played the eventual “bad guy” in the first movie. I first heard of the series itself on Tumblr (where else), and thus became a Percabeth (Percy + Annabeth) fan before I even knew what the books were about. Tumblr will do that to you.

After many years of learning about the series through Tumblr posts that appeared here and there, I finally picked it up from the West Town branch this year and was not disappointed. I found myself wishing that I had picked up the first three books if not the entire series. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a children’s fantasy fiction series, and I haven’t really looked at that genre in years.

I loved the twist on Greek mythology. There was a time in sixth grade and early junior high where I sought out Greek mythology books and finding series featuring new ways of writing the myths (i.e., this one book series that had Hades as the main character and I cannot for the life of me remember the name or the author). By the time The Lightning Thief was published, I had moved on to other genres for the most part. Rediscovering this former reading interest left me feeling nostalgic once I finished the book.

Speaking of nostalgia, there was one moment early on in the book where Percy was talking about the two songs that Grover knows how to play on his reed pipes. One was Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 12. The other was Hilary Duff’s “So Yesterday.” I nearly threw the book to the other end of the couch. Then I sat there and felt so old; I remembered when that song came out the summer before sixth grade. I hadn’t even thought of that song in ages, and I may or may not be listening to it as I write this paragraph. Does Hilary Duff know about this reference? Was this referenced in the movie? Also, I’m not sure why I’m focusing so much on this small detail, but it’s killing me.

A part of me wishes I knew about this series when it first came out, even though tearing me away from my Harry Potter books and fan fiction would’ve be tough. But I think that this series would have helped fill the void once Deathly Hallows published.

Rating: 4/5