Monday, December 08, 2008

What We're Reading

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan.

I started The Omnivore's Dilemma an embarrassingly long time ago. I think it was on my list of books to read in 2007. But I bogged down in the beginning section when Pollan discussed corn. I lost the book (several times). I let it sit on my bedside table forever. At swim lessons or choir or gymnastics, I talked instead of reading. My fault. I got sidetracked by school and summer and children and other books. Sometimes you just have to be ready for a book. I picked it up a couple weeks ago and couldn't put it down. Pollan has a lot to say about our food systems, where our food comes from, how it gets to us, and why and how we need to change the way we eat. My favorite part: Mushrooms. They're fascinating organisms.

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Daniel Levitin.

This is Your Brain on Music (which I first mentioned in this post) took me forever to finish. Partly because I was reading it mostly at the pool, gymnastics and at the girls' choir practice, partly because there's so much to absorb that I read it in small chunks, and partly because, in all seriousness, I'd get distracted by the songs in my head while I was reading. I'd find myself humming a tune mentioned in the text over and over, thinking about the words of the song rather than the words on the page. Absolute pitch, music and emotion, earworms, attributes of music and how the brain perceives them, possible reasons human beings may have developed musical capabilities. It's a fascinating book.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl.

I pulled this off the shelf because I liked the title. I opened it because I liked the cover. I bought it, not because of the synopsis on the back (boo-ooring, I thought) but because I read the first page and thought it was funny.

I was riveted. It's a big book and I am usually too busy to drop life and just read, but I read Calamity Physics in three days. Intelligent, dark, original, funny at times, heartbreaking at others. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is part coming of age, part mystery, part conspiracy, part something else entirely. The story, in other other words?...could have degenerated into a melodramatic teen tragedy, but instead it became something else entirely. I found myself thumbing back to previous events as new revelations came to light, a sure sign of a good read. It's a bit wordy at times, but even the wordy bits are worth reading for the writing. A few of my favorite things: The way Pessl (through her protagonist, Blue) describes people, Blue's brilliant and eccentric father, and the unfolding mystery.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

A birthday buy. My Irie sis gave me a gift certificate for books(!) for my birthday. What an amazing story, all the more incredible because it's true. In a nutshell, a mountain climber, Greg Mortenson, lost his way after an arduous climb, wanders into the wrong village, sees the village children attending school out of doors (no building) and scratching their math problems in the dirt (no books, paper, pencils) and promises to build them a school. I'm assuming from the book's pictures that the promised school, and many others, have been built, but where I'm reading right now, even the first school is in doubt.

I'm sure most of the English-reading world has read Three Cups of Tea already, by the way. I'm usually a little behind on these things. When I see the book to read, you know, the one that's stacked all over the bookstore with glowing handwritten recommendations and "Bestseller!!" signs, I usually walk on by. Not out of some perverse "I don't follow the crowd" mentality, just because I know it will probably be around for a while until I finally buy it. Or forget about it. Either way.

Green Housekeeping, Ellen Sandbeck.

Hooray for birthdays! This is the on-deck book, next to be read as soon as I finish or (more likely) lose the book I'm reading right now.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1), Stephenie Meyer.

I'm not reading Twilight myself. The eldest of the lovely ladies is reading through the Twilight series. I've been tempted by all the buzz and by the movie, but after I went through a mercifully brief Anne Rice vampire phase, I shy away from all things vampire.

And the fine young gents are reading....

Where Are You Going? To See My Friend!, Eric Carle and Kazuo Iwamura.

English books are read front to back; Japanese books are read from back to front. In this charming story, the two meet in the middle, the English half written and illustrated by Eric Carle, the same story in Japanese written and illustrated by Kazuo Iwamura. The fine young gents have been studying Japanese under the guidance of their eldest sister, with the result that many of the young folk in our house (and our lovely next door neighbor girl, who sits in on the Wednesday Poohsticks Japanese class) are slightly obsessed with all things Japan. On of the sure signs that a library book is a hit is finding it all over the house. This one is going in Santa's book basket.

A Hole Is to Dig, Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

A Hole is to Dig has been a Poohsticks favorite for years. The top pick of the youngest gent, who is sleeping with the book as I type, so that I can't type out any of the charming definitions of holes and hugs and toes and the many other small things that fill childhood.

The Essential Calvin And Hobbes, Bill Watterson. (And the Indispensible and the Authoritative and the Lazy Sunday and Attack of the Deranged Killer Mutant Monster Homicidal Jungle Weirdos Go Boink...)

The reading fine young gents are going through a Calvin and Hobbes phase. Middle gent keeps starting stories that begin with, "Mom, Calvin just..." and I find myself holding my breath in case he's actually telling me a story about his older brother. Usually, to my relief, the shenanigans he's relating involve a stuffed tiger or a sled, neither of which we own.

Dial-a-Ghost, Eva Ibbotson.

Second-grade gent's reading book. I haven't read this one, though I've read and enjoyed other Ibbotson stories. The back coverreads (in a nutshell) something about wicked relatives trying to hire scary ghosts to frighten their young cousin (nephew?) to death in order to get his inheritance. There's a mix-up at the ghost agency and a friendly ghost family is assigned instead, and they try to help the poor young man. "It's good," says fine young gent. When pressed, "It's funny. I like the story." This kid should write book reviews, eh?

Oh well. He's reading and enjoying it.

Froggy Goes to the Doctor, Jonathan London.

I have a confession. I hate reading the Froggy books. They're cute and walk Froggy through many of the challenges of life like a doctor's visit or learning to swim. The gents think they're hysterically funny and kindergarten gent is willing to read it to me instead of the other way around. My review, then? They love it. They're willing to read it. It makes them laugh, which makes me laugh, so I love Froggy. Just don't ask me to read him.

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