Three Fates (CBR4 #9)

And now it is time for the romance novel. I won’t bother breaking down the various tropes of romance novels, for Mrs. Julien did an amazing job of bringing it all into focus in her review. I will only say that sometimes, and really it is only sometimes, my brain craves formulaic writing. 

In my opinion Nora Roberts’ is not a bad writer, simply a formulaic one. Actually, the vocabulary used is of a decent quality, there is a thankful lack of heaving bosoms, and Ms. Roberts’ has a fantastic ability to describe scenery. I know scenery is not what one is generally reading for when romance novels are the topic, but I’m actually here for the story. Often skipping completely over the sexy parts of the narrative. Yes, the characters always fall in love. So what? Sometimes I want for my characters to fall in love. ‘Shippers all over the world are looking for their favorite characters to fall in love and in Three Fates there are three couples bound by – you guessed it – the fates to be together. 

We meet the Sullivan clan, brothers Malachi, Gideon and their sister Rebecca based out of Cobh, Ireland. Their great-great grandfather, Felix Greenfield, survived the sinking of the Lusitania and it changed him from a thief to a family man. But only after he stole a small silver statue of Clotho from a Mr. Wyley, a rich antiques dealer. We fast forward ninety years to Malachi who through naivety and arousal has lost the statue. No! Now the family is on a quest to retrieve what was theirs’ and unites it with the other two fates. 

From this point each sibling gets caught up in the story, the statues, and their appropriate other halves including Tia Marsh a historian specializing in myths, Cleo Tolliver a dancer who has found herself on the seedy side of Prague, and Jack Burdett a security specialist. I appreciate in this book that the female characters are given several dimensions, although the misunderstandings with their love interests are obvious. One is sure she can never be loved/found attractive, one is sure she is seen simply as a sex object, and the other doesn’t trust her gut since she doesn’t believe in love at first sight. 

Things that bend the formula in this case include a truly nasty female villain and a murder of a secondary character. These things are not unheard of in the Roberts universe, but not generally expected. Of course the couples, the fates, and the story is wrapped up in a nice bow at the end, but sometimes a nice bow is totally worth the ride.

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Partly Cloudy Patriot (CBR4 #8)

 

It’s quite shocking what a difference a few years can make when you go about rereading books. I picked up Partly Cloudy Patriot from my bookshelf last week mostly because although I knew I had read it, I couldn’t remember the particulars. Also, I was waiting for a book to come down the friend tree.

I really like Sarah Vowell’s writing, and I identify with her as a similarly minded person. Her opinions and habits ring true to me, even if she tends to take those opinions, behaviors, and habits to the extreme. Like David Sedaris, Vowell approaches her work as a series of vignettes, many of which formerly saw life in magazines or radio spots as she is a regular contributor to This American Life. Vowell is, for me, an exemplar of proficient writing. The language is rich, but does not leave one with a stomach ache.

What really struck me with this read was the content. Partly Cloudy Patriot was put together in 2002 and many of the stories included in the anthology reflect what life was like in the months following President George W. Bush’s election in 2000 and less than a year later the September 11th attack. These events have become the watershed moments for a generation, but we tend to only think about them in the long-term or the ‘where were you when’ contexts. It’s interesting to me to see where we were as it was happening, and before the rewriting of memory takes hold.

It should be noted that not all of the entries in Partly Cloudy Patriot reflect on these two events, but it is certainly akin to reading a time capsule sent forward a decade. I also realized that there are several of Vowell’s books I haven’t read, so that’s good news for me as well based on this impulse read.

on pure love

Last weekend I had a bit of a movie kick. Really, it’s been all month-long. February tends to bring out the melancholy in me. I lost my dad over eight years ago, and the day of the year that I miss him the most is Valentine’s Day.                                                                                 

In my gloomy state I decided to rent a few of the movies that I couldn’t wait to watch on cable, and since I don’t have a Netflix account I hit up the Red Box. In the course of three nights I watched Crazy Stupid Love, 50/50, and Midnight in Paris. These movies have quite a bit in common, and perhaps even more that’s dissonant, but the overall theme that rang true for me, and which I was apparently looking for, was pure love.

Pure love is different from romantic love which was also present in all of these movies. Pure love, as I use the term, reflects the way we open our hearts to the people around us. It is my belief, and the way I live my life, that we are meant to open our hearts to each other. This may not be the first thing you think about when you think about the movie where Ryan Gosling’s abs look photo shopped, that cancer movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the one where Owen Wilson wanders his way into 1920s Paris. But it is what I think of when I reflect on them.

Crazy Stupid Love focuses on the unraveling life of Cal Weaver. The crux of this move is the love, perhaps the crazy, stupid love he feels for his family and the lengths he will go to in order to protect that family. The audience can also see the effects of his love in the actions undertaken by his children. Yes, there is a romantic love story here as well, several actually, but what stood out to me was the selflessness of the love Cal had for his family and the lengths he was willing to go for them. In 50/50 a similar dynamic is enacted, but in a very different arena.

When we meet Adam he is in a relationship that is already in decline, and by the end of the movie he is starting a new romantic relationship with Katherine, his former therapist-in-training.  But the most important arc in the story of Adam’s battle against cancer is perhaps that of Adam and Kyle his best friend, played by Seth Rogan with the insight which only having lived through a similar situation can provide. Kyle is loyal to Adam in ways that not many friends would be given the situation, and even though he doesn’t always show it, he loves Adam as if he was himself, and does what he can to protect him and care for him through the course of the cancer treatment. This is what true friendship based on a pure love for another looks like, even when it doesn’t always look pretty.

So how does Midnight in Paris line up with these other two? Midnight in Paris is the story of an American writer, Gil, disillusioned by the formulaic writing he has been producing for the movie industry and wants to write a novel, to create true art. It is his love affair with Paris, especially in the rain, and the mystic journey he takes back in time to his idea of the best time inParis’ history, the 1920s, that the audience witnesses the pure love he has for the artists of the day and the inspiration he draws from the exchanges he is allowed each night. Again, there is a romantic love arc, where Owen Wilson’s Gil falls head over heels for Marion Cotillard’s Adriana, but her infatuation with the grand epoch shows Gil that his own fascination with the roaring twenties and the ex-pat community cannot last, and that he must return to his own life, and go back to loving these artists from afar.

So what does it all mean? I don’t know. I know that depictions of pure love: love of family, the love of true friends, the love of art and culture and the desire to create are all great things and their value should not be overlooked. Especially in a world which is overly focused on romantic love.

Heartless (CBR4 #7)

When I started the Cannonball Read last month I was so surprised to see how many people had trouble with the review; that reviews were the thing that kept people from making their goal, not the actual reading. I do now understand how that may happen. I finished reading Heartless by Gail Carriger almost a week ago and have been carrying it around in my purse as a reminder to write the review, the problem is I just don’t have much to say about the book.

Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. There were certain points in the story where I absolutely did not want to put it down and made excuses to keep reading. Was it earth shattering? Absolutely not. Nothing new happened here and no views about the world or writing were changed. Would I recommend it to a friend? Yep, and already have. Does it leave me wanting more? No, not really. That’s a bit of a copout. It did leave me wanting more, because Carriger has a habit of squashing the best action in the Parasol Protectorate books into the last 70 pages or so, but this could have been the end of the series given about 10 more pages dedicated to tying up loose ends.

Will I be reading Timeless when it comes out next month? Certainly. Will I be ravenously awaiting its arrival? No, I’ll be pleasantly surprised when the book gets passed down from my friend who’s reading them before me. I do look forward to more time with Professor Lyall (particularly after the revelations of his love life), Biffy, Ivy, and to a lesser extent Mme LeFoux and Channing. But I wonder after a rampaging octomaton, a political reshuffling, and the birth of the baby what could possibly be left to talk about?

In Defense of Food (CBR4 #6)

“The problem starts with the nutrient. Most nutritional science involves studying one nutrient at a time, a seemingly unavoidable appraoch that even nutrtionsist who do it will tell you is deeply flawed. “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science,” points out Marion Nestle, a New York University nutritionist, “is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of the food, the food out of the context of the diet, and the diet out of the context of the lifestyle.” (p. 62).

I’m taking a small break from the Parasol Protectorate (no worries if you’re following along – bless you – I’ll be back with Heartless sometime next week). 

My reading habits are odd. Well, at least to me they seem odd in contrast to the other readers I know. I basically have two speeds: things that are light and fluffy and fun for the imagination and things that are about information. (I lump biographies, which I love, into the second category.) It’s probably the same reason I really enjoy watching Master Class and Visionaries on the OWN network, but I diverge. This is a review of the second kind of book, but first some background on where I am, as an eater, reading this book.

I grew up a pudgy kid in a fat family. Only my little sister was skinny, and unfortunately for her, that didn’t really survive puberty. When I was young my mom did what she could to keep me, her eldest daughter, physically active. There were gymnastics lessons (which I flunked out of), ice skating, and girl scouts. But the most important thing for me by far was swimming. I swam on two different competitive teams until I was nine years old. And then we moved. No more teams, no more intense physical activity for a kid who had terrible eating habits and a propensity to be on the plump side. This plus puberty’s arrival at age 11 and, violá, we have a weight issue.

I was also one of those picky eaters that parents have nightmares about. I’m not kidding. There was a time where I would only eat chicken nuggets, macaroni & cheese, applesauce, plain fast food cheeseburgers, and French fries. Oh, and bagels. Otherwise I would eat whatever the minimum number of bites required was and go to bed hungry. I just didn’t like the taste of most foods. My mom, bless her, would ‘hide’ vegetable in things and eventually got me eating what looked like a regular diet by the time I was in middle elementary school, but it was always a challenge. It also involved invoking the ‘you will eat everything on your plate’ rule which has absolutely ruined my ability to tell when I’m full. I didn’t want to be a bad kid, I wasn’t doing it to be obstinate; I just didn’t like many foods.

As I got older I gained weight, and then more weight, took some off, gained back even more. This is an unfortunate cycle for many people, and not just the fruit and vegetable phobic such as me. (Yes, I don’t really like fruits either.) A few years ago I hit my all time high weight for a second time, this time without the excuse of grieving the death of a parent and the depression meds that went along with the initial gain and decided I could not do this anymore. Since then I have taken steps to correct my relationship with food on both an emotional and consumption level. I’m certainly not where I want to be, but I’m moving in the right direction.

This brings me to the book at hand.

As someone with a negative relationship with food I simply love and was in desperate need of the straightforward nature of Michael Pollan’s writing. This is also a book with no guilt for the eater. The general feel of the first few chapters is of course you don’t know what to eat, society has stripped  us of the cultural norms of eating and filled everyone’s head with nutrient based eating and the convenience foods of the Western Diet. The Western Diet isn’t good for anyone, so let’s break down what you should be eating, you hungry little omnivore. But more masculine.

The eater’s manifesto is simply this: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. Pollan drops this information on the cover, and again in the very first line of the book. It is that important. He then proceeds to spend the next 200 pages explaining why this would be so hard for someone to come to on their own.  He tracks the history of the way we think of food, the climate of nutritionism (a term for viewing food only through the lens of its component chemicals), and how the things we think we know- such as fat is bad for you and leads to heart disease- may not be true. Or that they may not be completely accurate. There is a lot about food that we just don’t know, but the evidence is piling up that the things we think we know just aren’t so.

Pollan comes to writing from a journalistic background and therefore is not hesitant to give the readers the studies he read in the footnotes. Even better, there is a Source List at the back of the book which is broken down by section as well as an Index for easy hunting of information. Ideas are unpacked, clarified, and explained. While I do not call this a book that I read for fun, and sometimes I certainly caught myself wanting to skim, it is a well written work.

 It is also a well organized book. Pollan has divided An Eater’s Manifesto into three parts. The first “The Age of Nutritionism”, works to explain how the Nutritional Industrial Complex (the food industry and their lobbyists, nutrition science, and journalists) have upended the way we interact with food. And how what we eat barely meets the definition of food, and how we consume it isn’t really eating in the historical sense. The second part of the book, “The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization”, works to chronicle how dramatically the way we eat has changed since the arrival of agriculture and what the western diet is doing to us. There is also a lot of time spent discussing the roles of chronic disease in our day to day life. The third and final section, “Getting Over Nutritionism” lays out and firmly unpacks the manifesto. Food, real and proper food, is defined, guidelines for what to shop for and what to eat are laid out, as well as suggestions for how to go about eating.

These guidelines aren’t rules, but suggestions from a friend who cares and has done the research. You may be thinking why do I need to read this book, but if you’ve ever wondered why people are practically begging you to go to a farmer’s market or what the problem is with the boxed foods in your pantry really are and why people harp on the benefits of leafy vegetables and are looking for someone to answer those questions but not force radical change on you (I have a fear of being told to go vegan) than this is a book for you to consider reading.

Even if you only read to find out why I will try to never eat margarine again.