Saturday, February 23, 2008

Three Small Books

While crawling through Our Mutual Friend, Vertebrate Biology (Will the fish never end?) and Plant Physiology (Photosynthesis was so much easier when the photosystems were 2 big black boxes. Now they're 50 known reactions with at least that many little black boxes in between.), I've managed to finish three small books.
The Mister and I celebrated our "Ginger Valentine's Day" this year, so I gave him a picture book about a cat entitled Ginger. It's sweet as far as books of 50 or fewer sentences go.

T. Davis Bunn's short novel The Quilt is an uncomplicated reminder to pray. I read it at the right time and found it enjoyably charming. At most other moments I would find it preachy and full of forced homeyness. I think Prairie Quilter would find it the same way. Sandra Dallas's quilting novels are much more fun and Madeleine L'Engle is much more interesting about the power of prayer.

Not surprisingly, I found Michael Pollan's newest book In Defense of Food, great. It's not as interesting as Omnivore's Dilemma or Botany of Desire as there is very little investigation* involved, but has a clear and well-supported thesis. As far as thinking "real food" is the way to go, I'm definitely already part of the choir, so I have a hard time assessing if this book would convert anyone. I was at-first defensive about Pollan's anti-nutrition stance, and pointed out when he started using nutrient arguments late in the book after mocking them early in the book, but then he admitted this failing and I conceited by the end that his arguments over all are sound. Pollan also has a pretty good understanding of his audience. I was amused at how very close he came to writing, "Yes, it is a big problem that there are people in this country who cannot afford even the cheap food available at supermarkets, but if you are reading this you have enough money to shop at a farmer's market, so don't even bring up prices of produce as an excuse for eating overly processed junk."

While I think this is a book that everyone should read, how highly I'd recommend it depends largely on what one is looking for. Mom needs to read it for the same reasons I did, an overriding interest in being well informed in the subject of food and health. I'd recommend it to my sibling and Purple Glove Wearer because they've read other works on food and appreciate clearly articulated argument. For people looking for an interesting read, Animal Vegetable Miracle is more personal and thus more controversial, Omnivore's Dilemma is chop full of much more fascinating, if less easily applied, information.

*My view on how much new information this book presents may be distored by the fact that my secondary expertise (after plant ecology) is food-plant-nutrition connections and the history thereof. Pollan's history of nutritional quackery in the US is based largely on works I've read for my cold cereal thesis or food and culture colloquia. Still, much of Omnivore's Dilemma was new to me, and very little of In Defense of Food was.


Irene said...

I've been meaning to get me some Michael Pollan for a while now. Just a few more weeks of struggling with the thesis, and maybe I'll have time to read and relax a little before the arrival of the wee monster.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

Did you have a name on this blog before? "Purple Glove Wearer" is fine but I thought I had something that alliterated.

Abby said...

This comment is not all related to your post, but I'm going to make it anyway. Thanks so much for your kind comment. I'm not sure that I have done anything smart and wise lately, but it's nice to hear that someone misses me. I miss you alot too. I haven't been to a good party in so long, and I really miss getting together and talking once a week. I'm really glad that we are still in touch and one of these days I'll have to figure out a way to meet up with you (as we aren't all that far apart distance-wise).

Anyway, have a great week.