Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer

Like author Jonathan Safran Foer, I have flip-flopped for years with the idea of being vegetarian. I've always thought of myself as not committed enough to make the effort to look at the contents of all of my food to figure out whether I'm able to eat it. I am also really uncomfortable with making other people change their menu for me, so I usually just eat whatever is prepared. I've never ever thought of myself as a vegetarian, but I do go through phases where I'm disgusted with the idea of meat. When I picked up "Eating Animals" it was only because it sounded interesting, but after reading it I feel more compelled to stop eating meat than ever before.

Yes, there is much discussion of the suffering of animals in here, but Foer also talks about the environmental effects as well as the possibilities for widespread infections caused by the conditions of factory farming. These two factors are what have really compelled me to question whether eating meat is really worth the effects it is having on our world.

Foer also discusses the conscientious farmers and slaughterhouses that make eating meat seem like a viable option. Unfortunately, these "old school" farmers are being put out of business in droves by the giant factory farming operations. This alone makes this book worthwhile reading because it explains how eating locally and knowing where your food comes from can help to make informed decision about the meat we do choose to eat.

While this book gets a little tedious toward the end, I found it a good and interesting read. I was especially impressed with the first chapter of the book in which Foer explains his reasons for looking into this subject in the first place and talks about his own struggles with the decision to become a vegetarian over the years. The discussion about why we eat some animals (cows, pigs, fish, etc.) and not others (dogs, cats, etc.) was something that really stuck with me. If you've ever considered becoming a vegetarian, but weren't sure why, this book may help you with that decision or push you over the edge to finally doing it.



Monday, September 13, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Emma Donoghue's "Room," released today from Little Brown. While I thought the book was on fast forward at some points, I never tired of the genuine voice of little 5-year-old Jack, the book's narrator and main character. We hear Jack's thoughts as he discovers the truth about his first five years of life, which have been spent locked in a room with his mother. Room and the things in it are all he has ever known.

I'd love to go on about all of the amazing details of this book, but I fear that I will give away too much if I go into the plot of the book. For me part of the joy of reading this novel was that I had no idea what it was about when I received it as my first installment from The Nervous Breakdown's book club (sign up here). Partway through the book I started to read one of the descriptions of the book online and had to stop before finishing the first sentence because it gave away one of the things that had kept me curious through the first chapter (how and when his mother got put in Room), so I want to be careful about what I say here.

All I can say is that this was one of the best books I've read in a very, very long time. The author has perfectly pictured the innocence of youth and how the world of a toddler can be shattered by the realities of the outside world. Jack's voice comes across as genuine and I was fascinated throughout by his interpretations of the world, given that I had the knowledge that the games he and his mother were playing (games like Scream and Keypad) were more than just games. I highly recommend reading this one.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shout-out to The Nervous Breakdown

Hi All,

I know it's been a long time since I've written, mostly because books are too expensive for me to buy here. I've actually just begun a project to start a "library" for international travelers at one of my local cafes here because I'm so desperate for some new reading material. In the meantime though, I've been really enjoying the pieces on the new and improved site of The Nervous Breakdown.

I know I talk about this site a lot. I do so partly because I'm one of the writers for the site, but mostly because there are a ton of great writers over there. If you haven't checked it out before, I highly recommend you do so. They just revamped the site last month and added a ton of new features, including a FICTION section. It's a great way to discover new and emerging authors.

Also, if you hate reading long essays online, you can check out the books by The Nervous Breakdown writers here. Some of them look really incredible and I can't wait to get home so I can order a bunch of them.

You can also read my reviews of a couple of the books: All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison, Pop Salvation by Lance Reynald, Sic by Brin Friesen, Totally Killer by Greg Olear, and Banned For Life by D.R. Haney.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Discovering Rumi

The closest bookstore to my house here only has a couple of shelves of English literature in it, so my choices have been rather limited. I haven't had much time for reading anyway, but there are days when I go in and browse the books, hopeful that I'll find a hidden treasure. Mostly, the books are classic literature, like Oliver Twist, Little Women, or War and Peace; or the latest top sellers (the Twilight series). I was leaning toward buying Oliver Twist the last time I was in the bookstore, but then a section of Turkish lit translated into English caught my eye. For some reason I was drawn to Selected Poems by Rumi. I thumbed through the book and some of the prose popped out at me, so it was settled, I had to have it.

I've never been a fan of poetry. I've always thought it was too complicated to understand and I've never been willing to look for deeper meanings and such. I know it's a narrow view, but everyone can't like everything, you know? Even so, I've really enjoyed reading Rumi. He's inspired me. I went out and bought a sketchbook and some colored pencils, then I wrote some of my favorite passages on different pages and began drawing scenes to accompany the prose. I'd love to paint something wonderful that will remind me of these poems when I return to the United States.

After having read quite a bit of this book, I've come to the conclusion that maybe one needs to be in a certain mindset when approaching poetry. I think that is the reason I've been more open to it at this point in my life than I had been previously. If you haven't read Rumi, I highly recommend it. He was full of insight.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

You kiss a beautiful mouth,
and a key turns the lock of your fear.


Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.


Enough Words

How does a part of the world leave the world?
How can wetness leave water?

Don't try to put out a fire
by throwing on more fire!
Don't wash a wound with blood!

No matter how fast you run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes, it's in front!

Only full, overhead sun
diminishes your shadow.

But that shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.

I can explain this, but it would break
the glass cover on your heart,
and there's no fixing that.

You must have shadow and light source both.
Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.

When from that tree, feathers and wings sprout
on you, be quieter than a dove.
Don't open your mouth for even a cooooooo.

When a frog slips into the water, the snake
cannot get it. Then the frog climbs back out
and croaks, and the snake moves toward him again.

Even if the frog learned to hiss, still the snake
would hear throughthe hiss the information
he needed, the frog voice underneath.

But if the frog could be completely silent,
then the snake would go back to sleeping,
and the frog could reach the barley.

The soul lives there in the silent breath.

And that grain of barley is such that,
when you put it in the ground,
it grows.

Are these enough words,
or shall I squeeze more juice from this?
Who am I, my friend?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Totally Killer by Greg Olear

I finished Totally Killer, Greg Olear's debut novel, just in time for the semester to start here so now I won't be distracted from my school work. It was definitely good company for me on my bus rides to and from school in the past few weeks though, so I'm going to miss it.

Part murder mystery, part conspiracy, this book, which will be released Tomorrow (September 29), tells the story of how Taylor Schmidt came to be deceased at the tender age of 23 (Not a spoiler! We learn this in the first pages of the book). The narrator, Todd Lander, does all he can to take us back to New York in 1991, the fateful year of Taylor's death.

From talking about what life was like before the Internet (There was a time before the Internet?!), to Todd's sad attempt to win Taylor's love by making her a mixed tape, this book will take you back to the early 90's the way Bret Easton Ellis takes you back to the early 80's in Less Than Zero. It's funny because I never really think of anything really defining the 90's, not in the way that pop music, fluorescent clothing, and awesome hair defined the 80's, but Olear has really captured what the decade had to offer. I especially liked the talk of the economic downturn at the time and what the "slacker" culture really meant. It really got me thinking.

As for the story, I really liked Taylor Schmidt's character, if only because I felt like I really could relate to her (at least in the beginning of the book). I thought some of the book was predictable, but the ending threw me off, which I liked. I felt like I was really wrapped up in the conspiracy by the end, the same way Todd would have felt if he were a real person. I love that about conspiracy fiction. The author (or, more often, filmmaker) spends so much time building up this world and getting you to really buy into and then BAM! nothing is what it seems and you begin to question everything you've just read. I thought Olear did a great job of that.

This was a good read set in a time period I don't really think much about, even though it was the time when most of my growing up happened, so it was a refreshing read. It's obvious Olear did a lot of research on the 90's (or he has a unhealthy attachment to those years). I thought the book was fun to read and I loved the title's play on words (even if I did have the saying "Totally killer, dude" stuck in my head for days). Definitely a good one to check out if you're looking for a quick, fun read.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Releases

I just got notified that Sue Monk Kidd has a new book out: Traveling With Pomegranates, A Mother-Daughter Story. I'm bummed that I won't be able to read it until I get back to the states, but I figured some of you out there might be interested. It was released on September 8, so it's in stores now.

Also, fellow The Nervous Breakdown writer, Greg Olear, has a book coming out on October 1. I'll be reviewing the book, Totally Killer, in a few days (just as soon as I finish reading it!). Until then, feel free to check out all of the nice things Amazon has to say about the book.

Oh, and I wanted to mention that I'm sorry if you've had trouble finding my blog as of late. Somehow Istanbul ruined my URL so I've had to switch back to a blogspot address. I'm going through the Interwebs today to try to find all of my links and change the URL. Fun stuff, let me tell you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

'Tis by Frank McCourt

After struggling through the first half of My Life in France by Julia Child, I finally put it down for good and picked up 'Tis by Frank McCourt, which I couldn't resist buying while in Dublin. 'Tis is the continuation of the story begun in Angela's Ashes, taking off right where Angela's Ashes ended - with McCourt landing in America to begin his new adventure in the Land of Opportunity.

While Angela's Ashes focused a great deal on the overwhelming poverty of the McCourt family, 'Tis instead focuses on the differences McCourt notices between Ireland and America. In addition, there are a great many stories about the mistakes he makes in his early days and his constant yearning for Something Better. We see him struggle through many menial jobs, many with humorous stories to accompany them, and eventually he makes it to college and his Something Better - even though he isn't sure it was worth it once he's got it.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for two reasons. First, McCourt has a great sense of humor about the way things went for him and how things have turned out. His stories will make you cry with laughter at some points because these are all stories that would have made someone say at the time: "You'll laugh about this later. You may not think so now, but you'll laugh."

Secondly, I really bonded with McCourt's character. Here I am, reading this book in my first days in Istanbul, noticing all the differences between my new home and the United States, while reading about how McCourt went through the same thing even though he was moving to a country that supposedly speaks the same language. There are a number of times he comments on the different uses of words between American English and Irish English. But it wasn't only the moving abroad point that got to me. I find myself questioning the purpose of my education and what I'm really going to do with my future, much in the same way that the young McCourt did in this memoir.

McCourt is a true story teller and he'll make you laugh. Also, he fills in some of the background information that you'll need if you haven't read Angela's Ashes, so it's not absolutely necessary to read it before picking up 'Tis (but I highly recommend it!). Definitely a book to be picked up.

Side Note: I saw at the end of the book that Frank McCourt's brother Malachy has his own book, A Monk Swimming, which was co-authored by Frank and deals with Malachy's struggles with alcoholism and his years as a playboy and actor in New York City. I think I'll be picking it up as soon as I can find an English Bookstore here.