Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I am not the hugest fan of Kingsolver's fiction novels. When I was out in NYC last weekend, and waxing poetic about how much I was enjoying Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I mentioned this, and since I have intelligent and inquisitive friends, I was immediately asked why I wasn't head over heels for The Poisonwood Bible or The Bean Trees. The best I could come up with, since I hadn't recently read either, was that I remembered feeling like they were written down, as in at an 8th grade level, and as in the plot was as unsurprising as an episode of Law and Order - I could see where we were headed three or four chapters ahead, and that just annoys me. Anyway, I will reread both of the above again and quantify and qualify all of this further then, or perhaps discover that I AM secretly in love with predictability.

But Kingsolver's nonfiction is something else entirely. Accessible? Yes. Written condescendingly? No. It's smart and human and funny and reveals interesting things about her, as a writer, and me, as a reader. For example, I am desperately happy that I do not live on a farm in Appalachia. Kingsolver loves it, and I see why she does, but I think after about three weeks on a farm I would run screaming to a large metropolis, like, for example, Tokyo, and find a nice bench with a view of traffic and neon signs and down a mocha, in spite of normally not drinking coffee. And then I'd have to decamp to the edge of suburbia or the wilderness after two weeks of that . . . anyway, I just can't imagine being happy day to day working and weeding and collecting eggs and cooking. My domestic gene has kicked in slightly, but mostly it's just manifesting as a desire to organize and decorate, which is basically just a small-scale incarnation of my desire to organize and beautify the entire world. Note: I'm pretty sure Martha Stewart feels the same way.

I recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life to anyone who is interested in food. I don't think I have any friends who don't like food, so you should all read this. The commentary and sidebars on agribusiness and local food are eye-opening and actually not all that depressing or scary - this particular piece has a much more empowered and postive approach to the host of problems associated with how we currently eat (adult and child obesity, corn syrup, soy, monocultures, local farmers, organic, etc.) than most stuff you read. Since I'm already familar with a lot of the subject matter, it slotted right into what I know, but it also made me rethink shopping at gorcery stores in the summer - I'm going to make a serious effort to get to the Farmer's Market once or twice a week this growing season. Buying directly from the farmer makes organic and local affordable, and I don't actually approve of packaged foods. I'm trying not to buy them so much anymore. The labels and additives scare me.

There were a few things that bothered me about this book, so it's not getting my top ranking - I found Camille's little essays (Kingsolver's college-age daughter) preachy and naive, but then she was a college freshman at the time. And the daughter of an incredibly successful writer. And did I mention she was a college freshman? Being didactic comes with the territory. On the other hand, her recipes and menus look soooo grood. I also thought that Kingsolver occasionally lapsed into making excuses about her behaviors (eg. choosing to start eating meat again - that's fine, but the way she wrote so defensively about it made me think she actually wasn't at peace with her decision) and a certain air of superiority that, while exceptionally rare and subtle, was still there every now and then. Overall, though, a fantastic read and a timely and topical book. About food. Mmm, food.

4/5 Swallows

Intro Blog Post

Well, here I am, merrily adding another project to my always increasing pile of worthwhile endeavors. When will I learn? Hopefully never.

This, friends and complete strangers, is my new Book Review blog. As I read and reread books, I will write entries about them, and will wax ecstatic or, more often, bash them into oblivion. I start every book I read really, really wanting to love it, but that's just so rare. Kind of like dating.

The blog title is taken from the second to last paragraph of E.B. White's classic Charlotte's Web:

"Life in the barn was very good-night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything."