Read, Listen, Watch

Staff Picks and Suggestions

Book Covers

Today I read a little piece on book covers-why books written by women (or featuring female protagonists)-are often pink or otherwise “girly,” even when that doesn’t jibe with the book’s subject matter.  When I’m at the bookstore or library, covers certainly draw my attention to a book-I’m tempted to pick up those that look ‘fun’ but not too silly or cheap.  I’ve certainly picked up some that would seem to fall into the ‘chick lit’ category, only to put them down again after reading back jackets that seem to describe a much more depressing story.  What do you think of this type of advertising? One chick lit book that I’ve read and enjoyed is Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. (If you enjoy book cover design, Stephanie had recommended the hilarious “Judge a Book by it’s Cover” blog.)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma and American Portions

Earlier this year I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  When I was reading it a woman approached me and mentioned that she loved it and it had made her change her entire diet. While I haven’t gone that far, I did really enjoy the book and I do think much more about food and where it comes from.  I haven’t really changed my diet, but I’ve become aware of “agribusinesses” and what goes into our food and how it gets to us.  For Pollan, eating is a political act, not only due to our own choices, but for the ways in which the US government has regulated agricultural policy, and the energy and other resources required to get food to us. Towards the end of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan suggests that Sigmund Freud should have studied people and their relationship with food, to get a better understanding of human neuroses.  Post-Omnivore, I do find “food” articles downright fascinating.  Hot topics like globalization, the recession, obesity, and the environment linked to an essential aspect of survival that can seem routine.  Two recent articles focus on the gargantuan size of many American portions.  One is titled “U.S. Food Portions: Monuments to American Decadence?” and it tackles the growing food crisis is a global problem, and one in which the US bears responsibility.  I like to eat out and (I assume), like most people I like to think I eat healthy.  However, it’s not hard to imagine why some might blame Americans for other countries food shortages when a popular menu item exceeds your ‘healthy’ caloric intake for the day.  (Healthy defined in this case as the number of calories consumed in order to maintain the same weight).  I love red meat, and so I’m pleased to see that it can sometimes be a (relatively) healthy and delicious option.  To leave things on a more positive note, you can also read about one business school student who is committed to agricultural sustainability and had some very positive things to say about her experience at Whole Foods.  Have any of you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma?  What do you think of the food business?  And do you think Boston (like New York) will require restaurants to publish calorie counts anytime soon?

The summer of Bill Bryson

Like the title of this post explains, this whole summer (year, really) has been all about Bill Bryson for me, and continues to get better as I dive deeper into his collection of works. As an internationally-known travel writer, Bryson is both informative and hilarious, a combination of qualities that aren’t usually seen in his colleagues. I started off my obsession by reading his book on Australia titled “In A Sunburned Country.” He traveled from the city of Perth on Oz’s west coast all the way over to Queensland in the east. He was very funny, and yet scared me to death with his stories about saltwater crocs and his enthusiastic emphasis on the fact that the top ten deadliest snakes and spiders in the world all reside down under. Recently I finished his most famous book, “A Walk in the Woods,” about his adventures hiking the Appalachian Trail. Bryson was probably at his funniest while writing this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who would like to know more about why he has achieved such a state of celebrity in the writing world. I’m currently reading his book about returning to America after living in England for two decades, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away.” Instead of one cohesive piece, it’s a collection of columns he wrote for a New Hampshire-based newspaper, so there’s no plot. I still think he’s hilarious but I like it better when he tells a story. I recommend Bill Bryson to anyone who enjoys traveling, has any semblance of a sense of humor, and doesn’t feel like leafing through a fat reference book in order to learn something about the rest of the planet.

The Woman in White

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a great (and lengthy) summer mystery read.  Walter Hartright, a struggling artist, is about to begin a new career as a tutor to half-sisters Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie.  Just before he leaves London for Cumberland, he encounters a mysterious ‘woman in white,’ in evident distress.  I won’t reveal too much more of the plot, but this 1859 novel deals with powerlessness (of women in particular) in the face of injustice. Have any of you read Collins before?  (I also really liked The Moonstone).  What do you think?