Books

Books Read in September 2015

I read nine books in September, which brings my 2015 total to 99. (Only one away from 100! So close!)

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Highly Recommended

Foer

1) Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer

Description: Jonathan spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood — facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf — his casual questioning took on an urgency. His quest for answers ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong.

After I finished reading this in e-book form, I immediately went to the library and checked out a physical copy for Paul. When he saw the title, he said, “I can’t read this. It will make me sad!” To which I responded, “Well, that’s exactly why you need to read it.”

Most people eat meat because they know very little (or nothing) about where it comes from. If you’re a meat-eater, the least you can do is educate yourself about how it arrives on your plate.

This guy is a very good writer and the book is incredibly powerful. There was nothing dense or boring about it. I even found myself wishing it was longer because I wanted to hear more of what he had to say.

Read this book. I wish I’d done so sooner.

Recommended

2) The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People, Dan Buettner

Description: In this groundbreaking book, Buettner reveals how to transform your health using smart eating and lifestyle habits gleaned from new research on the diets, eating habits, and lifestyle practices of the communities he’s identified as “Blue Zones”—those places with the world’s longest-lived, and thus healthiest, people, including locations such as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.

I’m a big fan of this book — I wrote an entire post about it.

3) Veganist, Kathy Freston

Description: Kathy wasn’t born a vegan. The bestselling author and renowned wellness expert grew up on chicken-fried steak and cheesy grits, and loved nothing more than BBQ ribs and vanilla milkshakes. Not until her thirties did she embrace the lifestyle of a veganist — someone who eats a plant-based diet not just for their own personal well-being, but for the whole web of benefits it brings to our ecosystem and beyond.

I feel like Freston repeats herself a bit too much, but she presents a lot of good information in a nonthreatening, conversational way. She makes a compelling argument for veganism, but I couldn’t help remembering how I felt when I read books about the Paleo eating plan – those arguments were very persuasive, too. Everyone thinks their particular healthy-eating plan is the right one. That being said, I’m moving away from my previous meat-heavy diet so reading about the advantages of a veggie-heavy plan is helpful.

4) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

Description: Japanese cleaning consultant Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results.

I didn’t read this because I need to declutter – I’m satisfied with my current level of minimalism – but Kondo’s methods have been discussed a lot and I was interested to read it for myself. It turns out I already knew most of what she was going to say (the blog posts I read in advance were apparently very thorough), but I would definitely recommend this book to people who want to start the decluttering process.

I don’t agree with all of her recommendations (I’m never going to thank my clothes, or verbally greet my house when I arrive home), but the general principles are sound. I especially liked her focus on massive purging rather than organizing. That way of thinking is becoming more commonplace but there’s still a long way to go.

5) A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco, Suzanna Clarke

Description: When Suzanna and her husband bought a dilapidated house in Fez, their friends thought they were mad. Located in a maze of donkey-trod alleyways, the house was beautiful but in desperate need of repair. While neither spoke Arabic, they were determined to restore the building to its original splendor using traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. So began the remarkable experience that veered between frustration, hilarity, and moments of pure exhilaration.

I’ve read a number of books about people who built or restored houses in countries like France, Spain, and Mexico, but this is the first one I’ve read about Morocco. It doesn’t appeal to me as a place I’d like to live, but the insight into life there is worth reading.

6) The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Description: Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother and is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

I picked this up because I saw it won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s a good story, but it went on waaaaaaaay longer than it needed to (771 pages!). A lot could have been cut out and it wouldn’t have affected the story at all.

As I’ve said in the past, I really don’t like books written from a child (or teenager’s) perspective, and I’d say at least half this book was about Theo’s childhood (I assumed that wouldn’t be case; if I’d known in advance I probably wouldn’t have read it). There’s a lot of talk of drug use and general bad behavior, so even though Theo is originally a sympathetic character he becomes substantially less so as the story goes on.

Okay

7) The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton

Description: This 1913 novel tells the story of Undine Spragg, a Midwestern girl who attempts to ascend in New York City society.

I read this book due to my friend Jaclyn’s reading challenge. Unfortunately, I really didn’t care for it. It’s not bad enough to fall into the “Not Recommended” category, but it was impossible to like it when I didn’t care for ANY of the characters — they all annoyed me in one way or another. Although it seems silly to say this, the main character was such an awful person I wanted the story to be over so I could stop giving her more attention than she deserved.

8) Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight, M.E. Thomas

Description: Thomas takes readers on a journey into the mind of a sociopath, revealing what makes them tick and what that means for the rest of humanity. Drawn from Thomas’ own experiences; her popular blog, sociopathworld.com; and current and historical scientific literature, it reveals just how different – and yet often very similar – sociopaths are from the rest of the world.

A sociopathic Mormon? That isn’t what I expected. I guess sociopaths really are everywhere.

This book was interesting in certain aspects, but the (anonymous) author’s high level of egoism was extremely off-putting after the first chapter. It was like yes, I get it. You have an elevated view of yourself and you don’t feel remorse. You are good at your job as an attorney and you think your personality helps you succeed. I learned more about sociopathy than I knew before, but the author’s writing style quickly became annoying.

Not Recommended

9) The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING, or Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog, Jen Lancaster

Description: To smooth her admittedly rough edges, Jen is going to live her life according to the advice of Martha Stewart. By immersing herself in Martha’s media empire, Jen will embark on a yearlong quest to take herself, her house, and her husband to the next level.

I usually enjoy memoirs written by people who challenge themselves in some way, whether that means moving to a foreign country, learning a new skill, or making every recipe in a cookbook over the course of a year (à la Julie and Julia). That’s what I was looking for in this book, but I wasn’t impressed.

Following Martha’s advice (and actually learning something from it) was an afterthought in Lancaster’s story. She didn’t specify measurable goals in advance, her efforts through the year were lackluster, and she spent way too much time talking about her pets (of which I had absolutely no interest, and again, related in no way to her Martha experiment).

This book was disappointing – the subject matter could have been interesting, but the author didn’t deliver.

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