Books Read in October 2015

I read 12 books in October, which brings my 2015 total to 111.

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



1) The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health, Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Description: Campbell details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The report also examines the source of nutritional confusion produced by powerful lobbies, government entities, and opportunistic scientists. Campbell cuts through the haze of misinformation and delivers an insightful message to anyone living with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and those concerned with the effects of aging.

This book was published in 2006, a year before I gave up 5+ years of vegetarianism and went back to eating eat. Would I have started eating meat again if I’d read this book first? It’s impossible to say, but along with Eating Animals and The Blue Zones Solution, it’s given me a lot to think about.

2) Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Description: In The China Study, Campbell revolutionized the way we think about our food with the evidence that a whole food, plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat. Now he explains the science behind that evidence, the ways our current scientific paradigm ignores the fascinating complexity of the human body, and why, if we have such overwhelming evidence that everything we think we know about nutrition is wrong, our eating habits haven’t changed.

Written by the same author who wrote The China Study, I found some of the material repetitive because he mentioned his previous studies quite a bit. (The books were written seven years apart and I just happened to read them in the same month…for most people this wouldn’t be a problem.) Very good information though. Even more so than in the first book, Campbell is pretty direct about naming names of people, corporations, and organizations which he says are more concerned with profits than disseminating correct information about health to the public.

3) The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters

Description: It is 1922 and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. In South London, in a large, silent house, life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers. With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life — or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

This story wasn’t at all what I expected, but it ended up being the best audiobook I’ve listened to since I started up with them a few months ago.

4) The Dorito Effect: How All Food Is Becoming Junk Food—And What We Can Do About It, Mark Schatzker

Description: Since the late 1940s, we have been slowly leeching flavor out of the food we grow. Those perfectly round tomatoes that grace our supermarket aisles today are mostly water, and the big-breasted chickens on our dinner plates grow three times faster than they used to, leaving them dry and tasteless. Simultaneously, we have taken great leaps forward in technology, allowing us to produce in the lab the very flavors that are being lost on the farm. Thanks to this largely invisible epidemic, seemingly healthy food is becoming more like junk food: highly craveable but nutritionally empty.

This book was way better than I thought it would be. I was aware of the effects of flavor dilution (watery, tasteless tomatoes and chicken that has to be doctored with spices and sauces in order to be edible), but the history behind how the flavor loss happened — and the people who are currently working to fix it — was unexpectedly fascinating. Flavor dilution doesn’t just affect tomatoes and chicken; it affects pretty much all of the vegetables, grains, dairy, and meat we eat.

Schatzker also goes into the presence of “natural” and artificial ingredients in our foods, and how very ubiquitous they are. I’ve been scouring nutrition labels for years, but what I learned in this book makes me want to be even more vigilant going forward.

5) Inside the O’Briens, Lisa Genova

Description: Joe O’Brien is a 44-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband and proud father of four children in their twenties, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s disease.

This was written by the same author who wrote Still Alice (which is about a woman who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s). Both books included the pivotal scene where a parent tells their kids they have this awful genetic disease, and since it’s genetic there’s a chance the kids may have it, and (SPOILER) some of the kids always do end up having the gene. I resisted reading this book at first because I assumed there would be similarities between the two stories (and there are), but there were enough differences to set it apart.

6) The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr

Description: Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, it also lays bare Karr’s own process. As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.

Karr said she wrote this book for the general reader, not just for people who want to write a memoir, but honestly I don’t know why you’d read a book on strategy if you weren’t interested in writing a memoir yourself one day. (Yes, I may be interested. No, it won’t be anytime soon.)

She goes a bit too in-depth at points describing her favorite memoirs and what the author did right (for instance, she loves Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, which isn’t something I’d be interested in reading myself).

I did find a fair amount of helpful information though, and I kept jotting down memories from my own life that I recalled while reading her book, so I’d recommend this book if you’re interested in the subject matter.

7) Eat to Live, Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Description: This is a book that will let you live longer, reduce your need for medications, and improve your health dramatically. It explains how and why eating the wrong foods causes toxic hunger and the desire to over consume calories; whereas a diet of high micronutrient quality causes true hunger which decreases the sensations leading to food cravings and overeating behaviors.

This book is geared toward people with a lot of weight to lose (and/or suffering from a chronic illness), but his tips would work for anyone. Having said that, Dr. Fuhrman is pretty hardcore about what he thinks people should eat (lots of raw salads) and how much they should weigh (if someone tells you that you’ve lost too much weight and are looking thin, you’re likely not thin enough for Dr. Fuhrman). He thinks most Americans eat a “perverted diet.”


8) Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham

Description: Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told.

I knew who Lena Dunham was because I’ve seen her name in various headlines over the years, but I’ve never watched her HBO show. I had heard good things about her memoir though, so I picked it up in audiobook format, read by the author. It’s a series of essays, several of which were interesting, some decidedly not so (in particular, there’s one soul-crushingly monotonous piece where she lists food she’s consumed and the estimated calorie count), but I’ve found that to be common in all the books of essays I’ve read.

9) Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari

Description: At some point, everyone embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. So why are so many people frustrated?

Aziz Ansari talking about romance, dating, and relationships in our modern age: not a stretch, but I didn’t love it. Maybe because, being married, I wasn’t all that interested in the subject matter? Sometimes I pick things up because they’re popular with other people and I should really stop doing that.

10) Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again, Traci Mann

Description: A provocative expose of the dieting industry from one of the nation’s leading researchers in self-control and the psychology of weight loss. From her Health and Eating Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, Professor Traci Mann researches self-control and dieting. What she has discovered is groundbreaking: not only do diets not work, they often result in weight gain. We are losing the battle of the bulge because our bodies and brains are not hardwired to resist food—in fact, the very idea of it works against our biological imperative to survive.

Diets don’t work. Diet’s aren’t good for you. These are things we already know, but Dr. Mann has conducted many research studies (and analyzed countless others) to prove why this is the case. I didn’t really learn anything new though, and with all the reading I’ve been doing recently about the power of plant food, I found her advice (such as eating meals from smaller plates and bringing your lunch to work rather than going out) to be pretty tired.

11) Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, The Sleep You’re Missing, The Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy, Julie Holland

Description: As women, we learn from an early age that our moods are a problem. Bitches are moody. To succeed in life, we are told, we must have it all under control. We have to tamp down our inherent shifts in favor of a more static way of being. But our bodies are wiser than we imagine. Moods are not an annoyance to be stuffed away. They are a finely-tuned feedback system that, if heeded, can tell us how best to manage our lives.

I came across this book on a library shelf. I picked it up hoping it would provide some insight on how to be less moody (I’m so very, very moody), but I felt it was more focused on explaining why moodiness in women is normal, and the many reasons why you shouldn’t mute your natural moodiness with prescription drugs.

Not Recommended

12) I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting, Rebecca Harrington

Description: Elizabeth Taylor mixed cottage cheese and sour cream; Madonna subsisted on “sea vegetables;” and Marilyn Monroe drank raw eggs whipped with warm milk. Where there is a Hollywood starlet offering nutritional advice, there is a diet Harrington is willing to try.

I would have abandoned this book if it wasn’t so short (178 pages; I listened to the audio version). Just like I said with The Year of No Sugar, if you’re going to do something (and actually go through the trouble of writing a book about it), do it right. Harrington’s lackadaisical approach to her celebrity diet quest annoyed me. Some diets she followed for several weeks, others for just a few days. She didn’t follow the plans to the letter. She could have fleshed out the story with more details, but chose not to. The common theme: she eats a lot of gross food and she’s hungry most of the time.

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