Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Alli's CBR-III Review #8 - In Defense of Food

I have never really read a lot of non-fiction books, but I have to say I am becoming quite fond of them. They are not as much fun to read necessarily, but I do enjoy learning and so I think I shall continue on this path. I went to the library last night and found that I had 5 books in that I had requested (one that I had requested only 20 mins before I left to go to the library).

The latest non-fiction that I read was “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan is about nutrition science, government food policy and ends with suggestions on how one should eat. The manifesto is simple “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. It may have been a bit too simple, as the majority of the book focuses on the science, and the failures and misinformation of the past, and not enough on hope for the future. I suppose that people do need to be frightened into change, I am about halfway where I want to be as far as clean and healthy eating so it was a bit of preaching to the choir for me.

I am not going to say that I never eat crap, because that would be a total lie, but I am well aware that I should not be eating those things, and of how bad they are for me. I am making a large effort to eat less processed foods and more fresh foods. Being a vegetarian also helps a lot to avoid certain unwanted chemicals and hormones in my diet.

I did find it interesting how unreliable nutrition science is, as well as how food lobbyists can manipulate the FDA into making claims about their products. Frito-Lay is getting a claim encouraging people to eat chips because the fat they are fried in can be interpreted as good for you. Before fat was vilified as causing multiple heart problems, but people simply replaced the fat with sugar and we are worse off than ever.

Although some parts are a bit dry to read, I would recommend reading this to anyone who is concerned about the current state of food in this world that we live in. We all really do need to take the focus away from quantity and back onto quality. We need to learn to appreciate the food that is on our plates, to savour it and get back to having mealtimes be a time for social activity. This is something I would also need to work on, with a busy schedule I tend to think of mealtimes and the preparation of those meals as something to get through as fast as I can. I need to put the joy back into cooking the meals, and sharing them with my family as well.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Alli's CBR-III Review #7 - Girl Interrupted

I recently rewatched the movie “Girl Interrupted” on Netfix and noticed that it was based on a book so I decided to read it and I am very glad that I did. The movie is pretty good but personally I found the book by Susanna Kaysen to be superior. Her memoir reads a bit like a diary, and the story is told partly in a non linear fashion with vignettes telling of different people that she met in hospital and experiences that she had there.

For anyone who is not aware, “Girl Interrupted” is about a young woman who enters a mental hospital in the late 1960’s after a suicide attempt. Susanna was 18 at the time of her admission and spent almost two years at McLean hospital. One of the more interesting aspects of the book was the aspect of seixsm that was involved with certain diagnoses at that time, promiscuity for example was one of the symptoms of Susanna’s condition of borderline personality disorder. A lot of the reasons that women were considered to be abnormal were realting to a lack of desire to get married and have babies like they were supposed to at the time.

As I was reading the book, as often is the case when comparing a film version to a book version, little changes that were made really irked me. For example, the character of Lisa as played by Angelina Jolie with that awful fake blonde hair, was a brunette in real life. And the nurse played by Whoopi Goldberg was a white woman with a long blonde braid that she wore in a braid and the patients would beg her to take the braid out and let her hair loose, although she never would. Also I loved the ending of the book so much more, it was more defined and more realistic. And there was a bit of a surprise ending for Lisa as well that I hope worked out for the best for all concerned.

It was a nice fast paced read, and I recommend reading it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Alli's CBR-III Review #6 - Never Let Me Go

I haven’t yet had the experience with many books the way I get with certain movies where a lot of friends have reccomended them and then I feel quite let down once I see them. I try to shy away from reviews or plot summaries of books that I want to read as I would rather be surprised by plots and so forth. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro is a book about coming of age, friendships, love and also something a bit more.

The “plot twist” to me was not that interesting the way it was presented. I think that more could have been revealed or discussed to make it more interesting but to me the book felt a bit pointless. The book centers mainly around 3 friends: Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. They live in a “mysterious” boarding school called Halisham. There is a bit of a love triangle, and rivalry in other ways between the two girls. There is also a lot of talk about the students being “special” and whatnot.

I am not going to say much else about it. The writing is pretty good, but the whole book to me felt a bit sedated and slow. I am glad to be done with it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Alli's CBR-III Review #5 - Player One

Player One is a novel by Douglas Coupland, it was written for a CBC lecture series and was broadcast on the radio as well as through podcasts. It is split up into 5 one hour segments. We follow four main characters and a couple side characters through a global crisis as it unfolds.

My favorite book is “The Stand” and in some ways this book reminded me of that one, but overall it was a bit disappointing. Coupland is quite a famous Canadian author, and this is the first book of his that I have read. I think that perhaps trying to fit it into the time frame of the lecture series may have been responsible for the shortcomings that I perceived.

I think that Coupland set a good scene, created interesting characters to fill it in. One of the main characters suffers from a plethora of medical conditions on the autism/OCD spectrum, which was quite interesting. I think that had Coupland had more time to flesh out the characters and plot the book would have been much stronger.

The ending felt tacked on and too simplistic for the crisis that the book centers around. I would rather not say what that crisis is for fear of giving away too much of the plot. But I will just say that something like that would not have a happy ending.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Alli's CBR-III Review #4 - Unbearable Lightness

I don't know how to begin my review for Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi. I don't know how personal to get with my experience reading this book. I don't even know how to describe it, it is not a biography, not a novel, it is an unabashed confession of a person with an eating disorder, a person like me.

Portia, like so many of us, struggled with body image and issues of self worth her whole life. Growing up in Australia she never felt quite pretty enough, quite good enough. When competing she felt that she had to be first or why not even try, even winning with a close margin was not good enough.

When she got the part on Ally McBeal she never felt that she deserved it. The adjustment to being a "celebrity" proved too much for her, and being gay and not quite coming to terms with it didn't help matters at all. Portia relates how this all factored into her eating disorder becoming life threatening.

The majority of the book focuses on the details of her disorder, which is relatable to those of us who have been there. I found that she seems so happy now, and seems to have found a way to be healthy and just to listen to her body and not binge, starve or exercise obsessively. I wish that she spent more of the book focusing on the recovery side of things, as that is the hardest part about having an eating disorder. Food can never be avoided, we can just hope to find the reason to be healthy and the love for ourselves to know that we do matter.

Alli's CBR-III Review #3 - In the Path of an Avalanche

My boyfriend highly recommended this book to me, and I was not disappointed. He has a lifelong background in skiing, while I am just starting to learn. I think that I have more than my fair share of anxiety about the sport without reading about avalanches, but after reading this book I feel more aware and secure about risk versus reward on the whole matter. Vivian Bowers wrote “In the Path of an Avalanche” based on a true tale of tragedy that happened in my province of British Columbia.

In January 1998 six adventurous skiers headed out by helicopter to a remote cabin to enjoy a week of fun in the cold. They considered themselves fortunate as the only way to book that particular cabin was through a lottery system. Unluckily for them, the weather conditions were poor and avalanches were likely. For reasons unknown, the normally fairly cautious group set out and did not return.

The book is extremely thorough, at parts a bit dry due to the amount of scientific type data. I was very interested to learn how avalanches are created, and even the little details about how helicopters work and the logistics of heliskiing. I became quite invested in the story and the portraits that Bowers wrote about the ill fated skiers. Even knowing the outcome from the get go, I found myself tearing up when the inevitable came near the end of the book.

After the avalanche occurs, the last quarter of the book focuses on the search and rescue and recovery efforts. To me though, it seems like a lot of risk was taken, even after the outcome of the skiers was already known. But there was great pressure from the media to get the skiers home, alive or not. This tragedy occurred in a very small town, so the intrusion of the media was not exactly welcomed and they wanted to show themselves in a positive light.

I expected to come out of this book more afraid of back country skiing, but it had the opposite effect. Reading about the safety precautions to take, and the benefits that outweigh the fear inside. After all, I could get hit by a bus on my way home from work. If I am meant to die doing something that I love, then so be it.