Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Weird Book Room

Stumbled across an interesting website that I'd like to call your attention to--AbeBooks' Weird Book Room (Click Here). It is a collection and celebration of everything that's bizarre, odd, and downright weird in book publishing. It includes such titles as the above "Toilet Paper Origami", as well as "Death in the Pot: the impact of food poisoning on History", "50 Ways to use Feminine Hygiene Products in a manly manner", "The Romance of Proctology", and "The Pop-up Book of Phobias". Every one of these titles about all the oddball aspects of life you could imagine (and some that you can't) are for sale. It also highlights the "Weird Book of the Week"--the latest being "The Teach Your Chicken to Fly Training Manual". It's pretty funny. Check it out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bringing it to the Table by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a poet, essayist, farmer, and novelist. Berry has been writing about the "good life", which includes sustainable agriculture, appropriate technology, and healthy rural communities with a connection to place, for the last five decades. For over forty years he has lived and farmed, with his wife Tanya, in Kentucky. He is one of our state's treasures. The essays included in this book, some of them dating back to the 1970s and 1980s were dealing with conservation land practices and mindful eating long before the recent spate of books on those topics.

Berry has said "A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes." The book is divided into three parts: Part I--
Farming; Part II--Farmers; and Part III--Food. Michael Pollan has written the Introduction. If you've not read much of Berry, this book would be an excellent introduction, and it is essential reading for anyone who cares about what they eat.
Berry offers several suggestions for things we can do in order to eat responsibly:
  • Participate in food production to the extent that you can.
  • Prepare your own food.
  • Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. That means whenever possible to deal directly with the local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.
  • Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to the food that is not food, and what do you pay for these additions?
  • Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.
As Pollan says, the national conversation now unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began with the work of Wendell Berry.

Friday, December 18, 2009

In Lieu of Flowers: A Conversation for the Living by Nancy Cobb

I lost my kid brother to esophageal cancer recently, and have been in the process of grieving. A friend of mine suggested this book. As the quote from Wally Lamb on the cover of this book says, "This meditation on grieving is personal and persuasive--sustenance for the mind and the soul." And what a lovely book it is. Cobb, a former public radio host and actress, has lost her father to suicide, her mother to Alzheimer's, and a close friend to cancer. In this little gem she shares her encounters and observations in her quest to understand death and dying. Have you lost someone near and dear to you? Are you struggling to comprehend and carry on? Then this book may be just the tonic you need.

As the author says "The crossroads at the end of life--the 'divine intersections' where the living meet the dying and the dying meet the dead--are difficult to discuss, perhaps because we are afraid of the unknown, perhaps because we don't want to sound morbid or New Agey...If we're all going to die, why can't we talk about death?...Death is as sacred and inevitable, as ordinary and extraordinary, as messy and complex, as birth, and yet end-of-life care in America is only just catching up with the natural birthing methods introduced to the delivery room thirty years ago. Why, has it taken us so long to handle our departures as lovingly as we have handled our arrivals?"

Now, if this description hits home, you'll see why this little book just might be the solace for your soul that you need: "After experiencing the death of someone you love, you join a rank-and-file whose number multiplies hourly. Soon you learn, as others have before you, that perspective shifts erratically. Weeks pass slowly. You wonder if that bone-deep physical ache in the center of your chest will ever go away, of if you'll ever finish a paragraph, laugh with abandon, or look at family photographs without falling apart. If your loved one died suddenly you will search your memory obsessively, going over and over the last exchange of words and the predominant feelings between you that day. If you had plenty of time to say goodbye, you'll still wonder if you got it right. Regret is grief's handmaiden. Learning to focus on the life, rather than the death, of a person you have loved and lost requires an enormous emotional effort. You distract easily. You teeter constantly. Car accidents and falls down stairs often occur during periods of mourning. Because you have been cracked open by your experience, imbalance is often a result."

Grieving is part of living. If we live and love, we will grieve. This amazing little book lets you know that you are not alone. In sharing her own experiences with us, Nancy Cobb engages in a longer conversation about loss, encouraging us to accept and honor those we have lost by exploring our feelings rather than avoiding them and in the process confronting and accepting death itself.

After Nancy's mother died, she found the following passage tucked away among her papers. It was written by Henry Scott Holland, a professor of divinity at Oxford University:

"Death is nothing at all--I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way you always used. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without the ghost of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant...there is absolutely unbroken continuity. I am waiting for you--somewhere near just around the corner. All is well."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

This first installment in a series has Crispin Guest, as a disgraced knight who was stripped of his rank after a treasonous plot against Richard II. He is forced to live by his wits on the streets of London making his living as a Tracker, the medieval equivalent of today's PI. He takes a job from a reclusive prosperous merchant to spy on his wife and find out if she has been unfaithful. When the merchant turns up dead, Crispin must unravel the mystery. Doing so involves a family dispute, a ruthless mob of Italians, and a religious relic, in this enjoyable 14th century tale of murder and intrigue.

Westerson has created a memorable character in Crispin Guest, who is frustrated by his societal downturn and has to constantly battle those feelings. When in the course of solving this mystery he manages to fall in love with a commoner, he has to come face to face with his own prejudices. This authentically detailed period piece is a real page turner. Westerson has an encyclopedic knowledge of the medieval period and an obvious love for the hard boiled detective genre. Serpent in the Thorns is the next book in the series, and I can't wait to return to the gritty world of 14th century London.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Giv: The Story of a Dog and America by Boston Teran

I remember reading a quote somewhere that said this was the Forest Gump of dog books, so of course that was enough for me to want to read it. And I was not disappointed. This is a unique and beautifully written book.

There are lots of dog stories out there, so what makes this one any different from countless others? I think the answer to that would be the way it is written. From the very first page, this book is suffused with love, and I think it will touch you deeply. There is an overwhelming sadness and beauty in this book that goes beyond the human canine connection and borders on the spiritual. It is a book that is very much pro small town and exalts the american traits of faith and sacrifice.

The story follows a dog named Giv on his journey across the American landscape from post 9/11, through Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq war. And through this journey you will experience the heart of a nation. Here's a small quote to show you the flavor of the writing:

"The Pitch of creativity was happening in Ruthie, though she did not know it--she wouldn't for a few hours yet, anyway. It was part of the same volcanic energy that had birthed Marlon Brando, the biker, in The Wild One, who when asked in a California town, "What are you rebelling against?" answered, "What have you got?" It had birthed James Dean and a game of chicken on the Pacific bluffs in Rebel Without a Cause. It spawned The Grapes of Wrath and Dean Moriarity in On the Road and Jack Nicholson on the back of a chopper wearing a football helmet while the Byrds sang "The river, it flows to the sea, and wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be."

It gave us The Call of the Wild and Sullivan's Travels and Travels with Charley and The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and Vanishing Point and Route 66 and Bob Dylan singing, "Where you want this killing done? God said out on Highway 61." There's Johnny Appleseed and Ishmael, though his road was the sea, and The Leatherstocking Tales and It Happened One Night and Superman and The Incredible Journey and John Wayne in The Searchers promising he would find his kidnaped niece "just as sure as the turning of the earth," and Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled."

This is one of the most moving books I've ever read. It is poignant, powerful, and compelling. It gives me hope for our troubled world. I guarantee this book will touch your heart.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What to give the book lover in your life

A Journey Through Literary America by Thomas R. Hummel

This is a book that will help you understand the link between some of America's great literary voices and the landscapes that inspired them. It is, however, more than just a collection of beautiful photographs that make it a pleasure to look at as well as to read. It is a literary pilgrimage of photography and prose that took writer Thomas Hummel and photographer Tamra Dempsey two years and twenty thousand miles to compile. There are over 140 photographs and biographies ranging from James Fenimore Cooper to Washington Irving.

Here's a sample of the section on Willa Cather:

To confront the Divide—a swath of land from the Little Blue to the Republican River in Nebraska—was to feel such a pang of disorientation. But in a short amount of time, the country began to work on Cather. “I was little and homesick and lonely…” she later observed. “So the country and I had it out together and by the end of the first autumn the shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion that I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and curse of my life.”

This is a beautiful and engaging book that manages to capture the natural wonders that influenced some of our favorite writers.

Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild by Michael Forsberg

The great plains were once one of the greatest grasslands on the planet, but in our settling of the west they were ploughed under and fenced in, as well as overgrazed. The grasslands today are some of the least protected and most endangered spots in North America. The photographs, essays, and maps of this book give us a taste of what still survives; the natural communities and native creatures of a vast and extraordinary landscape. Between fall of 2005 and winter of 2008 Michael Forsberg traveled roughly 100,000 miles across 12 states and 3 provinces of Canada to complete the photographic work for this project. There are also essays by Great Plains scholar David Wishart and wildlife biologist and rancher Dan O'Brien. The great plains are in desperate need of conservation and perhaps this beautiful book will help us all to recognize the wild splendor in this irreplaceable part of our planet.
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