Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Omnivore's Dilemma

First of all, the first birthday of this blog came and went without mention. So, um…happy belated birthday, ARFOB! (Wow, that's a crappy acronym.)

It's book comment time, people. ("Review" seems too lofty a term for what I do here.) I've been reading a lot lately, which has been wonderful. Yesterday I pretty much spent ten or eleven hours reading, breaking only to go to the grocery store and make dinner (I read while I ate). That was, of course, the last Harry Potter book, which I'll talk about a little later.

First of all, though, let's talk about
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, mostly because I'm going to a meeting tomorrow for a book club formed at work, and I need to organize my thoughts. I felt this tension when reading – and probably Pollan felt it while writing – between moralizing too much and not enough. I mean - this is one of those literary-journalism-cum-exploration-of-self books like Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief or Stefan Fatsis's Word Freak. Pollan tries to observe himself and his feelings from the outside, and for the most part, he doesn't preach or draw sweeping conclusions - he describes the complexity of the issues surrounding food and our consumption of it. The only exception is his defensiveness about choosing to eat meat - and maybe I'm a little defensive myself because I generally choose not to do so. But consider this passage from page 362:

"I have to say that there is a part of me that envies the moral clarity of the vegetarian, the blamelessness of the tofu eater. Yet part of me pities him, too. Dreams of innocence are just that; they usually depend on a denial of reality that can be its own form of hubris."

The whole book, really, is an exercise in getting people to confront the reality of where the food they buy comes from and its costs to animals, other human beings, and our nation and planet. Food, like everything else, it seems, has become commodified, but unlike most things, it has such a direct impact on our well-being. To hear Pollan (and other sources...I've heard a lot of NPR stories on this topic lately) tell it, there's a slow tide turning, in small pockets, against it. As usual, though, it's largely being done by those who have the time and money to be thoughtful. One thing this book did was fuel my already-present frustration at the frequent short-sightedness of policymakers. There are times when everyone acting in her own self-interest doesn't work out so well.

The other book I finished recently, for which I have nothing but awe (and gratitude to Clare for sending it to me) is the first trade paperback of Rex Libris, I, Librarian.
It's a comic book about a superhero librarian who makes literary references and has the most kick-ass sidekicks in the world. What's not to love?

Okay, let's talk Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Don't worry; I'm not going to spoil it for you. I'll just say that it's a very solid book, which draws on threads you didn't even know were dropped from the other books. Almost every character from the previous books, too, gets his or her chance to play a role that seems very appropriate. It's not gimmicky, and it went to some dark and (somewhat confusingly) metaphysical places. If you're in my vicinity and want to borrow it before I leave for Chicago on Wednesday, let me know. I only dog-eared a couple of pages where Hermione makes librarian-like comments.

I never thought I would join in so enthusiastically in the rush to buy this book, but I got caught up. They are good, and I didn't want some jerk on the Internet to ruin it for me by the time it came out in paperback. Besides, I got to see Harry and the Potters in Harvard Yard on Friday night, and got my own "Rock the Library" t-shirt. (I can't find an image of it, unfortunately.)

My friend Amy and I were joking about fake spoilers this morning, so I'll leave you with those. They're amusing to me, anyway.

Harry Potter is...a MAN!
Minerva McGonagall has a secret. She's really...THE HEAD OF GRYFFINDOR HOUSE!
Ginny turns out to be Ron's...SISTER!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Lucky in Kentucky, D.C., Massachusetts

Well. It has been a while. I've been out of town a lot, and feeling in general like a chicken running around with its head cut off - albeit a chicken who doesn't have to go to class. I'm finding the thought of summarizing everything rather daunting, so what you're going to get - you lucky reader - is an amalgam of what's on my mind, what's happened, and what I'm listening to (at the moment, "Taxi Girl" by the Nields).

Mid-June was my friend Emily's wedding in Louisville, reminding me how intensely I love that city and its inhabitants - the river and Heine Brothers' and the smell of driving down roads surrounded by trees, and the friends who are really my family. I danced to "Only the Good Die Young" with my friend Eliot, and I hadn't been as happy as I was in that moment in a long time.

After this trip, I made a new mix CD called "Lucky in Kentucky," which includes two songs I'm completely obsessed with lately: "I Want Love" by Elton John and "Careful" by Guster. Listen to these two songs, and you'll have all the details of my dysfunction and current state of mind.

Then came the ALA Annual Conference in D.C. Very educational in several ways; I nerded it up as a librarian, but I was glad when it was over. I did get to see my friend Jo, and get incredibly drunk on sangria, which was good times. I also now have a library card at the Library of Congress.

I most recently read Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, Slam by Nick Hornby (advance uncorrected proofs - a perk of ALA) and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. All three were very absorbing. It's been so nice to be lost in a novel. Special TopicsI found annoying at times in that flashy McSweeney's way, and I don't know how I felt about the plot twist at the end, but the characters were marvelous. And today I couldn't wait to take my lunch break and find out who was employing Croup and Vandemar in Neverwhere. Slam was something I didn't think I'd find appealing, but I did. The voice in it is so honest, you can't help but be charmed at least a little.

There's also been a short excursion to Amherst, a day in Salem and Cambridge with my friend Sam's parents, making lemon squares, watching the fireworks on Wednesday from the back porch of the apartment. I've been dusting off poems, seeing that there are actually a couple of ones with promise in my undergrad thesis.

Finally, dear reader, there's the series of internal and external revolutions that have accompanied all these things. It's as if there are several hinges (geographic, romantic, professional) on which my life is hanging right now, and I have to decide on approaches to take. This involves asking myself what I really want. There was a line in some movie or book I saw or read lately (specific, I know) that wondered how many people actually ask themselves what they want. I'm trying.

Thanks for bearing with my little crises. I know I'm being vague in many ways. I'll leave you with an image of an item from the Joseph Cornell exhibit we saw in Salem; it's called Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall. From