Barbara Kingsolver – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Author: Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Published: April 2007
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Food memoir
Why I picked it up: Browsing Amazon for ‘food’ books, this one looked good
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: 100+ | Foodie’s 
Buy: Barnes and Noble | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

This is the first book I’ve read this year that I picked out specifically for a challenge and wasn’t planning on reading before I discovered said challenge. I suppose the whole point of a challenge is to discover new books you wouldn’t have otherwise and I’m glad that I came across this book.  Sidenote: I’m a tad exhausted right now and feeling a little scatterbrained, so this review might show that ^^;

Animal, Miracle, Vegetable is the story of one family’s year-long foray into eating locally, mainly off of food grown by themselves on their Appalachian farm. Barbara, the mother of the family, writes most of the book. Her husband and eldest daughter provide sidebars, with Steven writing about ways the ‘average person’ can become more involved, including with links to learn more, and Camille writing short essays about a teenager’s perspective (the next generation, that’s going to have deal with the brunt on the mess of climate change [my generation, eep!]) and recipes to conclude each chapter. I enjoyed this set up, it was heartwarming in a way to see a whole family work together on a book like this and Steven and Camille’s pieces really filled out the knowledge contained in this book. The younger daughter, Lily, was too young to write anything for the book but she was an important character in this story. The acknowledgements at the end conclude with ‘And we thank Lily for absolutely everything – plus eggs. If you think she’s a charming character in this book, you should see her walk out the front door.’ I enjoyed the balance of the saga of living on the farm and the snapshots into different areas of the food industry (such as GMOs, meat production, education, etc.). There’s something for everyone in this book.

My favourite aspect of this book is probably the tone that Barbara told her story in. Read: I liked how she didn’t come off preachy. It is so easy for someone in her situation, who has the vantage point to preach to the masses that how she does things (i.e., buy local, organic, etc.) is the right and best and only way. I didn’t get that at all from this book. The author(s) explained their decisions and backed up those decisions, but there wasn’t any ‘If everyone does not starting living like we do, the world will end.’ I felt more like she and her family wanted to tell their story so that other people, people like me who are stuck in the city and not really paying attention to how they eat, could see that there are other options.

For me, this book is the straw that broke the camel’s back. For the past year or two, I’ve been making little lists, notes to self, etc. about how I want to live my life when I’m out and on my own, however many years off that time may be (I’m one of those people who yearn for and thrive on independence XP). In a few weeks, I’ll be turning 19. Year one of being an official adult complete. When I put it that way, I got kind of fed up with myself. I shouldn’t have to wait until I move out to change my lifestyle. I can start now and it’s really more important than ever on a global scale that I do start now. I’m starting by trying to replace store-bought foods with homemade ones (ex. this week I made granola bars and chocolate pudding. When my sister approves these recipes, there’ll be no reason to by individual packaged puddings and granola bars for school lunches. I can make them, they’ll be cheaper, cut down on waste and tastier.). Then when summer comes around, I’m going to start looking for more environmentally or people friendly (ie. fair trade) ingredients to make these foods with. Anyhow. Enough about that. That’s a post for my other blog 😛 The point is, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle inspired me to make these changes and I think that’s a very good thing.

Extra Books – January 30 to February 6

  •  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
    • Published: July 1998
    • Genre: Magical fantasy
    • Why I picked it up: Rereading the series
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: Harry Potter 2011 | 100+
    • My Thoughts: 
      • What I find most interesting about the first couple of Harry Potter books (and I suspect this will continue until the fourth or fifth book) is how little happens in them! Haha. I know there’s a mammoth plot and back story galore to come, but there’s very little of that in the first two books at least. I liked how this one gave you a few more tidbits about Voldemort and how powerful he used to be (through giving more information about Lucius Malfoy, who I am discovering this time around is kind of deliciously malevolent). But still. Whatever happened in this book won’t be recognized as important til later on. This one had a little more substance than the introductory book, but it still felt mostly like a fun kids series. Oh, how I look forward to what lies ahead…

I’ve fallen behind quite a bit on my reading schedule. I’ve signed out of the library a lot of books I thought I should read but end up having not interest in (Faulkner = definitely not for me) so I end up dropping them, at a loss with what to read next. but, I’ve been reading at least two books a week which is where my reading habits of a few years used to be (well, a few years ago I would read three or four books a week but the books I would read then were much easier reads and a lot shorter). An improvement over last year, at least, which is satisfying in its own way.

Haruki Murakami – Kafka on the Shore

*The following information applies to the English hardcover edition. (the novel was originally published in Japanese in 2002).*

Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Title: Kafka on the Shore
Published: 2005
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Length: 436 pages
Genre: Post-modern surrealism
Target age: Adult (I’d also recommend it for mature 16+)
Why I picked it up: Can’t remember
Rating: 5 stars
Challenges: 100+ | 2011 TBR Pile | Global
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

Now here is a book you don’t come across everyday. This is a story that has all the elements of a perfect story and Murakami executes those elements well, balancing them all in a way that I can’t recall experiencing before. Those four elements are (in my opinion, for me as a reader looking for a good book to enjoy) characters, story/plot, emotional value and prose.

Let’s start with the characters, since the three other elements pretty much evolve from there in this book, I think.There are five characters central to the story. Each is unique and well-developed and while those are just two general words to describe the characters, those are the only two words that I love to be able to apply to a whole cast of characters. The characters were believable. Leading straight into the emotional value of the piece, I actually felt hollow and sad when a character died and I felt proud and happy when a character realized how they were changing for the better (trying to avoid spoilers here, my apologies for the generalities).

Kafka on the Shore is a novel that was written to make you think. It deals very much with life and death, love both physical and emotional, the meaning of life and finding your place. Murakami provides the readers with some answers but never anything flat out and only enough that you, the reader, has something to further reflect upon. It’s an epic tale, really, and part of the reason I love it so much is that the answers are never spelt out but there’s enough to go on that you can read between the lines and figure things out yourself, it’s not so open ended. A quote from the author’s website has him explaining the reader would benefit from multiple reads of the story:

Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.
That definitely comes across in this book. Obviously, I’ve only read it once but I feel like I’ve just scrapped the surface of what this book has opened up to me (does that make sense?) and I look forward to rereading it and gaining even more out of the experience.

You’re afraid of imagination. And even more afraid of dreams. Afraid of the responsibility that begins in dreams. But you have to sleep, an dreams are a part of sleep. When you’re awake you can suppress imagination. But you can’t suppress dreams.

The prose is what blends all these elements together. Murakami’s style is flowing and engaging, never dull. The contrast between the first person POV of a 15 year old boy and the third person POV from Nakata and Hoshino works very well in telling the story and allows for the prose to be changed up. Ugh, I’m having a terrible time trying to get across how/why I loved this story so much. It’s beautifully crafted, the characters are stirring and believable, the prose is vivid and delicate and the story is dynamic and thoughtful and different and even if you don’t have all the answers you thought you would like to have when you were reading the book, that’s okay. The story can be gruesome and strange and twisted but it all fits and seems so natural. I love the role that the library, books, music and nature play. I felt like this story was written for me. I am sure I will reread this one many times in the future.

As I sit there under the shining night sky, again a violent fear takes hold of me. My heart’s pounding a mile a minute, and I can barely breathe. All these millions of stars looking down on me, and I’ve never given them more than passing thought before. Not just stars – how many other things haven’t I noticed in the world, things I know nothing about? I suddenly feel helpless, completely powerless. And I know I’ll never outrun that awful feeling.

EDIT: Extra stuff I forgot to say when I wrote this post: Hoshino is my favourite character. The violent bits freaked me out but that was great, they did what they should have done. The description of the novel talks about a murder where the perpetrator and victim are pretty much unknown and I thought ‘What the heck, how does that work?’ but when you read the book it makes perfect sense and is fantastically executed.

Extra Books – January 17 to 23

  •  On Zen Practice by Taizan Maezumi and Bernie Glassman
    • Published: October 2002 (most recent edition)
    • Genre: Spiritual non-fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Interested in Zen Buddhism
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts: 
      • This wasn’t a book I read for creative writing purposes so I don’t have too much to say about it. I read it to learn more about certain spiritual practices I have a growing interest in.
      • This book is an anthology of different talks and such on a variety of subjects and is a very good introduction for a ‘beginner’ like me. Lots of topics are covered, enough to give me a starting point/jumping point which is what I was looking for. An easy and helpful read!

Graham Moore – The Sherlockian

Author: Graham Moore
Title: The Sherlockian

Published: December 2010
Publisher: Penguin
Length: 346 pages
Genre: Mystery
Why I picked it up: Fan of Sherlock Holmes stories, read a favourable recommendation in the local newspaper
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: 100+ 
Buy: Barnes and Noble | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

The Sherlockian was the third book I tried to read this week and apparently third time’s the charm, for I very much enjoyed this book far more than the other two I tried to struggle through! I really like the idea of Sherlock Holmes. After seeing the Robert Downey Jr. film and reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘A Study in Emerald’ I finally got around to reading A Study in Scarlet. I’ve also watched Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, loved it. I’m halfway through The Sign of Four right now. I’ve probably spent more time on Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes’ Wikipedia pages than I have reading the actual books…Basically, I like Holmes but I’m not one of those people who have read all the books and scorn adaptations. I like the characters and I like the community surrounding the books and I like all the analyzing of the stories and the real world facts and such. (I’m kind of like one of those people who like biographies of authors but not the author’s actual works, heh). Just wanted to clarify that before I continue with my thoughts. I can’t really speak to the accuracy or factuality of the story and I presume I would have enjoyed the book even more if I was more of a Sherlock fan, but I am enough of a fan to have enjoyed this story.

The Sherlockian tells two stories in alternating chapters. There is the story of what Arthur Conan Doyle was up to during the period for which his diaries are missing and the story of a new member of the Baker Street Irregulars trying to solve the mystery of a murder and the location of the missing diaries. I enjoyed both stories equally, which is something that doesn’t happen often. They blended well with one another. Even if the characters and plot were sometimes dull or at least, not too exciting, the prose made up for it. Moore’s prose is easy to read, smooth and flowing. I had fun reading this book. Even though it was a murder mystery, ‘fun’ is the adjective that keeps popping into my mind. Fun to read, easy to read, enjoyable to read. It was a murder mystery that someone like me, who normally despises murder mysteries, could enjoy. (Moore used the characters’ first names! ;P) I could really appreciate the creativity that went into crafting this story, the explanations for what happened and why the diary went missing, etc.

“It’s a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself,” said Inspector Miller with a smile.
Arthur thought again of dueling. There would indeed be a fight this day. But not with this foolish inspector.
“No,” began Arthur. “It is not a case worthy of Sherlock bloody Holmes. It is a case worthy of his creator.”
And with that, he marched out, swinging the door shut and leaving Inspector Miller alone to contemplate what mayhem he’d just wrought.

As I just mentioned earlier, I enjoy reading about authors, how they lived and worked. I like the appeal of reading imagined stories about real people who lived such a long time ago. Reading about authors in a fictionalized novel makes them feel more real to me, oddly enough. You can hear various facts about someone like Conan Doyle but when you read a scene where he’s chatting with Bram Stoker, I find it gives me a kind of magical feeling. The writing brings the old dead author (not to be to blunt about it :P) to life, makes him feel like a real person. I like that a lot.

Essentially, I enjoyed both the subject matter and the prose of this novel. I liked the connections to Sherlock Holmes and I liked that it focused on the author and not quite as much on the character. I would recommend this book if you have any interest in Sherlock Holmes, even if it is just a ‘casual’ interest as mine is currently. Interestingly, a lot of the story finds its roots in fact, especially the plot for the modern day story. There’s a considerate afterword by the author that explains the fact from the fiction. Even if it was purely fiction, I would still recommend The Sherlockian. =)