21 January 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: True Stories

Books to read in JanuaryDays like this I'm so happy to work from home. It's -1F out there, with a windchill of -21F. Yep, it's really, really cold. I'm also grateful for central heating and nice warm clothes.

We were supposed to get a ton of snow on Saturday, but in the end it was only about 6 inches, which for us is a nuisance but not all that big of deal. The bad part was how wet and heavy the snow was, which made shoveling hard.

I had a busy week last week, but still managed to get a little reading in, though I was very bad at visiting blogs. I'll make up for it in the days to come. If you're in the United States and have the day off work, I hope you're warm and toasty and have some relaxing indoor activities planned.

Thoughts on The Last Whalers by Doug Brock ClarkThe Last Whalers: Three Years in the Far Pacific with a Courageous Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life by Doug Bock Clark (Little, Brown, January 8): Investigative journalist Clark lived with the Lamalerans, a traditional hunter-gatherer people from the Indonesian island of Lembata, off and on for almost three years. The Lamalerans have a sea-based culture and the sperm whale is their principal prey, which they hunt from handmade boats powered by palm-leaf sails; they even make their own rope and harpoons. Only by obeying their ancestors will they be successful in the hunt, enabling their village to survive another year. This fascinating look into a vanishing culture is part ethnography and part reporting and focuses particularly on how the Lamalerans straddle two worlds. They have spotty electricity and no running water, yet some of the younger generation have cellphones and have worked or been educated in cities or at least bigger towns. They remain faithful to their traditional spirituality but are also Catholic. Clark focuses his account on a handful of families at different places in their lives and facing different dreams and frustrations, giving us both male and female perspectives. Although the Lamalerans' daily life is far different from our own, many of their concerns will be familiar. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio, 11 hr, 23 min), beautifully read by Jay Snyder, but also had a digital copy so I could see the photos. I believe the audiobook comes with a PDF, so look for that. I have no way of judging Snyder's pronunciation of the Lamaleran language, but I assume he consulted with Clark, who is fluent. Snyder was equally adept at conveying the action and danger of the hunt as he was at delivering the more personal accounts of the Lamalerans' stories. (digital and audio copies provided by the publishers)

Thoughts on Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy KnisleyKid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley (First Second, February 26): I've read every one of Knisley's graphic/comic memoirs and have loved them all. Her newest, out next month, is about her journey to motherhood. As with all of Knisley's memoirs, this one doesn't sugar-coat her experiences. The book is not always kind to some of her doctors or to the medical profession's attitude toward women in general. One of my favorite spreads shows a woman with symptoms of plague being told by her doctor that her obvious illness is all in her head. Knisely is also honest about her reactions to women who (at least outwardly) had no trouble getting pregnant or carrying a child to term. Her own experience was quite different and involved miscarriage, uterine surgery, a nightmare of a birth, and a scary hospital stay. I love her art and her candor and am happy to report that she and her husband have a healthy baby boy, who will be the subject of her always personal work in the future, though she has given him the comic book name of Pal to preserve a tiny bit of his privacy. I suppose I should give a trigger warning to this memoir because Knisley had a rough time of it and shares her grief over the miscarriage, her frustrations with the medical profession, and the true danger she was in after giving birth. She also lets us see the overwhelming love she has for her son and the love and support she receives from her family and husband. We know there's a happy ending right from the start of the book, though the path takes us through a dark forest. Don't miss this. (digital copy provided by the publisher)

Thoughts on Sea Lovers by Valerie Martin"Spats" by Valerie Martin, from Sea Lovers (Nan A. Talese, August 18, 2015). This week's story comes from a book that I've had on my shelf for a few years. I started with the first one, which takes place in contemporary times and focuses on a woman who is coming to terms with the fact that her marriage is finally over. She has a plan of revenge, but is she prepared for the consequences if she carries it out? This story was nicely written and made me want to read more from the collection, though I wasn't as drawn to the woman's world as I could have been. Still, I'm keeping the book in rotation and will try another story later in the year.

Note on the short story project: I've been thinking about how to approach my commitment to reading a story a week and have decided to place five or six books into rotation, so you'll see the authors again throughout the year. I'm also going to try to sample new collections as they cross my desk.

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19 January 2019

Weekend Cooking: Losing Weight and Eating Right

5 books for weight lossI always wonder what percent of people vow they'll change their ways starting on January 2. Of those changes, dieting has to be near the top of the list (along with exercise and budgeting). I don't usually make resolutions, but after a month or so of holiday eating, I'm usually ready to get back to our usual healthful way of eating.

I don't review dieting books as a rule because (1) I don't have a lot of experience with dieting and (2) I'm too lazy to do the research to evaluate the truth of what the books are telling us. Thus I was surprised to notice five sane-sounding diet-related books cross my desk this season. I thought I'd feature them today, in case one or more resonate with you.

To reiterate: I haven't double-checked the truth of any of these books. Impressions are my own, and I leave it to you to decide how closely you want to follow their advice.

5 books for weight lossWhat to Eat When by Michael Roizen and Michael Crupain, with Ted Spiker (National Geographic; December 31). I generally trust National Geographic to get their facts and science right, so that's a big plus for this informative and fun to read book by two doctors who are associated with The Dr. Oz Show. The general idea of What to Eat When is that our internal body clock should be dictating the timing of our meals, so that when we eat is just as important as what we eat to gain optimum health, lose weight, and decrease our stress level. The book reviews a lot of research into circadian rhythms, human and animal behavoir, and physiology. The authors note that it's not just our own body rhythms that matter but also that of the natural bacteria in our guts (our microbiome). The book provides a 31-day plan to help us make the switch from typical Western eating patterns to a more healthful one. It offers lots of tips, including foods to focus on and foods to avoid and advice pertaining to specific health and life issues. (review copy provided by the publisher)

5 books for weight lossThe Mojito Diet by Juan Rivera (Atria; December 18, 2018). This diet book is written by a medical doctor who trained at Johns Hopkins, but now teaches a Columbia, has a Univision television show, and sees patients in Miami. The general idea of The Mojito Diet is to provide a 14-day weight-loss and heart-healthy diet with a Latin twist and--yes--cocktails. Generally the author advocates for a highish protein, lowish carbohydrate diet, with intermittent fasting, that follows DASH principles. The book discusses the science behind the diet and includes menus and a detailed plan to lose weight relatively painlessly. Once your goal is met, you can continue to the chapters that offer a maintenance plan. Near the end you'll find a variety of cocktail and food recipes, most with Latin American flavors. Cocktails are allowed a few times a week, and dessert can be substituted if it has about the same calories as a mojito. The recipes looked appealing and doable. Many dieters will appreciate the guide to eating out. (review copy provided by the publisher)

5 books for weight lossThe DASH Diet Mediterranean Solution by Marla Heller (Grand Central; December 24, 2018). This diet book is written by a registered dietician and nutritionist who trained at the National Institutes of Health and who has written several DASH diet books. In case you don't know, DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension. A diet good for your heart is also good for your general health and weight. The general idea of this DASH book is to give the well-known diet a Mediterranean perspective to help you have a healthy cardiovascular system, control diabetes, and lose weight too. The book explains specifically which fats, proteins, and carbs to eat, and even helps you stock your pantry and survive the grocery store. You'll find easy to remember "rules" (like "put color on your plate"), and the author provides meal plans that look easy to implement. There are lots of charts for quick referral and to make it simple to figure out what to cook and eat. There is also a recipe section, with (no surprise) Mediterranean-inspired dishes. (review copy provided by the publisher)

5 books for weight lossGut Reactions by Simon Quellen Field (Chicago Review Press; January 8). This informative book is written by a chemist and all-round science geek. The general idea of Gut Reactions is to learn how to create a new, lower set-point weight and thus achieve better health. The book discusses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and shows us exactly what each one does for and to our bodies. We also learn where these nutrients are in our foods. Moving beyond just diet, the book also discusses lifestyle issues and then puts all the information together to explain metabolic rate, hormones, and our microbiome. This isn't really a how-to diet book, but it is filled with interesting science about physiology, nutrition, and intermittent fasting and includes plenty of illustrations and photographs to aid our understanding. There is also information about food cravings and addictions. The book includes some fun quizzes to help you determine your relationship with food and also offers advice for understanding your own metabolism. (review copy provided by the publisher)

5 books for weight lossDressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked) by Jaclyn London (Grand Central; January 8). This book is written by a registered dietician and nutritionist who is currently nutrition director at Good Housekeeping. As is obvious, the general idea of Dressing on the Side is to debunk dieting myths and help us gain a more positive perspective on health, eating, and weight. The book goes into the science of nutrition, offers guides for evaluating the different popular diets, and helps us navigate the tons of information and tips we get from both the media and our friends. The guidelines in the book are down to earth and easy to implement and focus on healthful eating and drinking, such as how to determine when we've had enough to eat, how to eat dessert every day, and how to make sane food choices. The book is written in a fun, conversational style and addresses real-life issues like our financial budget, time constraints, and how to survive parties and the holiday season. Good graphics and easy-to-absorb charts and guides help you stay honest and accountable to yourself and offer advice for shopping and for eating out (at all kinds of restaurants and even when traveling). (review copy provided by the publisher)

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.

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18 January 2019

6 Books in Translation to Read in January

Several years ago (and probably more years ago than I realize), I started not just reading books in translation but seeking them out. I don’t know how or why I developed my interest, but if I had to guess, I’d blame Scandinavian crime fiction for turning my attention away from the English-speaking world. I love the perspective and the themes of translated fiction and nonfiction, and by stepping outside my own cultural sphere, I’m broadening my horizons. Here are six books in translation that are my January reading list.

  • 6 Books in Translation to Read in JanuaryThe End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells; translated from the German by Charlotte Collins (Penguin Books; January 29). Set Europe, this prize-winning novel follows the fate of three siblings who are suddenly orphaned and sent away to boarding school, where they drift apart. The youngest, Jules, finds friendship in a shy girl, but they too lose touch after school. When a family crises reunites the siblings, Jules reaches out to his childhood friend. In a world of loss and grief, is it possible to find hope?
  • Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen; translated by Anna Halager (Grove Press; January 15). (Note: I’m not sure if this was originally written in Greenlandic or Danish.) Set in the capital city of Nuuk, this is the story of five young people trying to find both themselves and their place as they head off into adulthood. Contemporary themes include too much partying, sexual identity, facing responsibilities, and political activism.
  • Mala Vida by Marc Fernandez; translated from the French by Molly Grogan (Arcade; January 15). Set in contemporary Madrid, this novel explores a country in transition, including economic woes and a populist movement (sound familiar? ugh). Against this atmosphere, a radio crime reporter begins to investigate a series of seemingly unrelated murders only to uncover a major scandal from the Franco years, involving what was essentially the kidnapping of babies for the rich and powerful.
  • 6 Books in Translation to Read in JanuaryThe Plotters by Un-su Kim; translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (Doubleday, January 29). I’ve already written about this futuristic or alternative-world crime novel about a young man who was raised in Seoul’s underworld to be an assassin. In this universe, killers belong to guilds (or families) and are trained to do their jobs, without asking questions. After bungling a hit, our protagonist decides to step out on his own—but at what cost?
  • Wanderer by Sarah Léon; translated from the French by John Cullen (Other Press; January 8). Set in the French mountains, this is the story of a composer and music teacher who has long worked in isolation, until one winter day a former male student—now a famous pianist—appears on his doorstep. Against a background of music and a snow-covered landscape, this is the story of the pair’s complicated relationship, and whether time and maturity will allow them a second chance.
  • What Hell Is Not by Alessandro D’Avenia; translated from the Italian by Jeremy Parzen (Oneworld; January 24). Set in 1990s Palermo, home of the mafia, this novel is based on a true story. When an upper-class teen is asked by his teacher and priest to work at a youth club for underprivileged youth, he gets a firsthand view of the city’s poverty. When the priest is murdered, the teen must decide whether to continue to help the boys at the club or return to his safe and comfortable life.

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16 January 2019

Wordless Wednesday 522

Fungus, 2019

Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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14 January 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Good and the Bad

3 book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsHappy Monday. Looks like winter is finally here--I'm happy to report that we have a little snow and the temperatures have dropped. I actually like snow and don't mind the cold. . . . At least for a little while. By the end of February, however, you'll hear me whining about the weather.

I didn't have a lot of reading time this week, because we spent way too much time watching the news. On Saturday we took a break to watch a movie, which turned out to be bust.

Hold the Dark (2018) is set in Alaska and stars Alexander Skarsgård (from True Blood fame) and Jeffrey Wright (from Westworld fame); it's billed as a mystery. It sounded like something we would love. Sigh. I'm not quite sure why we bothered to see it all the way through, because by 15 minutes we could tell this was definitely a B-movie. I've embedded the trailer at the end of this post, but trust me, just give this a pass.

Review of Lewis Man by Peter MayLewis Man by Peter May (Quercus, 2014): This is the second book in May's Lewis trilogy, set in the Outer Hebrides and featuring Fin Macleod who left his native Lewis Island to attend university. After dropping out, he joined the Edinburgh police force, eventually becoming a homicide detective. Note that I won't spoil this book, but may lightly spoil the first book, The Blackhouse, which I reviewed last month. In this installment, Fin has quit his job, signed his divorce papers, and returned to Lewis to restore his parents' croft. In the meantime, the body of a young man is discovered in the island's peat bog, and evidence points to a murder in the 1950s. The victim may have ties to people Fin knows from his youth, and the ex-cop can't help but follow through on the leads (though he keeps in contact with the local authorities). As with the first in the trilogy, this book is as much about Scotland and the Hebrides as is it about the murder. Fin's personal life also plays a major role. May's ability to create an atmosphere and to vividly convey his characters and the setting is always a pleasure. I think I'm going to spend this year catching up on May's backlist and maybe even doing some rereading--especially on audio. The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 10 hr, 54 min) was read by Peter Forbes, who (yay!) reads the whole trilogy. I love his accent and particularly appreciate hearing the Gaelic. Forbes has a real feel for May's style, and this is one of those author-narrator pairings that is, in a word, perfect. (Print and audio copies provided by the publishers)

Review of The Waiter by Matias FaldbakkenThe Waiter by Matias Faldbakken (Gallery, 2018; translated by Alice Menzies): I guess I should have known that a book compared to Remains of the Day (a book I ditched early on) would not be a good match for me, but because this story takes place in an Oslo restaurant, I was hoping for good food references and the hustle and bustle of the waiter's life. Instead, this was a quiet story of a career waiter in a European-style cafe/restaurant and his interactions with the establishment's regulars. Every day, the same people show up at the same time and are seated at the same tables, in our waiter's section. There's an actor, an elderly widow, a rich man and his companions, and the waiter's childhood friend with his daughter. All chugs along like clockwork, until the rich man invites a beautiful young woman to join his usual guests. From there, things seem to fall apart. Our usually impeccable waiter messes up an order, injures his hand, and becomes too involved in the customers' lives. This novel has won tons of praise and buzz, but it didn't work for me. It's the second book this year (only 14 days long) in which the ending made me say: "Huh? That's it?" You'll probably love The Waiter, I'm sure I'm in the very small minority. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 5 hr, 31 min) was wonderfully read by Jacques Roy. Roy does a really good job projecting the waiter's inner life and his thoughts about the diners, the other restaurant employees, and the changes the woman brings to his routine. I sound like a broken record, but it's true: a great performance can't save a book that just doesn't click. (review audio copy provided for a freelance assignment)

Review of The Paper Menagerie by Ken Lui“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” from The Paper Menagerie by Ken Lui (Saga Press, 2016): For this week’s short story, I picked the opening piece from Lui’s collection of speculative fiction stories. This story fits into the science fiction sphere and is written as a description of the different ways books are written and used by beings across the universe. I loved the premise of the story and especially was intrigued by the creatures whose books were kind of like recordings, allowing the “reader” to hear the voice of the author, almost literally. Lui’s writing is incredibly quotable, and I marked several possible passages to share in this story, though it’s only about nine pages long. Here’s one:

They have always had a complicated relationship with writing, the Hesperoe. Their great philosophers distrusted writing. A book, they thought, was not a living mind yet pretended to be one. It gave sententious pronouncements, made moral judgments, described purported historical facts, or told exciting stories . . . yet could not be interrogated like a real person, could not answer its critic or justify its accounts.
True, yes? The Paper Menagerie is going to remain on my short story list; I’m sure I’ll end up reading Lui’s entire collection. (review copy from the publisher)

And here’s the promised trailer for Hold the Dark:

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