Favorite Books

April 12, 2007

Gosh, how have I not posted on this topic? Dan Harper over at Yet Another Unitarian Universalist recently posted about books that changed your life. My cousin Lydia who has her own blog lists her favorite books here (we used to have reading contests when I was little – who could read the most Nancy Drew books the fastest and when Lydia turned out to be more of a reader than me, my Dad would always point out the books she was reading sort of like, “Well at least someone your age appreciate books as they should.”). Maybe the reason I haven’t posted on this is because I read so many academic books that I have to trudge through, I forgot how fun reading is and how wonderful a good book can be. Not that I don’t like my academic books, but it is a different sort of satisfaction. Without further ado, a start to My Favorite Books list. Since this will take time to reflect on and fill out, this is just an off-the top of my head start. And these may not be my favorite books to read now, although lots of them are, but have been important favorite books throughout time.

Three Books that Come to Mind as Absolute Favorites

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy

(While the movies are all pretty good, the books came first for me. Movies later. As I noted in my comment on Yet Another UU, I first read all of these by the time I was 12. My parents were big readers and my Dad was an English teacher so my sister and I just sort of read whatever was around. It included lots of children’s books, but my parents liked these books and so I figured they must be good. As you can imagine, this meant that I didn’t really understand the books the first or second time I read them – but yet, even though I wasn’t getting it all, I had a strong sense that they were important books. I still read them all again every few years.)

Other Books I Really Like a Lot For Various Reasons

Texasville – Larry McMurtry (Just so funny.)

Evensong – Gail Godwin (link to my amazon.com review – scroll down to view)

Lie Down in Darkness – William Styron (As with a lot of other books, I read this first when I was way too young so I didn’t understand it that well the first time I read it, but somehow it stands out as a favorite because of the beautiful, tragic language, but also because it is a favorite of my Dad’s and somehow that makes it special to me.)

Amazing Grace – Jonathan Kozol (Caused an a-ha moment about my purpose in the world and an important realization about injustice in the world.

The Corner – David Simon and Edward Burns (link to my amazon.com review – scroll down to view after clicking)

Books for Children

Behind the Attic Wall – Sylvia Cassedy (this was a favorite in fourth grade)

Gypsy Summer – Wilma Yeo (a third grade favorite that I’m sure I read 20 times that is now out-of-print)

Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh (another third grade favorite – way before it was a movie!)

Steven Kellogg books – love them all

Academic-ish Books

In Memory of Her – Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza

Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World – Judith Lieu

more to come!

The Simple Living Guide – Book Review

March 19, 2007

So I cover simple living and increased simplicity a lot here, and I wanted to suggest one of my favorite books for getting inspired to live more simply and save money. It is The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs.  I wish so much that there was a newer version of it – it came out in 1997 so it is a little dated in some ways.  Still – I have, for a very long time, wanted to save more money and live a life that is less driven by getting things done and one that is more focused on living life right now and enjoying those things that are important to me. I think a lot of time the right book comes along at the right time in our lives, and for me, this book was it. It provides lots of ideas – some about being just a little more simple and some that are about pretty drastic changes. This is not likely a book that people who want to live very radically simple lives would find valuable. This is for folks who still want electricity, maybe a car, some nice “things,” and so on. I found it very readable with lots of ideas, and also a very exciting philosophy – driving home the idea that we lose sight of the point of life – that for most people, it doesn’t make sense to work a lot, to get lots of money, to get a bigger house and lots of stuff. Rather, we can be more content (and have a lighter environmental impact) by working only as much as we need to in order to meet the needs that are basic and the needs that are most important to us. Thus, if having a nice car is important, save for that and cut down on expensive clothes. It encourages you to thin of life in terms of tradeoffs. If I work 50 hours a week, I can have a big house, but much less time to live in it or be with family. Is this worth it. It also helps to counter conventional wisdom about the kind of money it takes to live a “decent” life. This was big for me.  I loved the idea that it is not unreasonable to consider living on $40,000 with two children (okay, not in Boston) and not feel deprived. I know that lots of people live on much less than that, but the idea here was that you can live on much less than you think you can and not feel poor or deprived. It challenges assumptions and offers new way to think about things. The book did not come across as preachy to me. I think you can take from it what is helpful in your life – it is like a sourcebook or reference book. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

I won’t review here, but I also really liked Simplify Your Life.

Book Review: The Garden of Vegan and How it All Vegan

August 1, 2006

The Garden of Vegan and How It All Vegan

Both of these cookbooks by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer are good for regular folks that just want to make a healthy, compasionate little something to eat for lunch or dinner. So many vegan/vegetarian cookbooks call for essence of this or fresh herb something or other imported from Japan which really makes it hard to cook some regular food for someone who is not a chef. I wasn’t good at cooking food before I became vegetarian so it isn’t like I would magically be great (or committed to spending hours in the kitchen) after I eliminated a whole host of ingredients.

Both books call for easy ingredients and simple directions. I especially love the recipes where they note that they can be frozen and reheated later. I have such a hard time cooking good healthy food while working and going to school, but this book is full of recipes that let you do that especially if you can freeze them and eat them later! Plus, the authors seem to have great laid back personalities. Not too “ooh-la-la” — very down to earth. They may try to be a little too cool sometimes, but it is better than someone who takes themselves oh-so-seriously as a chef.

These recipes are great for anyone who is looking to eat more healthily. Downside of the book is that there aren’t pictures of the food and sometimes I can’t quite tell what it is that the recipe is for (like Jessie’s Cuban Sensation– very nice title, but what is it?). How It All Vegan has more basic recipes and the The Garden of Vegan expands your range of foods. They also have great ideas for parties, make-it-yourself products for the home and a special section for college students trying to be vegan in a dorm.

How it All Vegan also has a helpful section for those who are used to more traditional cooking. It goes over what to stock in a vegan kitchen and helps one learn how to get a feel for vegan cooking. What to use in place of eggs? Soy milk or rice milk? What about cheese replacement?

Speaking of cheese, one thing that lacks in these books, and I really think many vegan cookbooks, is this whole thing where they write “top with vegan parmesan cheese.” Oh really? That easy, is it? As far as I can tell, vegan land still lacks convincing replacement for most cheeses. The vegan cheeses I’ve found here in Cambridge, MA are not edible and my guess is that Cambridge has a relatively good selection of alternative food options. Store bought vegan cheese does not resemble cheese taste or texture to me AT ALL nor to my lovely partner who is much less picky than I am. The best thing I have found for cheese replacement is nutritional yeast. It actually has a cheesy taste and semi-cheese-like texture. But that’s for another post. So enjoy these two books. They helped me move past pasta as my main food.

Book Review: The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony

July 29, 2006

By East Coast standards, I married pretty young – 24. It has worked out beautifully, but was, um, shall we say quite the challenge early on. In the midst of this challenging period, a friend of mine suggested I read The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony and I felt like it was very helpful and very accurate and I sure wish I would have read it before getting married and having a wedding. It isn’t that I wouldn’t have gotten married had I read this book first, but rather I would have done it with a different mindset. After I read this, I got online at Amazon.com and sent “used” copies to several of my closest friends. If you are between 20-37 or so, I suggest you get yourself a copy. It is heterosexual focused, but if you can stand the hetero-ness of the whole thing, there is probably helpful stuff for all people regardless of orientation.

The book is not perfect, and Paul (the author) can make some big jumps in her conclusions. So don’t read this as a super-controlled scientific assessment (which it isn’t supposed to be anyway). I found that the book wasn’t anti-marriage or pro-marriage, but rather just touched up on a lot of the realities, myths, struggles, and ideas that Gen X (and a little older and younger) face when it comes marriage — like how so many go into marriage with the subconscious expectation that it will make life complete or fix things that marriages just can’t “fix.”

I was especially thankful on her section about the “wedding industry” that markets absurdly expensive weddings (the perfect dress, the biggest ring, the best food… the most important day of your life!) to individuals and couples and that often contributes to a loss of perspective about what the actual marriage after the wedding might involve. I managed to prevent this madness for our, by “average” wedding standards, small and cheap wedding, but I felt that pressure and that implication that if you make the wedding great, everything else will follow.

One of the most helpful things I got from this book was the articulation of a feeling that I and many of my friends have — that you are not complete until you are married and that being married will “make things okay,” which, until this book, I hadn’t recognized as so widespread/generational/cultural.

Secondly, I appreciated the feeling from the book that divorce can be okay, is sometimes better, but that sometimes a marriage just takes a little more work. I was glad she made it clear that marriage has had too high of expectations hoisted upon it, that it is hard work, can be great, can be hard, and can be rewarding. She is legitimately hard on the “pro-marriage” camp that promotes marriage as the savior of civilization and that advocates staying married at all costs. If you want an anti-divorce book, this is not it. But if you want a fair treatment of many of the struggles that the twenty and thirty somethings face in trying to make a life with a partner, in the face of work, high expectations for marriage, our parents’ marriages and divorces and a culture that sends amazingly mixed and strong messages about marriage, sex, and “success” this is a great place to start. Particularly for those thinking of getting married or struggling in the early years of a marriage, this might be particularly helpful.

Happy reading.