That Vacation-y Feeling (and some vacation-y reading)

I’m going to be a little less consistent about blogging in the next week or so, except when I have the urge to pop in and share a cartoon about one of my more amusing neuroses (coming soon: fear of jack-in-the-boxes–or are they “jacks-in-the-box, like “attorneys general?”) or a link to something I’ve written that’s gone up elsewhere.

Meanwhile, here is my recommendation for a great summer read. (I read it back in December, but whatever.) It’s beach reading material, except better. Not only does it have a really engaging story–the kind of book that you can’t wait to get back to in order to find out what’s happening to the characters you grow to love–it also has some important themes. And it escapes some of the cardboard-like stock characters that were flaws in Kingsolver’s earlier novels (eg. the utterly hate-able Nathan Price in The Poisonwood Bible.

Anyway, more about why you should read Flight Behavior:

I’ve enjoyed Kingsolver’s work ever since I read The Bean Trees for English class in high school and then headed straight for the library to find Pigs in Heaven and Animal Dreams. One college summer afternoon I started reading the first chapter of The Poisonwood Bible and found myself unable to do anything else until I’d finished. Even when Kingsolver gets on my nerves by being a heavy-handed in making a point, political, religious, or philosophical, she can sure turn a phrase and weave a plot.

This new novel has all the charms (if also the usual shortcomings) of Kingsolver’s earlier books; I was a little worried that she would be excessively pushy with the “issue” of this one–climate change–but she kept it pretty real.

Speaking of “real,” climate change is, and it’s so apparent in Malawi that everyone from university professors to brickmakers will tell you about it. Most people in Malawi grow their own staple food–corn that’s pounded and cooked into a doughy paste called nsima–and so when the weather goes weird and the rains are late or too scant, they feel it in their empty bellies: people who have never owned a car, never had electricity, never bought a computer, suffering the worst effects of a climate problem that they didn’t create.

Is this not close to the definition of “unfair”?

I don’t want to give any exciting plot details away, but a similar (yet, of course, very different) injustice forms something of a theme in Flight Behavior. There’s also a lot in there on faith and science. I recommend it!

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What do Foodies Have to do With Faith & Feminism?

I have a new post up at Christianity Today on Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation:

“Lord, bless this food, and bless the hands that prepared it…

As far back as I can remember, whenever I heard this particular cliché in a mealtime prayer, I’d involuntarily picture a pair of magically disembodied hands, white and fluffy like Mickey and Minnie’s gloves, hovering over the kitchen counter, chopping carrots, lifting pot covers, and sweeping minced onions into pans of sizzling oil. “Why are we blessing the hands?” I’d think. “Why not the rest of the person?” It seemed a strange way to bless someone, especially at church dinners, where we all knew the women whose hands had prepared the food, and who, quite often, did the serving and cleaning up as well. Even so, this blessing did evoke the hidden nature of so much domestic work. It still does

Emily Matchar recently took author Michael Pollan to task for blaming women for the decline of home cooking. She notes that in his popular book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan insists that appreciating cooking “was a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.” His take resembles Barbara Kingsolver’s, who in her memoir of local eating claims that the food industry essentially encouraged women to devalue home cooking as they sought equality in the workplace.

Pollan’s newest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, consciously takes a few steps back from that harsh assessment of feminism’s impact on home cooking, noting that while women’s liberation is sometimes blamed for the decline in home cooking, the actual situation is more complicated.”

{continue reading}

Flight Behavior and Global Weirding

Last weekend, Graeme had a fever and so I ended up spending most of the weekend curled up on the couch with or near him as he perused Tin Tin books or watched DVDs and as I read Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel, Flight Behavior.

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I’ve enjoyed Kingsolver’s work ever since I read The Bean Trees for English class in high school and then headed straight for the library to find Pigs in Heaven and Animal Dreams. One college summer afternoon I started reading the first chapter of The Poisonwood Bible and found myself unable to do anything else until I’d finished. Even when Kingsolver gets on my nerves by being a heavy-handed in making a point, political, religious, or philosophical, she can sure turn a phrase and weave a plot.

This new novel has all the charms (if also the usual shortcomings) of Kingsolver’s earlier books; I was a little worried that she would be excessively pushy with the “issue” of this one–climate change–but she kept it pretty real.

Speaking of “real,” climate change is, and it’s so apparent in Malawi that everyone from university professors to brickmakers will tell you about it. Most people in Malawi grow their own staple food–corn that’s pounded and cooked into a doughy paste called nsima–and so when the weather goes weird and the rains are late or too scant, they feel it in their empty bellies: people who have never owned a car, never had electricity, never bought a computer, suffering the worst effects of a climate problem that they didn’t create.

Is this not close to the definition of “unfair”?

I don’t want to give any exciting plot details away, but a similar (yet, of course, very different) injustice forms something of a theme in Flight Behavior. There’s also a lot in there on faith and science. I recommend it!

 

What I Want vs. What I HAVE

One of the things I love about gardening (and eating in season) is that it shifts your focus from what you WANT to what you HAVE.

potatoes, purple and yellow, dug just before dinner

Instead of saying, “Hmn, what do I feel like eating?”, you say, “What do we have? What’s ripe and ready?” and you build your meal around that. And that–as Barbara Kingsolver suggested in this interview–turns everyday eating into a practice of gratitude.

Rather than starting with what I want, I start with what’s actually here.

beautiful heirloom tomatoes: Riesentraubes, Gold Medals, and Amish Pastes

And that’s a pretty beautiful place to be.

(Though I’m sorta getting tired of fresh tomatoes. Which is fine, because they make good tomato sauce.)