March 2, 2009

February Reads

I am happy to say that I've completed five books in the month of February, an ever-so-slight improvement from January. They are:

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. I really wanted to start the year off right by reading our president's most recent book. He writes with an eloquence and self-possession often witnessed in his myriad public speeches. His integrity, vision of hope, and genuine love and concern for our country are very much apparent, as is his deep commitment to his family, which I personally found heartwarming. I feel that anyone who wants to delve deeper into the mind of this brilliant man (not to mention if you're looking for some entertaining stories from Obama's bachelor-esque existence on Capitol Hill that involve a shower curtain...or lackthereof) would do no better than to pick up a copy of this book. I hear his first book, Dreams From My Father, is equally great.

In Defense of Food
by Michael Pollan. There are too many fascinating factoids crammed into this book to mention here, but one that particularly stands out to me is how different our eating culture is from that of a European country. Our propensity for fast, easy meals is what's killing us, while a country like France, with its emphasis on slowing down to enjoy a meal and stopping when you're satisfied, is one of the healthiest countries in the world. Pollan writes: "Fast food is precisely the way you'd expect a people to eat who put success at the center of life, who work long hours (with two careers per household), get only a couple weeks vacation each year, and who can't depend on a social safety net to cushion them from life's blows. Slow food aims to elevate quality over quantity and believes that doing so depends on cultivating our sense of taste as well as rebuilding relationships between producers and consumers that the industrialization of our food has destroyed." Food for thought.

A Mere Interlude
by Thomas Hardy. Ever since watching the AMAZING Masterpiece Theatre production of Tess of the d'Urbervilles on PBS a couple months ago, I've gained a newfound interest in the writings of Thomas Hardy, a Victorian novelist and poet who for some reason or another I haven't paid too much attention to before. I was so moved by his story of poor Tess and the hardships she endured but didn't deserve, that I felt compelled to pick this book up. I can definitely see the parallels between Interlude and Tess. Hardy continues his theme of telling stories of poor, hardworking women, and his sympathy for their plight is keenly felt. Take a look at this book's gorgeous cover--along with the covers of the next two books--here.

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy. I wasn't anticipating such a modern, albeit depressing, view on love and relationships. The protagonist's (and apparently Tolstoy's) open disdain for the ritual of courtship and marriage among the aristocracy and his candor are somewhat surprising to me. But this might simply be an indication that I haven't read as nearly as much Russian literature as I should. I'm considering The Kreutzer Sonata as a fitting prelude to a meatier work I plan on sinking my teeth into later this year, a little novel called War & Peace. Like Hardy, Tolstoy doesn't sugarcoat life, and I find that really refreshing.

Forbidden Fruit
from the letters of St. Abelard and Heloise. Admittedly, I was sorta hoping for a Romeo and Juliet type of love story with this book. Except instead of medieval lusty teenagers, we have in an epistolary format a pair of medieval, grown-up scholars who are torn asunder by their love. I was more intrigued with Heloise's letters because they are teeming with a heartfelt vigor and love for Abelard that I found so endearing. Abelard's letters, on the other hand, reek of self-importance and an aridity that contrasted greatly with that of Heloise's passionate prose. I came away from the book with the firm belief that Heloise was simply too good for Abelard. Most women are, no?

Next up: magic realism, a politician's wife, a biography of a Victorian writer, and reading Lolita in Iran....


Mary-Laure said...

Great readings!
I had read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and really loved it.
Tolstoy and Hardy are 2 of my favorite writers and Hardy is my sister's all-time favorite, but I haven't read A Mere Interlude. Must add it to my to-read list.
I hope you'll like Reading Lolita in Tehran, I just ADORED it and often read passages from it to teenagers I tutored to tell them about the crucial importance of literature in life.

Joanna said...

The Hardy book is actually comprised of 3 short stories: A Mere Interlude, An Imaginative Woman (my favorite of the three), and The Withered Arm. I find Hardy so intriguing, so I'll definitely be reading more of his work. What are your favorite Tolstoy and Hardy books?

Anonymous said...

Wowee---that's some serious reading! I really admire that you've set this goal for yourself and are staying accountable. Especially the non-fiction...I have such a hard time with that as it doesn't 'transport' me the way fiction does. Amazing job!

Joanna said...

Awww. Thanks for the words of encouragement, citysage. I'm trying!

Katie said...

I just started with In Defense of Food. I really enjoyed his other book, so we'll see how it goes!

NW. said...

read "in defense of food", and seemed to like it the same as you.

nice reviews