Good Calories, Bad Calories (Gary Taubes)
I just finished reading this book for the 2nd time…partly as reinforcement that I must continue battling a sugar addiction. If you only read one paragraph, it should be this:
“Insulin works to deposit calories as fat and to inhibit the use of that fat for fuel. Dietary carbohydrates are required to allow this fat storage to occur. Since glucose is the primary stimulator of insulin secretion, the more carbohydrates consumed – or the more refined the carbohydrates – the greater the insulin secretion, and thus the greater the accumulation of fat. ‘Carbohydrate is driving insulin is driving fat [and disease].’” —> In other words, sugar/carbohydrates = death (more or less).
I have been admittedly obsessing over food since I discovered last year that I was pre-diabetic (I no longer am). This book is dense, but if waded through, shines lights on chilling notions that the “low-fat, high-carb diet” research outcomes are correlated to funding/consulting fees by big sugar product companies (aka wishful science, or selection bias) + such research is wrong.
I understand peoples’ reticence towards new diets – after waves of veganism, raw, gluten-free, paleo, ad infinitum – but this book doesn’t attempt to push a diet. It unearths the history & science behind nutrition and its effects, to “…consider the possibility that it is the quality of the nutrients in a diet and not the quantity of calories that causes [diseases of civilization].”
My review from the 1st time I read it in 2012 (I apparently didn’t know what a carb was, ack):
I currently have something of a scavenger diet and I am searching out more mature alternatives as my physical activity increases, which is why I read this book on a recommendation from a friend (whose diet consists completely of meat and greens). The basic thesis of this book was twofold: 1) in terms of obesity and disease, a diet consisting of fat is better than a diet consisting of carbohydrates; and 2) if anyone believes the converse, it’s due to the findings of improper scientific methods. It should be known: this is not a how-to diet book, but rather a scientific exposé. I appreciate the tremendous amount of research that went into this book, and also that when he started researching, author Gary Taubes did not know what his conclusions would be.
Regarding the nutritional evils of carbohydrates – I don’t think this was revolutionary in terms of obesity, as most people know they can’t eat excessive amounts of bread and sugar without weight gain. However, I WAS surprised at what really constitutes a “carbohydrate,” both simple carbs (refined sugar, candy) and complex carbs (certain vegetables, fruit, whole grain breads, legumes). According to Taubes, we really need neither! And here we reach the controversial part – we don’t need fruit and whole grain in our diets? I understand that obscure scientific studies have shown that people thrive on fat-only diets, but what about vitamins and minerals in fruits & whole grain? We don’t need those?
AND, what about the larger effects of being strictly fat/meat consumers, i.e. the vegetarian argument that by eating less meat, we would free up grain, “the world’s most essential commodity,” to feed the hungry? Taubes does not refute this, but merely notes that this argument became intertwined with the medical issues of fat and cholesterol in the diet, further advancing the idea that fat is bad for us. Maybe this is because it was not his intent to defend a fat diet, but just to highlight its merits, even though it’s a patchy account of the fat diet if not all factors are considered.
Aside from the nutritional values, Taubes delves into the topic of obesity, which I found pretty intriguing. He suggests that obesity is NOT caused by an imbalance between energy intake and energy output (calories in over calories out). Taubes claims that to say overeating and sedentary behavior causes obesity is 1) an assumption: something that accompanies the process of becoming obese (overeating and deficient physical activity) causes it; and 2) a tautology: these terms are defined in such a way that they have to be true (i.e. ‘alcoholism is caused by chronic overdrinking’)… true but meaningless because it confuses association with cause & effect. The apparent answer to obesity is not a physiological disorder, nor a character defect (lacking will power to remain on diet), but rather WHAT calories we consume. Essentially, if we consume fat, we will be more satiated with less. I think this is logical, but I also think he is underrating the power of the mental factor in peoples’ relationships with food.
As to the second part of the thesis, Taubes claims most scientists and doctors pay attention to only that evidence that confirms their existing beliefs about disease and obesity. Also, that most don’t keep up with any changing literature in their fields because they are too busy. The result: mainstream medical establishment insisting a low-fat diet is healthiest, ignoring contrary evidence, and advising public to adhere to unsafe diets! My only problem with this is that scientific studies seem so arbitrary…there are billions of them + small factors in subjects may alter results + causation is hard to determine (does chronic illness lead to low cholesterol, or vice versa?).
Overall, I think this was an interesting book, and it sparked a lot of interesting conversations with people while I was reading it. However, it seemed really repetitious (fat is good; carbs are bad); it was at times like reading an encyclopedia (sample sentence: “The two demonstrated that it was, indeed, the hypothalamus, not the pituitary, that regulated adiposity in the rats; lesions in a region called the ventromedial hypothalamus would induce corpulence even in those animals that had their pituitary glands removed.”); and I generally wanted more of the author’s thoughts (instead of study after study after study…tie it together for us, Gary!). On the upside, I did learn the true meaning of terms like adipose, triglycerides, ketosis, glycemic index, and thrifty genes. Unfortunately, I’m still left with many questions on health & diet.
The Instructions, by Adam Levin
I bought this book on a whim after thinking it may be love at first sight due to its girth. To my delight, I read on the back that people compared Levin to David Foster Wallace, one of my greats. After consuming all 1030 pages (and getting through daily comments on bus or street by strangers asking me if it was the bible), I realize the only reason that people compare him to Wallace is because of the extreme tangents + similar magnitude of Infinite Jest, which is a pretty cheap comparison…
This entire story consisted of 4 days in the POV of a deranged yet genius 10 year old, Gurion, who believes he is an “Israelite messiah.” Not knowing anything about this book or author, I was on edge when I neared the end, because I had no idea where it was going. When I got to the end, I still had no idea where it was going.
Like most novels, there were poignant elements (though sparse). Some of Gurion’s thoughts were sweetly childish, such as the way he thought about girls or talked to his parents. “’Yet it has true pieces,’ said Yuval’s Sara. That sentence was so pretty, and if I weren’t so in love with Esther Salt, I think I would have fallen in love with Sara Forem, just for her nervous Israeli English…” Or the way his father calls him boychical when trying to be sentimental. Then there was the whole idea of the school being “the arrangement,” an organization that is actually against the children it pretends to serve (true pieces), and the children cultishly identifying with the slogan “we damage we” because they were on both sides of damage – sometimes damagers, sometimes being damaged. There was a lot of fodder for this theme to go places…but it didn’t. Instead it had some whacked out fantastical ending that hit too close to home with all the school shootings, and an increasingly hallucinative narrator that made me uneasy. Although, it was an interesting 180 a reader makes concerning trust of the narrator – as the book begins, I revered him as intelligent and lovely, but by the end I was actually uncomfortable with his level of crazy, and felt a little betrayed.
Aesthetically, it’s a beautiful book, though yes yes ‘looks are often deceiving,’ I always learn that the tough way. This book tried so hard, and I was behind it until I realized there was nothing cohesive to make it over the barrier into something great. It was close though.
Manon Lescaut (by Abbé Prévost)
The preface of this book claims that it’s basically a how-to, or a how-not-to. It’s a “moral treatise…each adventure is a model upon which to form oneself.” We try on these characters and become them in a virtual sense when we read them. When I tried on des Grieux (male lover) & Manon (female lovee), I realized that the gap between reality and one’s image of reality is actually a large chasm.
Des Grieux is our narrator, and he tells a story of love. But I’m not sure this is a love story. Desire is different than love – desiring is wanting something you don’t have, and once you have it, desire disappears. Love is bigger, and contains desire among other things. What does Manon even look like??? Is she slight, voluptuous, blue-eyed, green-eyed, blonde, black-haired…? Is she funny, demure, strict…? All we learn from des Grieux is that she looks like “a goddess,” that she is “beautiful,” “lovely.” We don’t even know why he might love Manon, aside from her vaguely being a goddess. De Grieux says this: “Those very things which have brought me to despair might have made me rapturously happy, and I have become the most wretched man alive through that very constancy of mine which might have brought me the ineffable joys of true love.” I think he was constantly on the BRINK of being in love, during the constant chase of Manon, but never actually reached it. Though it’s possible he reached it when in New Orleans, but we don’t hear any details of this period, and even that was fleeting because Manon soon dies.
The idea of love is an absolute addiction for des Grieux, who admits he was “born to fleeting joys and lasting sufferings,” chasing the highs of Manon’s affection, dealing with her absence/betrayals by scheming to get her back. He exhausts and depletes the funds and favors of any ‘friend’ in his life, without concern. His life revolves around trying to possess Manon. “Manon was pleasure-mad and I was mad on her.” Des Grieux describes to his priestly friend that des Grieux has chosen love (bliss on earth) over his past religious life (waiting for bliss after life).
Manon, on the other hand, desires materialism. She is only happy with jewels, fancy dresses, carriages, and theater outings. Even love becomes characterized by materialism as she prostitutes herself. She seems like a realist in writing to des Grieux after one of her betrayals, “Do you really think we can love each other with nothing to eat?” But they are NEVER actually starving. She prostitutes herself for jewels and lavish living, not for bread to eat.
It was pretty painful to read Manon Lescaut, similar to reading the autobiography of Anthony Kiedis (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) detailing his on and off again struggle with heroin. I don’t completely understand the authorial strategy of not giving us details on the final stint in New Orleans, which is hinted to have finally been this simple (though short) life of bliss for the couple…is it because he wanted us to be in pain the whole time?
*I love the contrast between this French author from the 1700s, and another French theorist that came a couple centuries later: Roland Barthes. It’s funny to me that Prevost tells us in the preface that his book is a moral guide, which fits into the theory of Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, which explained that love is just a construct: we read fantastical books about love and model our lives after it…
Les Misérables (Victor Hugo)
I’m still in the afterglow of being completely immersed in a really long and artful novel, reminiscing on sweet moments, laughing at the silly jokes, reeling from life-changing courses, dark characters, and powerful portrayals. This booook!!!!!!!! I decided to finally read it after seeing my friend Mil (a person whose book taste I can NOT decipher) totally immersed; it ended up being a perfect decision.
Jean Valjean is now my new favorite protagonist of all times (a close second being Philip Carey from Of Human Bondage). He is the most pitiful and the most beautiful character. Valjean, imprisoned with hard labor for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving children. “English statistics show that in London starvation is the immediate cause of four out of five thefts. Jean Valjean entered the galleys sobbing and trembling; he left hardened. He entered in despair; he left sullen. What happened within this soul?…Through suffering upon suffering he gradually came to the conclusion that life is a war and that in that war he was the vanquished.” But Valjean did not stay down & out after getting out of prison; he met Bishop Myriel, which changed the course of his life. I will never forget the scene where Valjean, still beastly under the effects of his unjust jail sentence, steals Bishop Myriel’s silverware and escapes into night. He is then caught by town police and brought back to Myriel’s so he may return the silverware. But Myriel says to Valjean, oh but you forgot the silver candlesticks silly man, and Myriel tells police that the silverware was a gift to Valjean (when it in fact was theft). He then tells Valjean that this is the chance for him to turn around and become a good man, because he has received a good deed, and Myriel believed in Valjean. Valjean faces seeeeerious inner turmoil about going from cruel animal to kind human, but eventually does, and makes this his purpose in life. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.
Ohhh the characters.
Grandfather Gillenormand: his deep love of a child, his gruff exterior, yet soft and emotional interior.
Fantine: unfortunate of unfortunates, spiral of despair, loss of any innocence.
Eponine!!!!: her destituteness, her love for Marius, the way she prevents her father and his goons from robbing Marius’ lover, the way she takes a bullet for him and says she was “a little bit in love” with him (the way she is really beautiful in the movie, wowza).
Cosette: I could do without her…she was thankless, naïve, ‘passive’, ignorant, superficial, she didn’t know what all had been sacrificed for her!!! (“She had Marius. The young man came, the good old man [Valjean] faded away; such is life.”)
The lingo of this book was perfect: trembling, pressing hands, longing, coquetry, vile characters, shudders, recoiling in horror – so Pride and Prejudice, so Victorian, love it. My one grumble is that the there were too many digressions by Hugo. At the beginning of each new section, there would be some long digression on convents, or sewers, or political poetry, which completely disturbed the telling of the underlying story. There was no weaving of these strange detours, but just large chunks of interruption, and then a return to the story. *I’m not actually sure what part of this has to do with Hugo’s writing style (which I’m unfamiliar with) or to do with the fact that I read “The only complete and unabridged paperback edition.”* (Either way, future readers, no need to read this complete and unabridged version, the abridged version is prolly long enough…) I can overlook the fact that at least 1/3 of the pages were devoted to digressions, just as I can overlook the fact that David Foster Wallace intersperses obsessive and over-the-top detail in his writing – the rest of the writing is so worth it. I attribute it to genius ramblings.
I ended the book by crying almost uncontrollably for the last 30 minutes; I couldn’t see pages at times. It was a good cry. For me, this was a story of moral philosophy, a moral guide, the good, the bad, the misfortunate. “…So long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
I immediately watched the musical movie the next day…everything happened so dang fast and all the characters were so undeveloped. I guess that’s to be expected when epic, long, involved masterpieces become movies. I need to see the live musical now, to complete my obsession.
Shoplifting from American Apparel, by Tao Lin
I GET IT, but I don’t like it…a book about vapid, stupid people talking nonsensically about nothing, to show that today people are vapid, stupid, and talk nonsensically about nothing. The book includes all modern wonders of hipsters – distant gmail chat, shoplifting, porn, apathy, miscommunication, existentialism – all wrapped up in a plot-less novella. A sample gmail chat conversation:
“‘You know those people that get up every day, and do things,’ said Luis.
'I'm going to eat cereal even though I'm not hungry,' said Sam.
'And are real proactive,' said Luis. 'And like are getting things done, and never quit their jobs. Those people suck.'”
This is something I’m grappling with (see: same problem re Charles Bukowski): when authors “try” to write in skill-less & plot-less ways in order to demonstrate various ideas (existentialism, absurdity), what realllllllllly separates them from authors who plainly write in skill-less & plot-less ways? Line between writing this way purposely and incidentally is foggy.
I don’t have time for this type of book; there are too many other books with plots/points that I need to read. (Although, I’ll still probably try at least 1 other by Tao Lin…)
Rez Life, by David Treuer
Indian Law is one of the topics on the New Mexico bar exam (for lawyers). After learning a skeletal outline of Indian rights through studying for the February 2013 bar, it was interesting to read this book that expanded the bullet points of my skeletal knowledge. Generally, this writing style used by David Treuer, one that takes individual stories of real people as context/anecdotes for abstract laws/rights, is the best way I’m able to absorb history or nonfiction (see: Courtroom 302). Though, I DO wish there was a little more of what was in Chapter 4: actual rez life (errrr, isn’t that the title of book?), daily life, problems, benefits, homelife. Instead, Rez Life covered most major acts and trails of treaties re Indians, as opposed to a sociology study.
During the learning, I also got some responses. One was to my deep-set feelings of ‘but that’s land/people evolution; people are always warring and stealing land from others, why is it different with Indians?’ Treuer threads whiney white people complaining about special privileges throughout the book, which is actually how a lot of law/acts resulted (but also how a lot of Indian rights dissipated). Treuer says this:
“The sad thing is that…neither side understands what a treaty is and how treaty rights work. Indians aren’t ‘allowed’ to hunt or fish. It isn’t a matter of ‘permission.’ To cast treaty rights as ‘special rights’ is to suggest that they are in some sense an expression of pity or a payment for wrongs done or a welfare system for Stone Age people. But treaty rights were not ‘given’ to Indian people because of past cruel treatment or because of special racial status. Nor were treaty rights ‘given’ to Indians in exchange for land…Rather, when Indian bands signed treaties (and no new treaties have been signed since the end of the treaty period in the 1870s), they reserved land, which became reservations, and they reserved rights. Treaty rights are rights that the Indians who signed treaties always had, rights they explicitly reserved when they signed their treaties.”
I need to take the idea of reserved rights into consideration with the fact that the reason that the U.S. gov made treaties with Indians in the ‘treaty period’ between 1783-1889 is, according to Treuer, because: 1) Indian tribes were powerful, and 2) “paper was cheaper than bullets.” So this is the thing: although people have been warring and stealing land forever, the U.S. gov DIDN’T declare war against Indians to take their land. Instead, they swindled Indians through treaties and laws, gradually degrading and carving holes into treaty rights, dispersing & separating tribes to different lands throughout country, instituting boarding schools to deculturize Indian children, until the U.S. gov in effect got what they wanted as if they had won a war, but without the war.
The other response was concerning identity issues…more than a few times, I found myself bothered by the author doing too many “my people” this, “I’m proud of my people because…”, “us Indians,” etc. when Treuer is white
+ less than half Ojibwe + born in D.C. (off-rez). Treuer does address these complaints in the book (abstractly and through a character named Brooke), and shows that these complaints are made on both ends of spectrum, by “full Indians” regarding exclusion from economic benefits of being Indian, and by whites. Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeen while writing this I had a slight revelation of hypocrisy and I felt like reversing some thoughts: I was criticizing someone for claiming Indian-ness as being not Indian enough, but simultaneously get bothered by people who don’t accept me calling myself a lesbian even though I currently have a male partner. AH LIFE! So in the end, Treuer can go on being the best Indian he can be, and I’ll be the best lesbian.
I ended up sending $1 to Helen (Bryan) Johnson in Squaw Lake, MN (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_gaming).
Women, by Charles Bukowski
I GUESS since I recently admitted to myself that I like transgressive fiction, that Bukowski would be enjoyable for me – he fits into that genre. But I kind of hate myself for liking this. Charles Bukowski is the original Tucker Max (“I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead” and then make said women feel like fucks when I write about them on internet/book—>from Tucker Max’s website).
Why does he have to say ‘I mounted’ every time he has sex with a new woman? WHyyyyy? And then there are excerpts like this: “She confused me. I was used to vile drunken wenches.” OR “’You’re right,’ she said, ‘you must have fucked me [last night]. I can feel the semen running down my leg.’ I decided not to see her again.”
I would feel more forgiving with these antics if it was pure fiction…but Henry Chinaski, the main character, is pretty well known to be at a minimum an alter ego of Bukowski, and the scenarios feel based on Bukowski’s reality. Which makes it more horrific.
The writing style is crass and simple, and the plot is basic and uninteresting. But this is the thing, people: he is recklessly FUNNY, and he paints sordid pictures that are VIVID with one or two sentences. For inst., “Tammie was down at the end of the couch snorting coke, using a McDonald’s spoon. Bobby put a beer in my hand.” —> a typical night, a vivid picture of poor addiction. This is the same Tammie that is addicted to both uppers and downers, and is the mother of a young child named Dancy who is always “wailing” and in one scene, screams “I want a ding dong” over and over before she is left in a house by herself, while mother Tammie flies to New York to spend the weekend with a perverted man twice her age (Bukowski). As for funny:
“The dinner was fair. Cecelia had one drink with her dinner and explained all about her vegetarianism. She had soup, salad and yogurt; the remainder of us had steaks, French fries, French bread, and salad. Bobby and Valerie stole the salt and pepper shakers, two steak knives and the tip I had left for the waiter…Her one drink had Cecelia giggling and talking and she was explaining that animals had souls too. Nobody challenged her opinion. It was possible, we knew. What we weren’t sure of was if we had any.”
The drinking/vomiting/dirtiness made me mostly nauseous BUT every time sharp hatred began to balloon, there would be a very real, self-deprecating excerpt that transparently shows the reason Bukowski is so disgusting to other people, which is of course because he feels that he himself is disgusting. “It took a lot to excite me. I didn’t care. I didn’t like New York. I didn’t like Hollywood. I didn’t like rock music. I didn’t like anything. Maybe I was afraid…I wanted to sit alone in a room with the shades down. I feasted upon that. I was a crank. I was a lunatic.”
I found this famous quote in high school from one of Bukowski’s poems that epitomizes him:
“and to walk across the floor
to an old dresser with a
see myself, ugly,
grinning at it all.”
Although I think his poetry would be better than his prose, something is so lamentably compelling about this ugly, self-loathing, woman-hating barbarian —> rawness.
The Secret of Evil, Roberto Bolaño
I actually read this book 2 months ago (DANGIT BAR EXAM), but I’m trying to understand why Bolaño has such wide popularity among my friends… His stories generally seem inconclusive – like introductions, and then they end. Or really skeletal. Part of the distaste is admittedly because I have problems with short stories: it takes me soooo much time to get into a new story line, and with the shorts, once I do, it’s over.
Can someone honestly explain to me why “Colonia Lindavista” is good? I don’t see any value in that story. It’s like a forgettable excerpt from a novel. Some exceptions to distaste would be that I did love “Labyrinth,” which was a short story that described a photo of 8 people. Bolaño goes into exhaustive detail about the objects and people in the picture (“Let’s imagine J.-J. Goux, for example, who is looking out at us through his thick submarine spectacles…”), their possible relation to each other, what they’re looking at, what their poses suggest about all of the above. It’s actually a little bit fascinating to read, despite it having the distinctive feeling of a creative writing exercise.
“What was it that they didn’t like about me? Well, someone said it was my teeth. Fair enough; I can’t argue with that.” Sure, quotes like the preceding are amusing, but not sure they’re enough.
A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini)
I didn’t want to read this book because I thought it would be cheese city, but of course I found myself almost weeping 3 different times, and quite touched by a lot of the plot. (DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY IT’S ‘COVER,’ etc.) Ultimately, it felt like reading a really decent movie.
Mariam! I will be forever depressed about her life, which was like that of a sacrificial lamb, or a piece of meat that people battered and eventually consumed. The amount of abuse she withstood barely makes sense. I hated the men, I hated the Taliban, and I hated life by the time she died (sorry, spoiler).
Mariam’s lifeless life was momentarily sparked by the birth of a baby of another who became attached to Mariam. It encompasses well how I feel a baby has affected my own family-they are stirring, intoxicating little things. I think it’s the purity (being yet untouched by any nasty influences) & the potential (they could become anyone!) that babies represent.
“Mariam bounced her stiffly, a half-bewildered, half-grateful smile on her lips. Mariam had never before been wanted like this. Love had never been declared to her so guilelessly, so unreservedly. Aziza made Mariam want to weep. ‘Why have you pinned your little heart to an old, ugly hag like me?’ Mariam would murmur into Aziza’s hair. ‘Huh? I am nobody don’t you see? A dehati. What have I got to give you?’ But Aziza only muttered contentedly and dug her face in deeper. And when she did that, Mariam swooned. Her eyes watered. Her heart took flight. And she marveled at how, after all these years of rattling loose, she had found in this little creature the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections.” —> I’M SWOONING, I’M CRYING, WHAT IS HAPPENING.
However- after 2 days of being captivated by the misery of this book, I felt absolutely cheated by the happy ending. Kudos to Khaled Hosseini for believably writing from the POVs of 2 different women though, loved that.
Hiking Alone (Mary Beath)
Whhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyy why do people always feel like they can author books because they have led interesting lives? Mary Beath wrote this book in self-serving diary form, essays commemorating her life…although, I did read this book for self-serving purposes-I DO want to hike/be alone-so who can blame who here. But I mostly just got grumpy reading about Mary’s dreams (NO ONE likes hearing about other peoples’ dreams, Mary!), pontifications about her dad & her personality, the fact that she’s a tomboy with more male friends than female friends (the ‘i’m pretty but can also be just like your pal’ cliche), and most definitively this sort of detail: “I’d been genetic researcher and scantily clad calendar girl” (The italics=not even mine).
I will take back most of that sulk for the pleasure of having discovered in one of her essays the intrigue of vision quests: religious experiences that physically alter consciousness through starvation in wilderness. Vision quests may have morphed into a hippie-run rite but I am VERY intrigued…it includes 10 days in the wilderness with a guide, 3 days of prep (severance), 4 days of fasting alone in the wilderness (threshold), and 2 days of deconstruction with the guide (incorporation). Natural hallucinations and realizations. Notably, the essay got to be overbearing with passages like this: “’Earth,’ I called…‘thank you for your stability, your richness, and your fecundity…Ants, you’re the guiding image for community, the quintessential living neural net, the answer to one or many?, a reminder that I wouldn’t want to build a bonfire alone, the proof that synergy works.” So that almost ruined it 100% for me. And then when she hit on the guide I felt very uncomfortable. 3 stars for topic choice, 0 stars for readability.
The Rachel Papers (Martin Amis)
Forever (Judy Blume) taught me everything I needed to know about sex & young love at age 13. This book is the exact equivalent guide for British teenage boys, presented in satire. So self-conscious, so calculated, so empty, so callous, so teen. Except I’m not a teenage boy (for the most part), so I was only partially amused. The plot humorously captures the realistic course of modern love through the perspective of a 19-year-old boy (intense longing → courtship → honeymoon period → everyday living → an end). The story was mostly silly but always funny, following Charles Highway, the 19-year-old, who keeps papers/journals on everyone in his life, and reflects on those papers (specifically Rachel) on the eve of his twentieth birthday. The reflections were simultaneously egotistical and self-deprecating. I mostly enjoyed Charles’ persistence with trying to form an attractive character for Rachel:
“What persona would I wear? On the two occasions I had seen her last August I underwent several complete identity-reorganizations, settling finally somewhere between the pained, laconic, inscrutable type and the knowing, garrulous, cynical, laugh a minute, yet something demonic about him, something nihilistic, muted death-wish type. Revamp those, or start again?”
“All I had had to do, really, was make the bed more thoroughly (sprinkling talc between the sheets), readjust the record stacks, and, as a last-minute thought, place two unfinished poems on the coffee-table, to be shyly gathered up when and if I got her in there.”
I’d be interested to see what Charles is like post-teens, which were full of effort, fluff, & cruelty.
Sex At Dawn (Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha)
It seems fitting for the theory of this book that someone stole it from me at the airport (actually I KNOW it was the guy sitting next to me that I questioned for a half hour, if that matters). I have no doubt he thought it was erotica, with a name like Sex at Dawn, and he will be fairly disappointed to discover a semi-scientific study-based account advocating that monogamy is unnatural and human sexual behavior is a reflection of both evolved tendencies and social context.
I’m still a monogamy adherent, despite it being unnatural. The authors likely aren’t trying to push people into polyamorous or open relationships, but to give context to why married couples are so unhappy after time; as to why the loss of libido between couples, and why the rampant infidelity. The strategy was anecdotal: various tribes past and present practice non-monogamous sexual relations; women are not coy and subservient, but rather sexual and fluid creatures; humans are closest in lineage to bonobos, who practice poly love; it’s simply the “familiar fingers of culture [& religion] that reach deep into our minds” to choose monogamy over nature. The authors believe the possessive way humans treat sex & partners came about with the advent of agriculture: “Once people were farming the same land season after season, private property quickly replaced communal ownership as the modus operandi in most societies. For nomadic foragers, personal property – anything needing to be carried – is kept to a minimum, for obvious reasons. There is little thought given to who owns the land, or the fish…” OR the women! We went from communal à individual thought on every level.
It’s interesting to think about prehistoric people, our ties to bonobos, evolutionary psychology, and our desires apart from societal persuasion, BUT as far as changing the way we form relationships – this seems unrealistic. It feels similar to discussions on climate change: we know origins of problem, but it has spiraled out of control and one person using low-watt light bulbs won’t cure this beast (just like one person living non-monogamously because it’s human nature would just be ignoring society issues of STDs, emotions, logistics, babies, finances, and outcasted rather than emulated).
The Man Who Loved Children (Christina Stead)
*Not a book about pedophilia* Instead, a typically favorite topic of mine: family dysfunction. In a very pure way though, the incessant fighting dialogue among the Pollits family members got under my skin. That & the tedious way Sam Pollits (the father) spoke, full of hyperbole, tangents, and winding whimsical musings (EXAMPLE: “This Sunday-Funday has come a long way,” said Sam softly: “it’s been coming to us, all day Leni Lenapes and the deeps of the drowned Susquehanna, over the pond pine ragged in the peat and the lily swamps of Anacostia, by scaffolded marbles and time-bloodied weather-board, northeast, northwest, Washington Circle, Truxton Circle, Sheridan Circle to Rock Creek and the blunt shoulders of our Georgetown. And what does he find there this morning as every morning, in the midst of the slope, but Tohoga House, the little shanty of Gulliver Sam’s Lilliputian Pollitry-Gulliver Sam, Mrs. Gulliver Henny, Lugubrious Louisa, whose head is bloody but unbowed, Ernest the calculator, Little-Womey-“…asdjasdfjk).
The introduction mentioned that after reading the story, you will be unable to get the Pollits out of your mind, your skin, your ears, etc. etc. This is so, in a very unpleasant way. While that may make for artistically moving literature (see: the movie Requiem for a Dream), I feel depleted. Aside from the nagging family fight club, all were hopelessly depressed, haranguing that “…life is nothing but rags and tags and filthy rags at that. Why was I ever born” or categorizing the family as “weedy, rank children getting merrier and merrier on the dungheap that was their life” or a dad saying to his daughter: “You don’t know what you look like, you great fat lump. I don’t want to see your legs: keep your dress down. And please tell Henny to lengthen it” as he looked “aghast at her fat thighs half revealed.” I felt a lot of metaphysical pain reading this book. What it comes down to is that I CANNOT read fiction about hopeless depressives interacting in a hopeless society anymore. This was my arena in high school, and now it just tires me out; I’m too old.
*I did love Louisa, the “great fat lump”…it’s easy to identify with her because she is the only family member who feels trapped in the sordid depressive circle, while the others just exist in it. And this bit on her, hits close to home or somethin: “She was by this time a mere barrel of lard, as everyone said; and nothing was more clownish on earth than Louisa with her ‘spiny gray eyes, long ass’s face, lip of a motherless foal, mountainous body, sullen scowl, and silly smile’ (as Henny remarked), going into ecstasies over Miss Aiden and forever scribbling about love.”
Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (Alexandra Horowitz)
Lately I’ve been wondering whether I’m interested in animals anymore…increasingly mystified with people like Cass, Sonje, and my mama who stop and gurgle over every dog that comes within eye distance —> ?
This book begs human readers to recognize the umwelt of a dog. UMWELT=a being’s subjective or self-world (another great great German word…adding to my other favorites: wunschlos glucklich=being happier than you could ever wish for, and schadenfreude=deriving joy from another’s depression). Basically, instead of anthropomorphizing our dogs, we should try to understand how they view the world, their umwelt, and we will be able to relate to each other on a higher level. I loved this because I think it’s directly applicable to our relations with people – connecting is always about perspective & context. This is a dec example:
“A rose is a rose is a rose. Or is it? To a human a rose is a certain kind of flower, a gift between lovers, and a thing of beauty. To the beetle, a rose is perhaps an entire territory, with places to hide (on the underside of a leaf, invisible to aerial predators), hunt (in the head of the flower where ant nymphs grow), and lay eggs (in the joint of the leaf and stem). To the elephant, it is a thorn barely detectable underfoot. And to the dog…a rose is undistinguished from the rest of the plant matter surrounding it – unless it has been urinated upon by another dog, stepped on by another animal, or handled by the dog’s owner.”
It was fun to read this, and people were always asking me for scrap info, so here are some fun facts:
-“kisses” are really just ways to say hello and get an olfactory report of where the homecomer has been or what he has done;
-when dogs play with each other, it only works smoothly if there is a signal before playing (author goes into what it means to signal too soon, or how to short signal to a friend);
-in the Middle Ages, dogs were prosecuted as humans are now for homicide, and subject to capital punishment if found guilty; and
-“every dog that you name and bring home will also die.”
In the end, Inside of a Dog was just fun to read. I mostly overlooked the lack of hard science-based research (lots of author surmising after watching videos of dogs) and the chapter titles that went too far (“And then our eyes met…” or “You had me at hello”). Horowitz doesn’t thoroughly answer any of the questions she poses, but it’s cutesy and heartwarming still.
One more fun (/sad) fact: I lost an animal cruelty trial (defending alleged owner of a starved dog) while reading this book.
A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (Roland Barthes)
“This ‘affective contagion,’ this induction, proceeds from others, from the language, from books, from friends: no love is original…‘Some people would never have been in love, had they never heard love talked about’ (La Rouchefoucauld).”
I can’t believe I’ve never read this before, this that perpetuates my life’s theory (so far) on people in love!!! Barthes deconstructs ‘being in love’ through fragment chapters, each part of the courtship from its various sequences to the significance of saying ‘I love you’ to the most important part: the roles of lover (subject) v. loved (object).
After discovering this pattern by doing research studies on myself/myfriends, it’s exciting to see categorized and commented on by a specialist (a French literary theorist). The pattern that (I’m now 1000% certain) exists in every relationship: one who serves and waits v. one who is served and waited for. “But isn’t desire always the same, whether the object is present or absent? Isn’t the object always absent? – This isn’t the same languor: there are two words: Pothos, desire for the absent being, and Himeros, the more burning desire for the present being.” In the end, for lovers, can it be that: “it is my desire I desire, and the loved being is no more than its tool” ?
The stages of love, according to Barthes, range from -1- first ravishment (first meeting, first falling in love) to -2- the ‘happy interval’ “during which I ecstatically explore the perfection of the loved being,” immediately before -3- the difficulties of amorous relationship begin, including the “long train of sufferings, wounds, anxieties, distresses, resentments, despairs, embarrassments, and deceptions to which I fall prey…” And finally, -4- parting ways when lover has stopped the loving: “Though each love is experienced as unique and though the subject rejects the notion of repeating it elsewhere later on, he sometimes discovers in himself a kind of diffusion of amorous desire; he then realizes he is doomed to wander until he dies, from love to love…”
I only wished that the context of WHY people choose being a lover/loved would be explored – like people trying to escape solitude, and/or to keep up with the joneses that are marrying and having kids. I’d prefer thought on that instead of the Freudian ‘adult love being a mom replacement’ mantra.
After all of this, I still luv love, even though I’d classify myself as a subject. But I need to take a break from reading about it :-s