Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Accounting for taste: two book reviews

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

For once I have no idea how I found this book. No search of Amazon, no recommendation from a friend... nothing. Seriously, no idea. I do know that what drew me to it was a sense of connection to the synesthetic nature of the story. It's a story about a girl who can taste feelings. As someone who "feels" colors in numbers, I identified.

It's not an exact match, and it ventures more into magical realism than anything else. The protagonist, Rose, discovers one day in Elementary school that she can taste her mothers' emptiness in her lemon cake. From that point onward she struggles with what is both a gift and (most often) a curse. I don't typically prefer or seek out magical realism, but this grew on me. It was believable enough in other areas that Rose's uniqueness didn't seem out of place.

My favorite thing about this book was the way it was written. Stylistically there was a lot to unpack. That's my favorite kind of book. I do have to admit that about 60 or 70 pages in I still didn't know what the book was going to be about; that may bug some people more than it bugs me. If something is beautiful, I'm more forgiving. I liked the language a lot. It could have had more resolution for me, and it could have been longer, but it was definitely interesting. I'm glad I read it and I keep thinking about it.

My recommendation: A good, quick read for cooks, English teachers, word nerds, book nerds. If you believe there's something more to cooking than a scientific combo of ingredients, you might find yourself caught up in it.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

I've been talking about reading this for a while, and I decided it was time to jump in with both feet. I don't know why, but I get kind of nervous when it comes to anything that might make me feel attacked/guilty/sick. When it comes to food, there's a lot out there and much of it is fear-based or shame-based, neither of which I want to waste my time with. To my relief and great happiness, In Defense of Food was anything but scary, gross, or guilt-inducing. It was much more historical than I thought. I had no idea some of the origins of the current Western diet.

This book was right up my alley. I've been doing well trying to eat cleanly and eat less processed foods. There was a lot of practical information here, as well as some easy to remember quotes that I know I can use to make decisions about food. (In contrast, I tried to read The Zone Diet a while ago and ended up quitting because it was so much of what seemed like pseudo-science--and what Pollan deems "nutritionism"--rather than anything user-friendly. I do not recommend that book.) Pollan's book is no diet. It's just an examination of the history behind things as ubiquitous as twinkies and cheetos, and information.

I like books that present information but don't guilt me into using it. I like that I could read Pollan's book knowing that I wasn't going to be able to reach perfection, but it gave me some great ideas in my continuous journey to make my own eating healthy and to make E's strange diet restrictions more... palatable. Totally wonderful book. I ended up reading large portions of it aloud to E in the car on the way home from Yosemite just because I was so astounded at some of what I was reading (and not in a gross-out way, just in an "I never knew"-way.)

My recommendation: read it and share it with your family. Good stuff here.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny that you mentioned The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. I read a review of that book in my magazine and have been wanting to read it, but hadn't heard what anyone else thought. Thank you for your thoughts on it, I'll be finding it this week!