Sunday, September 12, 2010

Food Rules

Title: Food Rules
Author: Michael Pollan
Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2009

Recommendation: A few quick rules on eating healthy.
Rating: 7/10

Summary + Reactions: The book is really tiny. It literally took me an hour to read the whole thing aloud. And in general it tries to bring across 3 ideas: one that you should eat non-processed foods, second that you should emphasize veggies and healthy foods in your diet, and third that you should eat slowly and avoid snacking too much.

I don't feel that any of the three rules are universally true or should be taken literally. Fortunately the book says as much itself, telling the reader to take the message to heart and not saying that unhealthy food will kill you at the first bite.

Still the book expounds on buying fresh fruits, vegetables, meats in a store (or even better at a local farmers market) and cooking them yourself to avoid preservatives and in general other things you wouldn't typically find in your pantry. One of the first rules of the book is "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food". There are also some interesting and perhaps less intuitive rules for staying away from low-fat food alternatives because they often make up for the lack of fat with carbohydrates and it's actually more healthy to eat the regular version in moderation. They bring up margarine as one such example.

I think it's actually pretty difficult for a modern American person to change their diet to the extent where they could avoid all non-processed food. Some things are just too darned convenient (e.g. canned chicken broth), but I do find that I can often cook meals out of raw ingredients at home that taste much better than anything I've ever bought as a prepackaged meal.

Eating in moderation, chewing slowly, stopping before you are full, and avoiding snacking is also advices we've all heard before, but often they are easier said than done. Even though I felt the book relied quite a bit on the arguments of the type "our ancestors did it and they didn't get cancer", there are some interesting studies quoted as well to support the claims. I do wish more of the research was cited, it's not a particularly in-depth study.

Overall, an interesting quick book on healthy eating that gives some practical suggestions that are easy to incorporate at least to some extent in your daily eating habits.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Against a Dark Background

Title: Against a Dark Background
Author: Iain M. Banks
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1993

Recommendation: Well written space opera slightly reminiscent of Firefly.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Lady Sharrow is a leader of a once-military team that re-assembled to help her escape the persecution by the Huhsz. The latter is a military religious order that is given a one year hunting license for Lady Sharrow, unless she can return to them the last Lazy Gun stolen 6 generations ago by her great-great-great-grandmother.

Reactions: I came across this book because Lady Sharrow was mentioned as one of the most memorable heroines and I decided to give it a try since I've heard of Iain M. Banks, but have never read any books by him previously.

Overall, there is a surprisingly poetic tone to the book. Banks inevitably spends the first page of every chapter describing the setting and the atmosphere. The language is well-used, but eventually I found myself skipping over the descriptive parts. Here's one such beginning:
The antique car hissed every now and again and leaked steam. Behind it, beyond the shells of the ruined warehouses, mists rose perpetually from the warm waters of the inlet, climbing and re-climbing the frost-gray planes of a lifeless sky. Thrial was a red fruit wrapped in tissues of mist.
The plot itself progressed pretty well. There were a number of dark and even depressing parts to the story, but there was plenty of upbeat action and dialogue as well. Banks deals very ruthlessly with some of the characters, but that only adds to the suspense of the book. Overall the plot flowed quite well, except perhaps for the ending which was rather abrupt and didn't tie up the story as well as I hoped.

Upon finishing the reading and searching the web, I found many other readers found the ending less than satisfactory as well and that an epilogue to the book has been published separately a year later. If you end up reading the novel, I also recommend reading this epilogue.

Lady Sharrow's character, as promised, was rather unique. She is the heroine of the book, but at the same time very flawed. It made her feel very realistic even if I didn't feel sympathetic with her all the time. Other characters were a pretty colorful set also. My favorite was an android named Feril who joins the crew later in the novel. Here's a sample of Sharrow's dialogue with Feril:
She put her hand out to the machine. "I hope you will not have cause to regret this," she said, smiling.
It gripped her hand gently. "Regret is for humans," it said.
She laughed. "Really?"
The machine shrugged and let go of her hand. "Oh, no. It's just something we tell ourselves."
Overall, it was a good read that I have enjoyed despite some slowness in parts of the book and a somewhat disappointing ending. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who likes these types of stories.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

August Recap

And the summer is almost over. August was a pretty non-eventful month reading-wise. I spent most of my time slogging through the beginning of Before They Are Hanged and didn't get a whole lot of reading done overall. I did watch 3 seasons of Nip/Tuck instead on the Netflix. That show started out quite interesting, but has been going downhill as the seasons progressed. Still it's entertainment while I am waiting for the fall shows to come back.

I hope in September I'll catch up on some book reading and do less TV watching. My reading pile is running dangerously low now, anyone got good suggestions for fun books to read to get back into the reading gear?


Books read: 2
  1. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  2. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
Favorite book: The Passage by Justin Cronin