As the nice weather rolls in, I find myself outside on our sunny south-facing back porch reading. I’ve been tearing through novels this month and thought I’d review some of them for you.
Last night I finished The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, which was excellent and my favorite of the month. Atwood has long been my favorite author and she hasn’t written a novel I haven’t read. The Year of the Flood takes place alongside Oryx and Crake, her 2003 science fiction novel which depicts most of humanity being wiped out by a disease except for a new breed of humans that were designed by a scientist nicknamed Crake.
Oryx and Crake is told by Jimmy the Snowman, whereas The Year of the Flood is told by two different narrators, Toby and Ren, both women in an enviro-cult called The Gardeners. They are a vegetarian, gardening community who despise the waste and destruction of the Earth and predict a waterless flood will come and hit the reset button on humanity. They are right, but many of the Gardeners find themselves exposed to the disease and die. Toby and Ren are each isolated when the waterless flood strikes, so they are safe. Eventually they find others, some friends, some not, and end up making their way to a new colony of Gardeners that live nearby to the scientists new breed of humans.
Atwood’s dystopian books are hardly typical. They make the reader uncomfortable because there are many parallels with our current society, Atwood just exaggerates aspects of society to make the settings. Some of the sentiments reflect the society in Huxley’s Brave New World, such as the desire to look young and the always-watching eye of an overseeing corporation. I could go on, but even if you are anti-science fiction, give this a try. It’s not necessary to read Orxy and Crake before or after, they simply overlap.
For a lighter read, I started the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith which follows Mma Precious Ramotswe, a woman from Botswana who decides to put her keen eye and sixth sense to use by starting a detective agency. The requests range from missing spouses and children to inconsistent doctors. The book keeps a fairly light tone, but it does dip into some darker themes. Ramotswe reflects how she grew up and why she married an abusive man and how much she loves her father. She is a likable character, strong and efficient. I also read the second book in the series: Tears of the Giraffe, in which Ramotswe uncovers the mystery of a man who was missing for ten years.
The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey imagines the life of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt and the relationship he has to a younger woman Emilie Floge. Klimt exposes Floge to a life much more interesting than the strict one of her family. Floge falls in love with Klimt and struggles as she sees him woo countless beautiful women, many of whom pose for him. But as Floge grows up into her own successful woman, she finds she holds a bit of power over Klimt. The book goes back and forth between pre-WWII times to WWII times in which Floge is hiding out in the Austrian countryside with only her niece. I enjoy historical fiction and knowing a bit about artists, so this was a good read.
This next book I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like, but I got it from the library anyway to try and expand my reading horizons. I saw Richard Philips talking about his book on The Daily Show. The cover is a little bit Richard Dreyfuss circa Jaws, but as soon as I read the first few pages, I was hooked. The book follows Philips as his merchant marine ship is overtaken by Somali pirates in 2009. Somali pirates have taken over a huge chunk of Africa’s East Coast and ships are ill equipped to ward them off. Philips is a strict captain and he had his crew brush up on their pirate drills as they began undertaking the most dangerous route in the world.
The preparation pays off because when pirates do finally board the ship, the crew disappears into their predetermined engineer room. The Chief Engineer cuts power to the boat, which deters the pirates from commandeering the ship and taking it to the Somali coast. Philips thinking on his feet is nerve-racking, but honestly hilarious. When the pirates demand Philips to get his crew on the deck, he goes over the intercom and announces, “Crew, the pirates want you on the deck, so go ahead and come up please.” Philips covers and deceives and it almost seems as if he’ll be able to get the pirates off the ship with a $30,000 bribe (most pirates get millions of dollars for ransom), but they take him hostage for five days. I read this book in two days, my stomach churning with nerves the whole time. I highly recommend this novel.
Right now I am working on The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu, which covers the basics of eating well for the environment and your health. I’m skipping through a lot of the book since most of it is review, but there’s one fact that stood out to me. You may have already heard of the “dirty dozen,” which refers to the twelve most contaminated fruits and veggies. These include: the peach, apple, bell pepper, celery, nectarine, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes, carrot, and pears. According to the book, if you only made sure to eat these foods organically, you would reduce your pesticide consumption by 80%. There’s also the Clean Fifteen, which are the lowest in pesticides. These include: onion, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomato, and the sweet potato.
My one big issue with the book is that Zissu admits that being vegan is the single most important thing a person could do for the environment, but then she goes onto say that she isn’t even a vegetarian. So, to me, it seems a bit hypocritical. However, I suppose that people choose how to express their environmental eating. Like Barbara Kingsolver says in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, some people eat local, some people go vegetarian or some combination. It all makes a difference.
I’m finishing up the Art of Racing in the Rain and Rick Steves’ London in preparation for a September trip.