Posts Tagged ‘michael pollan’

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

August 8, 2010

Wow, it seems like a lot of people didn’t notice that this kinda sucked! Weird. It read to me like he wrote The Botany of Desire, decided that that framework- a loose structure in which he can just talk alternately interesting and totally self-serving shit for a whole book- and figured he’d give it another go, but this time as his MAGNUM OPUS. And I was pretty into it, for the most part, but in a lot of the parts where he thinks he’s being super even-handed, he’s actually often being a boring middle-aged white liberal dude with boring tenured college professor politics. I mean, have you read the part in this book where he decides that animals shouldn’t be killed, declares himself a vegetarian, gets stressed out, decides that being a vegetarian is stepping on your friends’ toes, then says a bunch of total fucking nothing for twenty minutes (I listened to the audiobook- which, by the way, makes this book sound super preachy even if it isn’t, because of the narrator’s tone of voice) and decides that vegetarianism isn’t a viable way of life? Even though, I don’t know, something like a million billion people have been living that way for pretty much forever? Just admit it, Mike: you like eating meat, don’t want to make the effort to stop, convinced Peter Singer to concede that, sure, if you’re going to eat meat, it’s better to eat meat that’s been ethically raised and slaughtered (aduh), and decided that that settles it: Pete Singer said you don’t have to be a vegetarian, so let’s just-

OH MAN after the vegetarian part- we are about three quarters of the way in at this point- Mike decides that he’s going to be a hunter, so he writes two hours (it is a trip for me to listen to a book because I do it so rarely, but I am driving across the country and it is a wide country) of the most florid, masturbatory prose I have ever had the privilege of consuming in any medium. ON and ON and ON and ON about the great natural dance, and how probably when you shoot an animal it releases THC (the active ingredient in marijuana; a cannabanoid, which is a science word!) into your brain, ’cause it sure feels like getting stoned. And the beauty of how time slows down when you look through a rifle sight, and how now he is better than people who hunt in their real lives. Thanks for that, Mike. Also thanks for your total lack of solutions for people who can’t afford or don’t have access to organically grown local fuckin cows that got to play dress-up whenever they wanted up until Temple Grandin killed them. Actually, thanks for your total lack of solutions to anything (besides ‘get your friend to clean the pig you shoot,’ SPOILER).

It’s just… The Botany of Desire was pretty fun! You do better when you tell me about Johnny Appleseed, Michael Pollan, than you do when you try to tell me how to eat. Also I know you did it first but Eating Animals does a better job of explaining about how animals are tortured in american corporate agriculture. The student has become the teacher! O-oh!

(this review is from my old goodreads account.)


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

May 30, 2010

Ms. Bender has outdone herself. She is my favorite and I love her and we are in love and we are gay married, so take from this review what you will, but…. like, I have loved her other books, and I always say that she’s a short story writer more than a novelist (like Lorrie Moore or Amy Bloom, although pretty unlike those two otherwise), but I may stand corrected. I mean, this one makes An Invisible Sign of My Own (which, by the way, was supposed to become a terrible movie, wasn’t it?) look kind of one-dimensional.

Also, it feels like… okay. Aimee Bender does this thing where stuff in her stories wouldn’t happen in the real world, like a narrator’s boyfriend turns into a newt or whatever. In short stories, it works because that metaphor, the literalization of a subtext or whatever, doesn’t have to go deep enough to sustain three hundred pages. You’ve got a setting, and then that metaphor, and then you twist it, and then maybe you twist it again: thirty pages, fifty pages, you’re done. In her last novel, there wasn’t as much, like… I don’t want to call it magical relaism, mostly ’cause compared to what Ms. Bender does, “magical realism” feels a lot less interesting and contemporary, especially now that it’s thirty years after the heyday of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Maybe just magic? But in An Invisible Sign of My Own there wasn’t that much magic happening. It was there, but it was subtle; the focus was on gore, and feelings, and surreal neighborhood/community weirdness. It was way more surreal than unreal.

In this one, though, the hook is something unreal: Rose can taste the feelings people were feeling when they were making the food she eats. Every day growing up she tastes the desperation her mother is concealing. It’s pretty brutal. But so instead of that unreal thing making the story into a magical farce or surreal odyssey or whatever, it kind of becomes just a thing in the novel that might as well be a hypersensitivity on the part of the narrator or something; the story isn’t about this magical thing, although it is about the sadness- the PARTICULAR sadness, if you feel me- that comes from this magic thing. It would be a different story if Rose couldn’t taste folks’ feelings, and the other unreal thing that happens in the story- which I’m not going to tell you about- would feel a lot more out of place without it, but it’s just a hook. It’s not the whole story.

So I guess the amazing thing is how that weird hook is just a thread in the majestic tapestry (puke, puke) of suburban feelings that’s otherwise totally relatable and sweet and brutal and true to growing up a sad kid. Y’know?

Also, it’s interesting how that makes this a food book. How hot are food books right now? Everybody has a total boner for sustainable agriculture, and whatever Michael Pollan has to say about vegetables, and urban farming, and local food, and all that stuff, which makes its way into The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, without actually making it a part of that zeitgeist. I mean, I groaned when I realized how much Rose would be talking about the farmers who are growing the food that tastes organic or not organic, or desperate or, because I was like Oh boring, another book about sustainable organic local food: I GET IT, BORING. It’s not a dominant theme or anything, but it is there, which makes this book feel pretty 2010. So.

What else can I tell you… Aimee Bender’s sentences are always beautiful, every single one of them, and the final paragraph is astounding and amazing (although it might not seem that way if you remember that I told you that, so try and forget it; it’s understated amazing, not punch you in the face amazing, although I guess it’s a little bit punch you in the face amazing too). A hundred stars!

(This review is from my old goodreads account.)