Friday, May 02, 2008

Books and DVDs

My 18-mile-one-way daily commute over the mountain continues to to provide amble time to listen to audiobooks. Some days the drive is particularly hairy, or work situation is particularly stressful, in that case my mind skips a few tracks or chapters. Forgive me if I don't review the entire book, as I can only hear what I want to hear. The last Recent Reads was posted in February, so this is going to be a rather long list.

1. The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy (audiobook). Picked it off the shelf at the library, thought the author's name seemed familiar. We read Conroy's The Prince of Tides as book club reading a number of months ago, before Toni moved to North Carolina. I even got the Barbara Streisand movie. But my, she's ugly! This book is Conroy's chronicle of his year spent teaching on Yamacraw Island off the coast of South Carolina. An island of blacks, world away from America. Conroy fought for their and his own rights to make their lives better. Great book.

2. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner (audiobook). The author traveled the world looking for a "happy" geographical locale -- The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, etc. Can happiness really be measured in mathematical statistics and scientific terms? It's an interesting book nonetheless.

3. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (audiobook). The book is more about food industry than food. Go ahead and feel bad about what you eat, and worse, what you feed your family. Amazing we are all alive today. The every day question for me is how to get dinner on the table at a reasonable time while working enough hours to keep the job. If my family is willing to live on a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, be it. Oh believe me, they are in high heavens when that happens!

4. In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan (audiobook). I love food, and in all fairness, I have a big problem with the industrialized food system, or what I consider as the American way of eating and thinking about food. I have had this conversation with many friends and acquaintances, since every other person I know is on some sort of diet and people tend to attack me for "always eating". What does your body want to eat? Train your body to like the good food if you skipped that lesson when you were a small child, and teach your brains to talk to your body, know when you are hungry for what and when you should stop. Your body will thank you by not having to visit the doctors and swallow pills.

5. Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen. Zelda's pick for our book club April meeting. A Vietnamese girl's account of her growing up in midwest in the 80s. Interesting that some of us think of this book as memories from the 80s, and I seem to hang onto the growing up in a foreign country part. The food is delicious just reading about it.

6. Middle Class Millionaire by Russ Alan Prince and Lewis Schiff. The book defines middle class millionaire as households with a net worth between $1 million and $10 million, including primary residence. Now look around if you are a home owner in Silicon Valley, see a few of them? Compare to the regular middle class, who has a regular income but a net worth less than $1M, these people work more, spend more, live in bigger houses, and supposedly set the trend in various markets. Don't like them? too bad.

7. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman (audiobook). The book is very dry, full of medical cases, but informative if you have the patience to go through it. It comes down to the same ol' common sense thing, doctors are human and they make mistakes, with all manners of hows and why's. You have to think for yourself.

8. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook). My pick for the book club for May and I'm reviewing it since it's been awhile that I last listened to it. The scientific name for stereotype or instinct, Thin Slicing, helps us make many decisions in seconds. Another reminder that we need scientist to tell us what we already know (in this case social scientist), but it doesn't hurt to understand the natural response that we all have towards gender, race or simply how people look.

9. Why is Sex Fun by Jared Diamond. This book should go with the book that explains what's in a Twinkie -- some things you just don't want to get so scientific about, like why men can't nurse. Skip the book and keep your libido. (sorry Sarah)

I cancelled our Netflix membership after downgrading it to the lowest level and still can't seem to return the DVDs in time to get more than one movie out of them per month. On the other hand I discovered there are good selections of DVDs at the two libraries we visit weekly. I can just grab something off the shelf. If we have time to watch it, great; if not, renew or return it next week. The best part, it's free. I don't feel hurt if I return an un-watched movie when I didn't have to pay a dime. In the past couple of months we've watched:

1. Chocolat. Almost a fairy tale. Beautiful French village, Johnny Depp is sweet and Juliette Binoche is pretty. But where did she get all the chocolate and equipments? They can't possibly fit in her little suite case.
2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Very funny.
3. The Pelican Brief. My first John Grisham adaptation. They sure put in a lot of work to make Julia Roberts feel good.
4. To Catch A Thief. Forever good looking Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Eye candy costumes by Edith Head. Lovely French Riviera to die for.
5. Big Love, part of Season 1. I ran the ads for Netflix for this show during my time there and have been wanting to see it, but the show troubled me a great deal. Not a pleasant thought to share a husband, not to mention the minor logistics problems that trouble me, like whose money they live on.
6. De-Lovely. Watched this by myself last time and Bill got me a used copy so we could watch it together over and over. I'm totally smitten by Cole Porter's music.
7. Run Away Jury. Another John Grisham adaptation. Always entertaining.


Lesley said...

Wow! Excellent use of time!

De-Lovely--- buy the soundtrack, return the movie.

Sonya said...

That is an impressive list.

zelda said...

Great list. Love the reviews. A little confused about the criticism of "American" eating and advocating the bucket of chicken dinner though.

I actually think this ties into the idea of the middle class millionaire actually. The "American" way of eating is actually not culture/tradition based as each immigrant group brought its own eating culture here and adapted the available foods to their traditions. The way we eat has everything to do with how little time we have because we're trying to be middle class millionaires.

The problem isn't our attitude toward food. The problem is our attitude toward possessions. Its especially bad here in comparison to other places I've lived.

zelda said...

Oh, I didn't come away from "Stealing Buddha's Dinner" with a sense of it as a book about the 80s or a book about living in a foreign country (though it is both)...I got a sense of it as a book about being alienated from your peer group.

zelda said...

Just to be clear...I'm not directing these comments at you at all, Vivian. The bit about the bucket of chicken was meant to be a joke but as I thought about it I realized that it doesn't come off that way.

I also group myself into the category of people who chase possessions that I don't need or have any real use for (terrible sentence, please ignore syntax) while neglecting things with real value.

Sarah said...

I like Jared Diamond because I think he is funny. Also interesting and informative. No need to apologize if you don't feel the same. I'm actually flattered that you took the trouble to check it out.

And I prefer Netflix to the library just because the discs seem to be in better condition. We just watched Chicken Run from Netflix after trying to watch the libraries copy, which was so damaged as to be impossible to play all the way through. I also like the whole send me what I want when I'm ready aspect. So now I have actually forbidden my children to take DVDs out from the library.

As far as eating goes, I still think there's something deeply appealing about our apalling (to me at least) junk food, because all different kinds of people from all over the world seem to just latch on to it with such enthusiasm. It can't only be about not having time, or because it's inexpensive. Because there is cheaper, healthier fast food to be had, I think, in a raw carrot, but most people would not consider that any kind of a trade off at all.

Lastly, I don't think any one who has a deep commitment to their child(ren) could be seen as neglecting things of real value. Even though all of us, except maybe Lesley, could probably do with less stuff.

Vivian said...

(I see Zelda busily explaining herself for fear of the PC police visiting this little blog.)

First of all, I use "American" loosely, to describe un-Chinese things I've encountered in this country. I understand most of them are less "American", than western, or modern, or simply other cultures blended into the American pot. From this Chinese person's perspective, they are generically "American".

The bucket of chicken was worth mentioning only because of its rarity on our dinner table, and the excitement it created for the males in this household. Am I advocating KFC for working parents? Maybe a little, or simply advocating the acceptance of the bucket of chicken as part of our lives. I was heavily criticized by my mom-friends for handing my young son to his dad, who ended up in McD at lunch.

I wrote the comment about Buddha's Dinner only thinking about the heated discussion about 80s music, food, TV programs. I felt left out as usually, but that's my problem. Part of my life was dumped in the Pacific Ocean en route to San Francisco, there is no way back.

As for chasing possessions, I'd certainly put myself in the group, being a home owner in a good neighborhood and giving my child the best education I can afford. However I work for the fulfillment of my soul and being able to pay mortgage is a plus. Possessions are important, especially if they make us feel comfortable and secure.

zelda said...

Well, I've been antagonistic lately in tone and spirit but wasn't meaning to be here. Its just getting to the point where I'm not even sure I know the difference anymore. So, if I fall all over myself trying not to offend anyone its because I'm spending just as much time somewhere else trying to screw it someone else.

I'm going through a crisis of conscience and some of these blogs really bring it to the surface. Lately its been: what do I need? What do I want? What's ending up in my cart and my home and my life even though I neither really need it or want it?

You're never going to see me eschewing my possessions in pursuit of a spartan life...if you had any idea how much I spend on just a single pair of jeans that would be very clear. But, I wear them everyday. 25 tubes of lip gloss? There are only so many shades of pinky nude and I think I had it covered at tube number 7 or 8.

And that's consumption on a small scale compared to what I see in my fashion/decorating magazines. Where the jeans cost 3 times what I pay and 25 tubes of lip gloss is what sits in the bottom of the purse.

I know people who are working so much that they do not see their children everyday. The hours/week that they see them are pretty minimal. By most standards these same people are living very, very well. Far better than any other people I know. I wonder, how much stuff is enough stuff?

I didn't say neglecting ALL things of real value. But I know that I often sacrifice things of real value for the sake of something comparatively meaningless.

Diane said...

Our library has a ton of dvds too but I still get most of my stuff from netflix. Love the convenience.