One of my goals this year has been to read some of my favourite people’s favourite books.
Over the year I’ve developed a few caveats to this:
- It has to be a favourite book that you think I will like reading. No high level academic research compilations in an area I’ve never studied/worked. (Although, more than happy to read your best beginner’s suggestion).
- If you can’t decide on a favourite, just tell me one that you liked that you think I will like.
- You can only pick one. (Although depending on the choice, I reserve the right to come back for more).
I did this because my brother spent a fair amount of time reading all of my favourite books and seemed to enjoy it.
Also, since finishing uni I’ve had a hard time figuring out what to read next. I thought this would solve this problem AND might be a good way to get to know people better.
Now I don’t want to say WINDOW TO PEOPLE’S SOUL, but….
Here are a couple of thoughts from the ones I have read so far.
The Uttermost Place on Earth (E. Lucas Bridge)
This book is about the first European settlers to the very southern tip of South America. It traces their experiences over time – what they ate, how they lived, when they interacted with locals. How the adventurous father in the family, the first pioneer, used to cry when reading sad stories to his kids.
The middle section brought along a sense of humour. Like telling the readers about a group of pioneers who shared one alarm clock that would wake the group before dawn. Except when a prankster in the group kept setting the time back, thereby forcing the start of the day to the middle of the night.
Turns out even pioneers like to have a laugh.
The sense of humour faded towards the end however – along with my patience – as it became one seemingly irrelevant story after another.
I didn’t finish it, but it still made me laugh!
(The person I recommended it said I might not like it – I’m sorry!)
Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
This book is the favourite book of so, so many people. I know it is such a cliché now, but it did change the way I think. Not least the thought that it is ok to pray and hope for things, despite not being religious. “You are a part of the universe and entitled to participate in its actions”.
Gilbert used humour to make me start thinking about meditation in a more serious way. (A good beginner’s guide here if you are interested). She goes to a monastery to meditate for 4 months. And she complains about not being able to control her mind. To which a monk responds “It’s a pity you are the only person in the world that has ever had a problem with meditation!”.
And this thought on the concept of ‘soul mates’ is profound: “People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with your soul mate forever? Nah, too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank god for it.”
The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan)
This book is just crazy amazing. Read it.
Put simply, the title of the book refers to the ‘analysis paralysis’ that omnivores have to deal with. This is due to sheer quantity of choices that omnivores have to make everyday.
I’m going to try not to ruin it for you – but the book is split into three parts. In the first, Pollan tries to follow a fast food meal all the way from the farm to his mouth. Then he does the same for a fully organic meal (and gets right into the debate of small scale versus large scale farming). And finally, my favourite, he creates a meal from food he has foraged.
So I have this ‘thing’ where I fold down the corner of the page in a book if there is a particular concept I like, or a particular turn of phrase (I stole this from a great, great friend of mine). No turn overs in the first third. It was interesting, and I felt like I learnt a lot, but I did not find it particularly striking.
Onto the second section on organics. On large scale farming – again I felt like there was a lot of detail I already knew, but I did like how Pollan phrased it. Things that I was suprised to learn from this section – countries have banned the use of chilean nitrate because it uses child labour and small farms are more productive at outputting crop (the problem is in the transaction costs).
Then on to small scale organics farming. Here Pollan introduces Joel, a small town organic farmer. I must say, I totally loved Joel. What an awesome character in the book! So spirited! I loved the analogy from Pollan about how Joel wanted to be Luther rather than Lenin – how he wanted to give people an alternative rather than work to ‘overcome the system’.
Pollan also spoke a little about Joel’s father, who rode a bike to work every day because he didn’t want to buy foreign oil during the Arab oil emargo. This reminded me of how I really admire people that make a stand like that and stick to it.
My friend Ross Harding has this vision of a future powered entirely by renewable energy and he is going to promote it by sailing a yacht (wind power) around the world, starting from Mexico. But he was in London and felt conflicted about starting his journey by flying to Mexico. So, he is took a 19 day container ship to Mexico. Which has about 50 times less impact than flying.
Next Pollan got onto a brilliant analysis of the ethics of slaughter and eating animals. Plenty of fold downs of the book in that section. He spoke about how at Joel’s farm they don’t slaughter everyday – so that the slaughterer’s don’t become immune to the impact of it.
And finally, the meal from foraged food. Again I don’t want to ruin it, but this section of the book was UNBELIEVABLE. I’d never even thought of foraging before. The stories of the mushroom hunters? How he tried to get sea salt? And it ended up being toxic? Hilarious. And the motions of going through and killing the pig? I totally felt like I was right there. I was on the edge of my seat READING A BOOK.
And then the ending. All I’m going to say is I cried. And cried.
It was so beautiful, the whole thing.
And that’s how a book should be.
If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!