Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tongues and Thumbs

So far (180 pages in) I am loving The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I did not want to read it because I had heard it was so sad. In fact, my friend, Laura, in an effort to tell me how much she hated it, and to deter me from reading it, told me everything that will eventually happen. Then my book group picked it for our BFB.

Every spring, my book group picks a BFB (Big Fat Book) to read over the summer. We don't meet in July, so we can start reading in June, and take the whole summer to read it if we want. Last year, we chose Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, which is a BFB, indeed. This year, although I voted for 2666, War and Peace, and Infinite Jest, I was out numbered by the people who wanted to read Edgar. Really, Edgar is hardly even a BFB, at only 576 pages.

Although I had been warned not to read Edgar, I had actually picked up a nice copy of it at a used book sale, after telling my sister how much I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. She thought that the premise of The Art of Racing was a little hokey, and said that if she was going to read a dog book, she would read Edgar. Laura hadn't even mentioned that Edgar involved dogs. hmmm.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a fantastic book that admittedly sounds hokey when described. It is a story of a man's struggle with life, loss, and parenting, told by his dog, Enzo. Enzo's primary frustration in the book is that he cannot communicate with humans through any means other than gestures. He curses his floppy tongue and his lack of opposable thumbs throughout the book, but manages to communicate in a crystal clear manner when it is most important.

In Edgar, the primary character, yep, it's Edgar, is unable to speak or make any understandable noises. He was born that way, and learned to sign in order to communicate. He can also write, but it is his signing that is more interesting because his dogs learn to understand his signs. In a way, Edgar is not unlike Enzo, in that they both struggle to make themselves heard through gestures, however Edgar has the advantage of more useful thumbs.

I know tragedy is on its way. I know I may not love this book anymore when I post next. But for now, I am really enjoying the story, and the silent voice of its teller.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

To Meat, or Not to Meat, that is the question

Newsflash: I am not a vegetarian. However I am a Jonathan Safran Foer fanatic, and as such, I want to read everything that he writes. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is my favorite book of all time. So, I was somewhat sad to learn in 2009 that JSF's next book would not be another amazing novel, but instead would be a book about the animals that we consume, called Eating Animals. This book came out in November of 2009, and the fact that it took me until July of 2010 to read it is a testament to my reluctance. The fact that I read it at all is a testament to my devotion to JSF.

A few months back, Jonathan was on the Ellen show, and I wanted to see him, but forgot to set the DVR. Then I learned that one of my neighbors would also be on the same show, so I figured out how to set the DVR remotely from my office [insert pat on the back here]. It still never occurred to me that my neighbor would be on the show BECAUSE of Jonathan, but in fact she was. She talked about how he had changed her life and made her more healthy. Here is a link to Jonathan's part of the show - neighbor omitted. Jonathan said a couple of things on the show that stuck with me. The first is that just because he may sometimes fly in airplanes, that does not mean that he's going to stop doing things to help our environment. The analogy being the vegetarian who one day eats a piece of bacon, and then goes back on the meat wagon because they gave up. That made sense. The other was that if we each refrained from eating meat for one meal a week, it would make the same difference environmentally as if we took 5,000,000 cars off the road. I was not ready to give up meat, but I could trick my family into eating a meat free meal one night a week easily. That I would do.

After reading the book, I will always think of food differently. Until now, I had thought that it's better to eat chicken than red meat. Wrong. It may be less fatty, but the chickens are treated much worse than the steer. I also refused to eat veal, because I didn't want to eat a baby animal. Little did I know that just about every piece of meat that I buy in the grocery store is from an animal that is less than a year old. I am still not ready to give up meat, but I am ready to pay more for it. By buying the chicken at $1.99 a pound, I am rewarding the factory farmer for saving money. If, instead I buy "organic" I may be doing something better. If I manage to actively seek out chicken that was allowed to walk around freely outside (note that "cage free" does not mean that), I will have to pay a fortune, but it may be worth it.

I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver a couple of years ago, and was shocked by what I learned there. Jonathan reiterated some of Barbara's claims which I thought must have been exaggerated at the time. Barbara spends at least a full chapter talking about teaching her turkeys to mate, since the entire species had lost its breeding instinct. She then also had to teach the mothers to care for their eggs, since they had no idea what that egg was or how it got there. Shocking but true, almost 100% of turkeys are artificially inseminated. There's a turkey farm not too far from me, where I have seen the turkeys walk. I don't know if they know about mating, but if they can walk, they are better off than most. I think I will call now to order for Thanksgiving. If Eating Animals is as popular in your area as it is in mine (some of my great delay in reading the book was actually due to the number of holds placed on it at my library), turkeys who get outside will be much in demand this year.

Next Up: Edgar Sawtelle, which I am reading for my book group. I am also dreading this one . . .

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Parent Rant

OK, so here we are, 9 months later, and I am absolutely not a runner. I am NOT training for the Chicago Marathon. It took me a month to recover from the Detroit 10 K Turkey Trot, and that's enough of that. My daughter wants me to run the 5 K Turkey Trot with her this year, primarily so that she is allowed to wear the race shirt during Thanksgiving dinner, and I probably will.

As for reading, I'm still going strong. I have spent the past two months reading books based in France, as I just got back from a trip to Paris and London. Of the books that I read, I most strongly recommend Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. Currently, I am reading Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica. It is ok, but not nearly as good as Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch.

Speaking of ranting, however, I have one that I have to get out of my system. Why do teachers lie? It drives me crazy. As a parent we have to depend on them to give us advice about what is best for our kids. Of course, we also rely upon doctors and other professionals, but the ones who see our child every day and know him or her best are the teachers, so I tend to give their advice a lot of respect. This year we had a great teacher for our daughter who is learning disabled. We had an opportunity to send her to a school for learning disabled kids, for free, and we really struggled with the decision. Her current teacher asked us not to switch schools, and to "give him one more year" with her. We trusted him, and so we agreed. Then he decided that the best thing for all of the learning disabled kids in the 5th grade, was to have them in one class, together, with him "co-teaching". Although that sounds like seclusion to me, which I am opposed to with my super popular and secure child, I agreed to the placement because he recommended it so strongly, and he would be the co-teacher. Yesterday, July 7, when all of the buildings in my district are closed for the summer, he told me that he had decided to take a job at a different building. This was not an involuntary budget driven transfer, but apparently he had interviewed for another job and gotten it. Now I feel like the worst parent ever for making decisions that affect my child's future based on the recommendations of someone who clearly sees her as just another cog in his machine. UGH! I feel like sending him a seething email, but haven't got it composed properly in my head just yet. I would also like to send the principal a similar email for allowing this to happen, but really, he probably could not have stopped it.

So maybe Waiter Rant is an appropriate book for me right now after all. If anyone can teach me to properly rant and to compose the perfect guilt inducing hate filled email it will probably be Steve Dublanica.

Next Up, Eating Animals, by one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer.

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