Friday, June 29, 2007

No More Bull! The Mad Cowboy Targets America's Worst Enemy: Our Diets

Author: Howard F. Lyman with Glen Merzer and Joanna Samorow-Merzer

First line: As a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show in April 1996, I tried to warn consumers of the very real risk that Mad Cow disease would come to American.

Why you should read this book: You may recall that Lyman and Winfrey were subsequently sued by the Texas cattle industry, and that the judicial system upheld his right to make such claims, which have since been proven correct. A fourth-generation cattle rancher turned vegan organic farmer, Lyman credits his diet, adopted after fifty years of eating meat, for his exceptional health and vitality, and his aim in this book is to convince the reader of the dangers of animal-based proteins. The first hundred pages comprise arguments, based on scientific exploration, for veganism and against the consumption of animal products, while the bulk of the book is devoted to over a hundred vegan recipes written by dozen of chefs and nutritionists.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not even willing to reduce your meat intake; you have a large, financial interest in the cattle industry and you don't think the nation's health crisis should interfere with your profits.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Deadly Feasts: The "Prion" Controvery and the Public's Health

Author: Richard Rhodes

First line: Dark night in the mountains and no drums beating.

Why you should read this book: From the New Guinea Highlands in the 1950s to the US Department of Agriculture in the 1990s, this book tracks the evolving understanding of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy, a group of diseases including kuru, mad cow, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob. While the underlying cause of such diseases is still under debate, the fact that TSE is always fatal is not, and the possibility that TSE still exists in the food supply, despite consumer fear and half-hearted government regulation, seems high, as does the near-certainty that the disease's incubation period suggests that we may see amplified numbers of deaths from infected food decades hence. This beautifully written narrative tells the story of the determined scientists who labored for half a century to understand TSE's epidemiology, and it reads like a thrilling medical mystery, albeit one whose last twenty pages have yet to be written.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You trust that USDA regulations are sufficient to protect consumers, and you're not giving up beef under any circumstance anyway.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

Author: Amy Hempel

First line: My heart--I thought it stopped.

Why you should read this book: Comprising the complete text of Hempel's four previous collections, this book, named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, brings together her entire body of work. The themes of dogs, death, divorce, and beach days run through her amazing, naked prose, spinning strings of small, true observations woven together into a vast tapestry of real life. These stories are short, sharp, smart, and passionate, a series of snapshots framed to encompass the most telling details, leaving the reader to come to a deductive understanding of the writer's reality.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You really, really don't like dogs, even in print.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The House on Mango Street

Author: Sandra Cisneros

First line: We didn't always live on Mango Street.

Why you should read this book: Little Esperanza--skinny, poor, female--moves through her fictionalized Chicago neighborhood with a sense of alienation almost equal to her neighbors' belief that she's right where she belongs. A novel in short stories, some under two pages, this book creates not only a stunning sense of place, but also a detailed portrait of a young girl's mind as she comes to understand the give and take of money, power, relationships, and freedom. Honest and intense, this well-loved book presents a reality that might otherwise remain invisible for a large segment of the population.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never dreamed of changing your place in the world.

The Ultimate Pool Maintenance Manual

Author: Terry Tamminen

First line: Dustin Hoffman, Madonna, Stacy Keach, Dick Clark, Barbra Streisand, Charles Bronson, David Letterman, Rich Little, Carroll O'Connon, Lou Gosset, Dyan Cannon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Walt Disney, Martin Sheen, Sting, Goldie Hawn, Olivia Newton-John, Roy Orbison, Diana Ross, George C. Scoot, Dick Van Dyke, Bruce Willis.

Why you should read this book: Tamminen is the Malibu Pool Man to the Stars, with twenty-five years of experience in maintaining water features for what is surely a very fussy clientele. At 693 pages, this manual answers every question you could possibly have about your pool, hot tub, or outdoor fountain, as well as a thousand questions it never occured to you to ask. In fact, it is written with the water maintenance professional, rather than the lay user, in mind.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Dense and occasionally technical, it might be overkill if you only want to know why your water is green or what kind of filter to buy.

Tomorrow, the Stars

Editor: Robert A. Heinlein

Quote: "I don't know who they are--but it's the story of the boy who cried wolf. Only this time the wolves realized--" Then the phone went dead.

Why you should read this book: Although these stories are fifty or sixty years old and certainly dated in terms of sexism and racism, the themes and the technology remain fresh enough to hold the attention of the lover of science-fiction. Of note is "The Report on the Barnhouse Effect" by Kurt Vonnegut, from that era when Vonnegut still wrote flat-out science fiction, a story that is possibly more relevant today than it was during the Cold War. Science fiction from the day when sf was about imagination rather than special effects.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're in it for the special effects.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Beware of God

Author: Shalom Auslander

Quote: "'Fuck,' said God."

Why you should read this book: Funky and irreverant, Auslander comes off as a cross between Harlan Ellison, Franz Kafka, and Sholom Aleichem, plugged into the new millennium and steeped in magical realism. No topic is taboo and no belief off limits in a world where chimps achieve self-awareness, dogs chastise young boys over their sexual awakening, and the question is not "Who is in control?" but "Is anyone paying attention?" and if so, does it make a difference? Funny on the surface but deceptively deep, this book provides a modern take on the old Jewish tradition of questioning everything, all the time.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think god is serious.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Author: Naomi Alderman

Quote: And when we are creating, any fleeting pain becomes not only irrelevant, but actually joyful.

Why you should read this book: This is a close, almost voyeuristic examination of a community of Orthodox Jews in England, and secrets that hide in plain sight, made lush with religious insight and multiple viewpoints. Ronit, the rabbi's bisexual daughter, left home for a secular New York life long ago, but when her father dies, she feels compelled to return to England and find her mother's Shabbat candlesticks; instead she finds her cousin married to her former lover and remnants of a confusing past she thought she had left behind. Ronit, her cousin, Dovid, and his wife, Esti, must all face their own desires and the community's expectation, making their own decisions in the face of mass disapproval.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Apparently, the frank discussion of hypocrisy was upsetting to some Orthodox Jews, presumably the very people who most ought to read and understand this book.