Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a familiar name to many vegans; she’s written a number of vegan cookbooks, including the classic Veganomican, an essential recipe collection and culinary guide for those who avoid cooking with animal products, and she has a popular website focusing on vegan baking and cooking, Post Punk Kitchen. Her latest cookbook endeavor is Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildy Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week, and let’s just say I’m in love. Isa Does It is chock full of over 200 delicious and easy-to-make recipes, highlighted by beautiful photos and charming illustrations. As with all her recipes that I’ve made, I’ve found them to be fairly quick (between a half-an-hour to an hour to make) and layered with complex flavors. This is a great cookbook for people who aren’t vegan, too; as a vegetarian, I find I’m occasionally disappointed by vegan cookbooks because they use a lot of uncommon ingredients or dairy replacements that I wouldn’t want to buy. Isa Does It relies on fairly common ingredients, making it a great choice for not only vegans, but also for vegetarians and for omnivores looking for ideas for “Meatless Mondays.”
Isa Does It
Jesmyn Ward won the 2011 National Book Award for fiction with her book Salvage the Bones, a novel that follows a poor Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and uses their story to confront issues of poverty and racism. Ward’s new book Men We Reaped continues the discussion of poverty and race, but this time the stakes seem even higher: Men We Reaped is a memoir centering on the death of five men, in as many years, in her small DeLisle, Mississippi community. All five men touched her life in some manner, but the heart of the book lies with the death of her beloved brother Joshua. Though the circumstance of each death varies, they are inevitably linked by unyielding poverty and deeply systemic racism.
Interspersed between the stories of their deaths, Ward tells stories of her childhood; the nonlinear storyline of the book unwinds like a puzzle—as more pieces of her childhood and details of her community are revealed, the issues that tie the deaths together become more apparent, and her feelings that the black men in her community are being stolen away are understandable. Ward knows the hopelessness, the fear, and sadness left behind when a community loses its men; this is her attempt to tell their stories and let the world know that their lives mattered.
Men We Reaped
One of my favorite things about reading a novel is when I come across one with characters so believable, so engaging, that I think about them for days after I’ve finished the book. Eleanor and Parkwas just one of those books for me, and I nearly decided not to read it because it was labeled as young adult fiction. Based on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I trusted, I put my teen lit prejudices aside and found I couldn’t put the book down once I had picked it up. Eleanor and Park are sixteen in 1986, social outcasts, and falling in love over comic books and New Wave. I’m certain I would have been friends with them in high school.
Tension in the novel arises from Eleanor’s home life—she lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather. Her situation is a tough one, and it’s heartbreaking, but author Rainbow Rowell manages present her story in a realistic way without turning it into a schmaltzy after-school special. I consider the absence of schmaltz a major feat since this is basically a story about two socially awkward teenagers falling in love for the first time, and it’s ripe with opportunities for sentimentality. This book is good for anyone, teen or adult, who likes great character development.
Eleanor and Park
While reading two books, The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Two Whole Cakes, I came across references to a movement called “Health at Every Size (HAES).” Unfamiliar with the phrase, I did a little research and found a book called Health at Every Size: the Surprising Truth about Your Weight by Linda Bacon. In her book, Bacon discusses obesity and dieting and concludes that humans have evolved to store fat well, but not to lose it. She uses scientific studies (she herself is a scientist) to back up her argument that diets don’t work and that a number on scale does not determine a person’s health or wellbeing. Bacon urges people not to look at food (any food) as good or bad, but to listen to their bodies and eat food that makes them feel their best—energized and strong. She also encourages readers to incorporate more activity into their daily lives, but to focus on activity that is enjoyable and not a chore.
This is not a diet book; in fact it’s the opposite: Bacon advises people to pay attention the way their bodies feel in relation to food and movement to improve health, not to lose weight. I really, really liked this book; it was incredibly refreshing to read a book talking about health that urges you to listen to your body, to trust it to tell you what you need—I’d rather trust myself with my health than a diet industry that makes a huge profit selling people one particular body ideal.
health at every size: the surprising truth about your weight
Davy Rothbart’s life is anything but ordinary. This Ann Arbor native and creator of Found Magazine has an endless yearning for new experiences, exhibits a complete fearlessness of strangers, and falls in “love” with every pretty girl he meets, however briefly that meeting may be (if you have dark eyes, long hair, and work at a Subway—watch out!). My Heart Is an Idiot, Rothbart’s new collection of essays, chronicles the adventures he stumbles upon, or rather creates, in his travels across the U.S. Rothbart has the ability to make friends with anyone and everyone, and that talent, combined with a restlessness that compels him to constantly be on the move, makes for some very crazy encounters. Hitchhiking? There’s plenty of that. Traveling across the country for a girl he barely knows? Sure! Dead man in a pool? Yeah, he found one once. I can’t say that his writing is the best or that his constant pursuit of unrealistic romance didn’t get tiresome, but the weird situations and odd coincidences in these stories make My Heart Is an Idiot entertaining. His heart is definitely an idiot, but at least it’s a charming, adventurous one.
My Heart Is an Idiot
A few months ago, I happened to catch a show on PBS called “Half the Sky,” a series about the oppression of women in developing countries. The film followed a
number of women throughout the world who have devoted their lives to freeing women and young girls from sex trafficking, domestic violence, and inadequate healthcare (including access to better prenatal care and freedom from genital mutilation). The topics were heavy and the film footage often heartbreaking, but the work being done by these selfless, heroic women was inspiring.
Come to find out, the film was based on a book called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn wrote Half the Sky in an effort to address the oppression of women—a problem they saw reaching a crisis point but not being discussed at a global level. Not only does the book attempt to raise awareness of the issues that women and girls face worldwide, but it also acts as a call to arms to inspire and enact change. They believe that empowering women, while morally right, also serves to help the global economy and combat poverty, and they give plenty of examples of organizations working hard to fight for women’s rights. Don’t be frightened away by the weighty topic—this powerful and enlightening book will leave readers full of hope and optimism.
Half the sky