Archive for September, 2009

Twinkie, Deconstructed

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger (published by Plume) is definitely not for everyone. You have to be a serious foodie to like it.  The actual ingredients used to make even the simplest food – like a loaf of bread – are usually so processed, mined (yes MINED), manufactured, whatever –  that it’s a real surprise to me we all survive. Most of them don’t even sound edible. Read it and you will be shocked at what goes into the food we eat. Ettlinger decided one day while sitting at the beach reading an ice cream label (which by the way he said was “totally incomprehensible and most terms only barely pronouncable”) to analyze all the ingredients in a Twinkie, that archetype of all processed foods that has become part of pop culture.  Things like polysorbate 60, mono and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, high fructose corn syrup and even plain baking soda are all explained in ordinary language that includes where they come from, how they are manufactured, and why they are all used in the manufacturing of our food. If you don’t eat Twinkies, not to worry – just take a look at the list of ingredients on a box of anything in your kitchen cupboard and I bet one of them will be discussed in this quirky book. I found it fascinating… but I would, wouldn’t I.

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Not Guilty

Not Guilty: My Guide to Working Hard, Raising Kids and Laughing through the Chaos by Debbie Travis (published by Random House) is a surprisingly good book. Surprisingly? … who knew she could write about anything other than decorating! Certainly not me. I only decided to read this book after listening to an interview with her on the radio. My local library had a copy and I dashed over and picked it up. Not only is it a book about being a working mother and raising kids, it’s about her own life from the time she was born in Lancashire England to her current day “stardome” in Montreal. She says “I am not a child psychologist, a top pediatrician or a marriage counsellor. I don’t even have a degree. I left school at sixteen. What I am is a survivor. A working mom. Somehow I have found the tools to juggle it all through tears and tantrums (mine not the kids’).”  If you suffer from motherhood guilt and being overloaded with responsibilities, or just need someone to tell you mistakes happen and you’re doing OK, then read this little gem of a book. It’s full of wise advice, and in parts, is very, very funny. I loved it.

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Does contemporary fiction disappoint you?

A comment by Robert J. Wiersema in my local newspaper caught my attention recently. He said “The drawback to being a rapaciouis (now there’s a word eh – my comment, not his) and insatiable reader is that it becomes increasingly difficult to be surprised by a book. We’re not jaded, exactly, but we are realistic about the seeming conformity of the bulk of contemporary writing. Yet we keep trying, pinning our hopes to the next book. And the next.” I’m definitely in his camp… I read so much I’m often disappointed after the first few pages, same old theme, same tired characters, same old, same old. It has to be a really good book to catch and hold my attention. Like The Book of Negroes. His comment was in a review of  the book Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk, which by the way, he highly recommended.

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Books With Buzz #2

… my previous list was getting too long, so to continue along the same line – books avid readers are talking about, in other words – more books with buzz

  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret  Atwood
  • The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  • 206 Bones by Kathy Reichs
  • Born Round by Frank Bruni
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
  • Suddenly by Bonnie Burnard
  • The Heart Specialist by Claire Rothman
  • Soap and Water & Common Sense by Dr. Bonnie Henry
  • The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon
  • Snow Job by William Deverell
  • A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
  • The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe
  • Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  • Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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Barbara Fradkin

Over the course of the summer I’ve managed to read all of Barbara Fradkin’s books. Honour Among Men was my first (see my earlier blog entry). I often do that, find an author I really like and read everything they’ve written. In her case it’s 6 books, all with the same central characters providing a background story to completely different mysteries, which is another thing I like – the continuity from book to book. All her books are Inspector Green mysteries involving the Ottawa police force. They’re all excellent and extremely well written (her work as a child psychologist provides a certain depth to her writing).  Also, she is the first writer who sets her stories in Ottawa that I’ve felt compelled to read. Her info about the city is interesting, often historical, and sometimes humourous … her comment about Barrhaven is quite funny. Check her out, you won’t be disappointed. Her new book This Thing of Darkness is due out in October.

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