Books Read November 2008

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Dolores Price is the only child of Bernice and Tony – both of whom continually disappoint and mentally abuse little Delores. Of course they’re dealing with a chorus of their own demons, so when Dad hits the road and Mom lands in a mental hospital; Dolores goes to live with Grandma in Rhode Island. Life is still crap so she tries to eat herself happy. Along the way she’s raped by her Grandmothers tenant, makes friends with the local tattoo artist, and somehow gets to college -- only to become a go-fer for her perfect roommate. Delores ends up stealing said perfect room-mates boyfriend years later but revenge isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
In anticipation of Lamb’s new release (The Hour I First Believed) I re-read She’s Come Undone. It was good but not nearly as good as I remember way back when. This brings to mind that saying, something about not putting your foot in the same river twice.

Skeleton’s at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
Set during the final months of World War II, an interesting group of people attempt to cross through the Third Reich, from Warsaw to the Rhine to reach the British and American lines. There’s eighteen-year-old Anna Emmerich, the daughter of Prussian aristocrats, her lover, Callum Finella, a twenty-year-old Scottish prisoner of war who was a forced laborer on her family’s farm. And there’s the mysterious twenty-six-year-old Manfred, a Wehrmacht corporal–who’s really Uri Singer, a Jew from Germany who managed to escape a train bound for Auschwitz. A powerful story, and completely different from Bohjalian’s previous work I might add. A war story with a different spin but same lesson -- war doesn’t determine who’s right, just who’s left. Can you say: “Hollywood screen-play?”

The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer & Jim Mason
A really awesome book and whew, none too soon. It may sound text-book-y. It. Is. Not. The book follows three families (bargain shopper, an organic shopper, and a vegan shopper) as they make their food choices, traces back to where the food comes from, how it was raised, who raised it, how the food affects the family, and how those food choices affect the entire world!.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you know that unclean, unethical and horrifying farming practices are what are wrapped up in those nicely packaged cuts of beef, chicken and pork sitting in your grocery store. Singer and Mason take it a step further and give us reason to consider their origins, and how we can use our consumer dollars for change. I thought I knew quite a bit about this subject-- but holy hamburger, this book is the bomb. And for all you locavores out there -- some of their findings are not what you’d expect.

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee
This is the true story of spunky Benjamin Mee and his family who (with Grandma’s entire life savings) buy a rundown zoo in the English countryside. Mee had a dream to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. Of course that’s easier said than done especially when you have absolutely no zoo experience. What were they thinking? The book traces the journey which is equal parts humor (to his children: “Quiet. Daddy’s trying to buy a zoo.”), part head scratcher (dangerous animals escape regularly) part magical (the Dartmoor Wildlife Park opens to rave reviews) and part heart-breaker (Mee’s wife dies of glioblastoma.)Hey, this isn’t the next great British novel, but it’s a good, fast read and more than anything I admire someone who focuses on how to achieve a dream instead of coping out and not trying. Think of all the people who die not even having tried.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien
Ah, yes it must be animal month at Inside the Book – because here’s another true animal story. It’s Valentine's Day 1985. Wesley the owlet is only four days old when he’s adopted by biologist Stacey O'Brien. She unselfishly commits to giving him a home for life which means among other things -- feeding him more than 28,000 mice over Wesley’s 19 year life-span! At the time O’Brien’s working at Caltech in a kind of scientific Hogwarts, where owls fly from office to office and brilliant scientists study animals. Although Wesley has nerve damage and can’t fly, O'Brien makes important discoveries about owl behavior, intelligence, and communication. She talks about "The Way of the Owl" to describe Wesley’s unconditional love, loyalty and trust. O’Brien’s photos are almost as good as the story, but of course the story is thoroughly engaging, heartwarming, and funny.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Hasn’t everybody read Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince? (If you haven’t, don’t admit it just read it – it takes all of an hour.) So, when I realized his book Wind, Sand, and Stars had been recently named to National Geographic's "Top Ten Adventure Books of All Time" I had to get on the bandwagon. Even though it’s billed as an “adventure book,” it’s got a quiet, thoughtful pace, and brings to mind Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. And perhaps the greatest surprise of all? On page 288 the question of who wrote one of my favorite quotes was revealed because there it was: “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” NatGeo got it right – it’s a classic written by a great adventurer.
FYI -- Saint-Exupery, born in Lyon, France in 1900 was known as the "Winged Poet." He took his first flight at age eleven and became a pilot at twenty-six. He was a pioneer of commercial aviation and flew in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. He wrote The Little Prince, Wind, Sand and Stars, Night Flight, Southern Mail, and Airman's Odyssey. In 1944, while serving with a French air squadron, he disappeared during a flight over the Mediterranean.