Since I last checked in, I’ve visited the dark and crumbly apartment in northern India where a sari shop worker lives; fought the mysterious beri-beri disease in the wilds of Africa and Asia; and witnessed a complicated friendship and love triangle in a London where cell phones were just becoming a thing.
Of course, I haven’t actually left my couch to experience any of this. I’ve been gobbling up books right and left – and even my newfound resolution to not borrow any more books from the library until I review them is not stopping me.
Of the three books I read these past few weeks, I’d heartily recommend two out of them; the third would be only if you have nothing better to do.
As someone who is becoming more and more interesting in health and nutrition these days, I found “Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food” to be very eye-opening. It’s an engaging romp through what vitamins are, how we discovered (or rather stumbled upon) the idea of vitamins themselves, where the name came from (yay Polish-born scientist Casimir Funk – yes that was his real name), how they work, and why we are so obsessed with them – and other supplements – today. I didn’t think I could get impassioned about the FDA or supplement safety but this book breaks down history and behind-the-scenes politics in a fascinating way. The book is lively, the facts well-researched and referenced, and quite entertaining as well as enlightening – you can tell the author, Catherine Price, is a journalist well-honed in her craft. And you can’t disagree with her ultimate conclusion, which is, don’t pop so many pills of doubtful provenance and effectiveness, but rather get your vitamins -and any other micronutrients- from your whole, unprocessed food (yes, eat your veggies).
“Talking It Over” by Julian Barnes was a novel I randomly selected off the library bookshelf because the Fiction ‘B’s were close to me and I remembered reading Barnes’ ‘Flaubert’s Parrot” for English class in college and being swept away by his writing. Make no mistake of it – he repeated the same feat here. On the cover, it would not seem that the story of a few years’ in the life of a 30-some-year-old banker, his newlywed wife and his eccentric friend would be so fascinating. But Barnes weaves a magical web of entanglements by lending each of the protagonists (and some background characters as well) a narrative voice. His prose varies with the personality of each character, and surprises with moments of subtle wit, comic exaggeration, and simple profundity. There is no swashbuckling drama and little out-of-the-ordinary in terms of plot twists; rather you feel as though you are in the living room listening to the confidences of the seemingly stodgy banker, his art-restorer wife, and the banker’s childhood’s friend, a carefree yet lost soul, as the tension and passion mount. Barnes plays with words and visibly enjoys doing so – but you enjoy it, too, even though you are conscious he is playing with your mind at the same time. And continues to do so even after you put his book down.
Rupa Bajwa’s “The Sari Shop” was, yes, you guessed, on the bookshelf right next to Barnes. I had a few moments at the beginning when I was going to put down the novel, but I kept thinking I would eventually get more drawn in, and I suppose I did. Normally, I love novels set in distant lands that provide me glimpses into a society that I would never have insight into otherwise. However, this novel was a little too foreign for me. There were many words in Hindi that were not explained in the novel, which was a bit off-putting. And the general atmosphere, although it had its moments of lightness, was drab and dreary. I suppose the dreariness is supposed to underline the main theme – that of the hopelessness of growing up in a caste-based, corrupt world where your noble ideals have no way to develop, even if you want them too. But I found the characters a little too black-and-white, and the pace of the novel uneven. I admire the author for tackling such a controversial theme in her first novel, but I think there are many other better reads out there.
I actually wrote this post a few months ago and have gobbled up innumerable books since then. More recommendations shortly. In the meantime, the two recommended above should tide you over.
Happy Fourth of July weekend!