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10. “Don’t Eat this Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America”, Morgan Spurlock

December 29, 2008 1 comment

Well, this book got me thinking, which is always a good thing. Unfortunately, a lot of that thinking what about how annoying Spurlock’s writing style is. I found him quirky and personable in “Supersize Me”, but that was just two hours of him. I was with this book for much longer, and his verbal tics (affixing the prefix “Mc” before things to mock them, refering to Dr. Atkins as “Fatkins”, his tendency to imitate Homer Simpson’s “Mmm, ______ _______” in the face of barely-edible objects) really got to me. Really. Got to me. I also never managed to figure out what the purpose of his grey boxes were.

I also was nagged by a frequent feeling that this book was not as well-researched as it should have been. Other blogs have tackled some of these problems on a case-by-case basis, but I felt that he was making a lot of heavy allegations with very few citations. And it may just be the academic snob in me, but I found his use of endnotes really irritating. Not only were they endnotes, which are inconvenient, but he didn’t use superscript numbers, which would signal the less-critical reader that not everything was the pure, unadulterated fact that it might seem. We don’t cite the assertion “the sky is blue”, but if we are writing a quasi-academic work and say “the sky is blue because of cow farts”, we should probably cite that. The apparent lack of citation may signal to some people that everything Spurlock is saying is as well-accepted and uncontroversial as he makes it seem. He also cites Wikipedia at one point. Which, come on.

I’m also pretty concerned that reading this book caused me to teach at McDonald’s twice. Over two days. That’s more fast food than I usually eat in two or three months.

As a total sap, I was of course really excited about the positive reactions so many students, teachers, and school districts had to eliminating the junk in their cafeterias and vending machines. The school at which I did my student teaching had open campus, which means that if a student had a free block or it was lunch or break, they were allowed to leave school. Within one block of the school, there are two gas station convenience stores, one CVS, a Domino’s, a wings place, a taqueria, and a McDonald’s. Within two blocks, there was also a Burger King. Within a third, there was a Dunkin’ Donuts, another pizza place, 7-11, another McDonald’s, and another taqueria. Needless to say, I saw much of what Spurlock describes. Students would come back wired. They weren’t allowed to eat in my class, but that didn’t make a difference. The damage was done. One double period block, I ran into the teacher’s lounge during break to grab some water. We had had a really amazing class so far (they were debating about Amendments! Spontaneously!) and I made the horrible mistake of telling another teacher how awesomely my kids were doing. Fifteen minutes later, they were back from break and I was on the verge of losing my voice and my temper.

Most students at my school (about 60%) qualify for free or reduced lunch, but hardly any use it. The food is nasty, and, if it’s anything like my own high school’s food, probably not much healthier. There was a minor revolt in my high school when they started selling fried chicken patties and pizza only one or two days a week, while in my middle school the baked potato and salad bars were incredibly popular (not for the best of reasons, mind. Most of us were loading out potatoes with sour cream and bacon, and eating the iceberg lettuce in an attempt to lose weight.)

Obviously this book got me thinking a lot. I’ve leave you with one last thing to chew on. Evidently, there is a McDonald’s in Dachau, Germany, within two miles of the concentration camp. When it first opened, McDonald’s put fliers under the windshields of people at the Camp.

Page count: 284 Total: 4839
Started 23 December?, finished 29 December

9. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

December 26, 2008 3 comments

This stupid book a) totally rips off “Lord of the Rings”, and b) makes me strongly consider weeping once or twice every time I read it. I usually don’t, but I’ll think for a moment “you could cry here if you wished”.

Hermione in a quote:

And all around these neatly lettered words, scribbles had been added by other witches and wizards who had come to see the place where the Boy Who Lived has escaped. Some had merely signed their names in Everlasting Ink; others had carved their initials into the wood, still others had left messages. The most recent of these, shining brightly over sixteen years’ worth of magical graffiti, all said similar things.

Good luck, Harry, wherever you are.
If you are reading this, Harry, we’re all behind you!
Long live Harry Potter.

“They shouldn’t have written on the sign!” said Hermione, indignant.

The whole bit in the train station with Dumbledore really annoys the piss out of me. It is cheating and also stupid. And, I’m afraid to admit this, but I don’t get the baby. What is the deal? Most of the last hundred or so pages annoy me. I just want the battle. And for Percy to stop being a prat. And for Ron and Hermione to make out all ready. OH WAIT:

“We’ve forgotten someone. […] The house-elves, they’ll all be down in the kitchen, won’t they?”
“You mean we ought to get them fighting?” asked Harry.
“No,” said Ron seriously, “I mean we should tell them to get out. We don’t want any more Dobbies [sic], do we? We can’t order them to die for us–”
There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione’s arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Ron threw away they fangs and broomstick he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet.
“Is this the moment?” asked Harry weakly, and when nothing happened except that Ron and Hermione gripped each other with still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice. “OI! There’s a war going on here!”
“I know, mate,” sad Ron, who looked as though he had recently been hit on the back of the head with a Bludger, “so it’s now or never, isn’t it?”

And then they forget all about the house-elves and leave them to die.

Page count: 752 Total: 4555

8. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

One of the absolute best parts of the series occurs in this book:

“Arthur, is that you?”
“Yes,” came Mr. Weasley’s weary voice. “But I would say that even if I were a Death Eater, dear. Ask the question.”
“Oh, honestly…”
“Molly!”
“All right, all right… What is your dearest ambition?”
“To find out how airplanes stay up.”

If you have managed not to read the Harry Potter series, that’ll tell you all you need to know about Mr. Weasley: he is simply precious.

Page count: 652 Total: 3803

8. “State of Fear”, Michael Crichton

December 19, 2008 Leave a comment

Oh man. This is some classic Crichton. It has four plot lines that come together much more quickly than the last book and deals with the Hubris of Man. It even comes equipped with paranoid fantasies about humans and science, a man named Peter, and an eccentric, rich old man!

Crichton’s conclusion (he includes an Author’s Message section that discusses his feelings on global warming) that global warming is, at best, not yet proved, is a bit troubling to me. He includes good evidence throughout the book– any reader of Jurassic Park will know his love of charts– but too often, the assertion that global warming is not real or is an unproven phenomenon is expressed as justification for shitty environmental practices. Crichton advocates responsible environmental attitudes and advocates, via his rich old guy character Mason, environmental observation over environmental “management”. It also cracks me up that he predicts that over the next century, the world’s temperature will increase by “0.812436 degrees Celsius”. It’s a ridiculously precise number made even worse by the fact that he is a non-practicing medical doctor who read and then wrote some books. I love him.

Anyway, this book had tons going on. They went from LA to Chile to Antarctica to Nevada to Guinea. There are several characters whose chapters end with something like, “He could not believe this was happening to him. He could not believe he was dying this way. […] Then he sank beneath the surface again and he felt the cold blackness close in around him.” This book also inspired several incredibly action-packed dreams that basically involved running or being chased a lot. It was great.

If you liked “classic” Michael Crichton– Jurassic Park, Congo, even Sphere— this is a good one.

Page count: 630 Page total: 3151

7. “Next”, Michael Crichton

December 12, 2008 Leave a comment

There are about seven plot lines in this book and Michael Crichton pulls them all together! It is a triumph. Problem is, it takes him about 475 pages to start doing it.

Page count: 528 Total: 2521

6. “Stone Butch Blues”, Les Feinberg

December 10, 2008 Leave a comment

Sighh. I just finished this one tonight. This book always feels like coming home. It is so beautifully written and comfortable. It’s just gorgeous and painful, and always hits home, though my own path has been very different. I’ve read and given away many copies of this book, and mine are all marked up. My underlinings all feel so intimate; I find myself constantly identifying with Jess and Feinberg. Ze gets it. This book always makes me want to talk about gender, both my own and gender in general, but like Jess, I hardly know where to start.

This passage is one of my very favourites, because I feel it so acutely:

My neighbor, Ruth, asked me recently if I had to live my life all over again, would I make the same decisions? “Yes,” I answered unequivocally, “yes”.
I’m so sorry that my life has had to be this hard. But if I hadn’t walked this path, who would I be?

Page count: 301 Total: 1993

5. “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margret Atwood

December 7, 2008 Leave a comment

Here’s another GWS book that I felt guilted into reading. My students are going to be reading this as their next book and I want to try to find a way to suggest to Jessie that that… not happen. This book was a gift from her, and I really appreciated it and it had been on my reading list for a while, it was just a hard book for me to connect with, and I want them to read a book that they are going to love, since many were excited about loving 1984. I miss my students. Anyway, on to my thoughts on the book.

It was the same deal as the previous book (I read these two within a week or so of one another). The prose style just didn’t do anything for me. Despite the really interesting dystopia Atwood creates, I simply couldn’t get involved. In the final chapter, when the prose style changed to something academic and masculine, I was totally on board. I whipped through it, marked it up, interacted with it.

I don’t know if it is just that I am used to the prose style of that final chapter, and that I know how to receive information from it, and can anticipate its mechanations a little better than Diamant’s style or the style of most of The Handmaid’s Tale, I just couldn’t get involved in the style, so the books didn’t do much for me.

Page count: 311. Total: 931