Look Mom, I’ve Been Reading!

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan has been on the bestseller list for forever and a day. But I started into this 400 pager as an introduction to thinking about Food with a capital F. Food is an issue that is powerful with people, and I’ve written about some of my own goals in eating locally and cooking. I usually call this the long form of the movie Food Inc., and I particularly like the way it’s divided into three snapshots of how one might structure their relation to food. It’s detailed but often repetitive, as many point out. Pollan does a great job using a journalists inquisitiveness with a personal voice. I think I’d read anything he wrote just to study the tone of his writing. Still, this is an important book not just for foodie types but for average people to get better acquainted with how food shows up in supermarkets and on the dinner table. My single biggest change because of this book: only buying stuff that has max 5 ingredients, all pronounceable.

A Room for Learning by Tal Birdsey is local folklore up here in Vermont. It chronicles the first year of starting a middle school up in Ripton, VT — just a stone’s throw from Middlebury’s ski hill, the Snow Bowl. I think anyone who has been to school is invested in education but with my particular interest in higher education as of late, this was an important book to throw out education policy and No Child Left Behind just to focus on what counts — a teacher and his students in a single classroom. Now, I’m not really entirely into the lovey-dovey-hippie-ness of anything but Tal sells it in this book. There’s something so genuine about the way Tal writes and portrays himself. I don’t think single-room schoolhouses are the answer to America’s education system but the lesson here is really intimate connections between teacher and student as well as among students. Great book, inspiring, flew threw it.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler follows River Town and Oracle Bones. I am impressed that Hessler continues to drop some of the most insightful, real, and important nuggets about China into his books. It’s not just a former Peace Corps guy cruising around the thousands of miles of new highway in China. He observes, tells us, and postulates how his experience might be indicative of larger trends in the Middle Kingdom. For many students who have studied abroad or now work in China, Hessler describes many of our experiences to a T. This book is not only entertaining but probably more informative than many business books about China. Read it.

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