Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Atlas Shrugged

Book: Atlas Shrugged
Author: Ayn Rand
Like/Don't Like: Like. Although I have already forgotten the first 700 pages.

Have any of you who haven't read this heard anything about it? It's always been on my list of books I should read and that I picked up on a recommendation but when I actually started reading it I realized that I didn't know a thing about it. This is unusual. I generally know at least the basic plot line of most well known classics. But I honestly had never heard a single thing about this one. Strange.

Well, now I know why. It's not the easiest plot to explain. It's easy enough to say that it's about capitalism, sort of, and big time industrialists vanishing, in a way, and a vicious commentary on socialism mixed in with economic theory and Aristotelian philosophy (Fact#1: I can promise you that this will be the one and only time I ever use the word Aristotelian, so you had better enjoy it. And please still be my friend. Fact #2: The only way that I actually know that Aristotelian is even a word is because there was this guy in one of my classes who used it EVERY TIME HE OPENED HIS MOUTH. And I wanted to shoot myself in the foot each time. And I want to shoot myself in the foot now for using it but I find, much to my surprise, that it actually applies in this case.) But the book is nearly 1200 pages so to say that it's just about these things is to say that Tyra Banks is just about smiling with your eyes. We all know that Tyra is so much more. (Fact#3: First time Atlas Shrugged has ever been compared to Tyra Banks.)

I was talking to someone the other day and explaining the book a little bit and she said, "That doesn't sound like anything you would even remotely read." Boy, is that true. Economics, business, philosophy, 1200 pages, a 60 page soliloquy near the end, basically all add up to being a book I would shun with a firm hand. But remember, I didn't know. And I'm so glad that I didn't because I loved it. It was a really incredible book. The story was great, the characters where strong, it moved along nicely (especially since I skimmed most of that 60 page soliloquy)(and I'm not making that up. See pages 1009 to 1069.) I think it helped that she was a screen writer also. She was great in her descriptions, although I did get a little tired of her describing nearly everyone at some point as having a blank expression but with very significant meaning behind it. I get to a point in every fatty book when I'm done with it and I'm ready to toss it, simply because I feel like I've dedicated enough of my time and want it to wrap up so I can get back to my life. It says something that that point didn't come until about page 1000. And really, once that soliloquy was done and the story picked back up I was ready to make a sprint to the end.

This is not to say that I didn't have my issues with it. Ayn Rand was definitely extreme in her views, which means that this book, which is, admittedly, a vehicle to explaining those views, is one of extremes. The philosophies where very black and white. Either you believed in Self over Society or Society over Self. She usually sacrificed anyone in the middle and that bothered me. The world isn't made up of extremes, but that's how she portrayed it. And by about half way through I started to say, "Yeah, I got it. Stop explaining." Because it wasn't too difficult to figure out who John Galt was and what he was up to. (You'll get a little tired of the question, "Who is John Galt?" I won't tell you who he is, but I will tell you he's a Chatty Cathy. See pages 1009 to 1069.)

So, I'm going to recommend this book but with a warning that the 60-pager was the longest but was not the only multi-paged personal manifesto.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Movie: Penelope
Like/Don't Like: Like.

Am I alone in thinking that maybe Christina Ricci's head was a little too large for her body? Anyone? It's like she lost all of this weight and she always has her hair pulled back with rather severe bangs. It just makes her look a little bit like a lollipop. I'm not going to lie, it has always scared me a little. So, maybe it was the fetching hair style, or possibly the pig nose, but her head didn't look nearly as large in this movie. In fact, she actually looked really cute in it. Which made the premise that she was so ugly that possible suitors would leap out of second story windows to get away from her a little far fetched. But whatever, this was a cute move. Cute Christina Ricci in cute clothes with cute music playing behind her in a cute storyline. And cute James McAvoy. Cute, cute, cute. Dear James McAvoy, You are cute. Love Rachel.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Book: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Author: Michael Pollan
Like/Don't Like: Like. Can you believe it? Yeah, me neither.

The astute readers of this blog - all 6 of you - probably realize that I like fiction. And that's about it. I'm not really into non-fiction, mostly because I like all aspects of good fiction - plot, characterization, interesting locale. It's saying something that every non-fiction book that I've really enjoyed would have been great as fiction. But that list is short because I just don't get around to it much. Out of the 46 books that I have read in the last 2 years, 3 of them have been non-fiction (Yes, I keep track. You should try it. It is a dorky as it sounds but it's also fun to look back and reminisce.) I usually don't even bother with looking at non-fiction books when I'm at the bookstore because there's so much fiction to read that I don't have time for it. The classics alone will keep me in books for years.

How I came to 1.) notice, 2.) pick up, 3.) open, and 4.) read the first page of this book is a complete mystery to me because it's not just any non-fiction, it's informative non-fiction. It's non-fiction with science and stuff. It's not telling a story at all. In fact, it's talking about lipids and saturated fats. It has every appearance of a diet book. Ack! This book is exactly the type of book I make fun of. Exactly the type that I look at with disdain as I make my way to the new fiction section. Exactly the type that I would never even imagine reading.

But I couldn't put it down! I got sucked in on the very first paragraph. All it said was, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." And then it went on, in a very logical and sensible way to explain how the food we eat now isn't really food but food-like substances created to make it seem like food, and it comes with promises that it has no fat and no carbs and plenty of whatever nutrient is popular right now. It's amazing how much our brains have become wired into thinking the way nutritional science wants us to think. I was looking through a magazine the other day and noticed that half the ads in it were for food that wasn't really food, all claiming to be good for you. One of the ads was for Fritos. Maybe you've seen it. It's a bag of Fritos rapped in a corn husk with sunshine pouring down on it. So, suddenly corn chips are great for us.

It was really the common sense that got me. There was a lot of science and history of food in it but it was all used to show how eating locally grown whole food is better for you than, say, Twinkies. It makes sense, right? And yet, more people eat Twinkies than apples. And more people have cancer and heart disease and diabetes than ever before. I'm not saying that Twinkies causes cancer but you get the picture right? It doesn't make any medical claims that eating certain foods have made us less healthy but it does thoroughly and thoughtfully go over how the Western Diet has made us obsessed with health while being one of the most unhealthy nations on the planet.

It would be impossible for me to become a health fanatic. Mostly because I think that Hostess Chocolate Donettes are a little gift from above (See Hostess! I love you. Don't sue me.) But it made perfect sense to me and it was actually a very enjoyable read. It kept me entertained and informed. And it's short. Only 200 pages. Read it. And eat an apple.