Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

Groucho Marx

Summer Reading: 3 Book Reviews

By Denis Faye

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume you're thiiiiiis close to reaching your summer fitness goals. That means you're almost ready to hit the beach, pool, or front lawn in that sexy new bathing suit and let the world see what you're made of.

Woman Reading on the Beach

Four Fish: The Future of The Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg. Penguin Press, $25.95

Four Fish by Paul GreenbergIf you want a fun, snarky, educational first-person read, pick up Four Fish. Greenberg's extremely well-researched book tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the current state of seafood through a series of anecdotes regarding the world's four major fisheries: salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna.

While there's no shortage of history and scientific explanation within, what really makes the book great is Greenberg's interaction with his subjects, whether he's smoking 400 pounds of salmon with a somewhat cranky 75-year-old Yupik Native American, or he's challenging Mark Kurlansky to a cod-tasting contest. (Foodie literary geeks know Kurlansky as the writer of the fascinating tome Cod, which launched the whole history-seen-through-a-single-foodstuff genre.)

Greenberg's writing is engaging and leaves the reader with plenty of ways to take action and help assure that the world's oceans remain safe, clean, and inhabitable for our finned, Friday-night-filleted friends. It should be required reading for anyone who eats seafood.

Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi. The MIT Press, $27.95

Thanks to the organics movement, most of us have a handle on the importance of the quality of the food we put in our bodies. But that's a tiny part of the equation. Where did those grapes you're eating come from? How did they affect the people who harvested them? And what about the millions of people in the U.S. alone who don't have easy access to grapes or any other healthy food?

Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama JoshiCombine these considerations with the aforementioned organics movement. Then throw in the locavore movement—folks who champion eating only locally grown foods—and the concern over the the widespread consumption of fast food. Now you're beginning to understand Food Justice, a movement seeking "to transform where, what, and how food is grown, produced, transported, accessed, and eaten."

While the notion of accountability in the food chain from seed to plate is new, each of the various links in the chain have been around for quite some time, from Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers championing the rights of grape pickers in the 1960s, to activism regarding the ethical treatment of farm animals, to recent attention drawn to "food deserts" in Los Angeles—where huge, low-income sections of the city are devoid of grocery stores. This book attempts to link these and many more issues together. Odds are, at least one or two of these topics will affect you directly. Only by knowing the whole truth can you create real positive change.

That said, if you're new to the various food movements, this might not be the book to start with. It's dense and can be a bit academic at times. (Given that it was published by MIT, this makes more than a little sense.) If you haven't read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan or Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, you may want to start there. But if you feel like you're ready for the next step, definitely check out Food Justice.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Beacon Press, $13.00

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's account of how he found the strength to survive the WWII Nazi death camps was first published in 1959, but it's still timely. "As long as people continue to struggle physically, emotionally, and mentally, the lessons in this incredible book are still important," explains "It'll give anyone perspective on how to improve their lives."

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. FranklMan's Search for Meaning is divided into two parts. Part one details Frankl's time in four different camps, including Auschwitz. Even if you're familiar with the Holocaust, this highly personal account gives an intense perspective on the horrors in a way few have captured. The author's ability to see the humanity in his captors and pull lessons from the atrocities makes it hard not to pause every page or two and contemplate your own life.

The second part of the book is an explanation of Frankl's theory, logotherapy, which holds that our primary drive is the search for meaning in our lives. Essentially, the idea is that finding meaning in your life and its various aspects will go a long way toward helping you solve your problems.

Even if you don't feel you need perspective on an existential level, there are smaller lessons to be gained. For example, odds are you've had to deal with the pain of a fitness-related injury at some point. When this happens, it's easy to feel like a victim, beaten for no reason. But ask yourself, why does it hurt? Well, there are a few reasons. First, it's a way of protecting what needs to heal. Second, it's your body trying to teach you its limits. Once you're aware of your pain's purpose, it's not quite as bad. As Nietzsche puts it, "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."

The continual existential cycle of striving to overcome life's conflicts whenever they arise as presented in Man's Search for Meaning can help provide a great roadmap for anyone's life.

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