Tag Archives: Books

Jonathan Safran Foer Against Meat

Eleanor just shared the most wonderful article by Jonathan Safran Foer from the New York Times, Against Meat.


The main theme of the article is vegetarianism, but it also made me think about:

  • Living according to your values
  • Marriage
  • Raising children (I wondered if my generation could selflessly raise children and then I wondered if anyone has ever selflessly raised a child, or is a child always an expression/project of yourself)
  • Sacrifice for religion

Here’s the final section of the article. A conversation between him and his grandmother.

“The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”

“He saved your life.”

“I didn’t eat it.”

“You didn’t eat it?”

“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”


“What do you mean why?”

“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”

“Of course.”

“But not even to save your life?”

“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

If you wrote a book what kind of book would it be?

snoopy writes a book

Question: If you wrote a book what kind of book would it be?

*Note, don’t think about what book you are capable of writing, but the book you would like to write.

Flaminia’s answer:

A book about the way different people deal with problems…or something about history.

Sarah’s answer:

A novel, something like The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

But these answers are, of course, subject to change!

Share your own answers/thoughts on the process in the comments.

Sarah’s Bangkok Reading Challenge

good-wivesI was whining on the phone to MJ last night that I’m finding it hard to entertain myself at the moment. It was essentially a repeat of our most common conversation that we’ve been having since I was little. It begins with,  “Muuu-uuum, I’m booooored”.

In between working long hours and sleeping, I’ve just hit a point where daily life seems a bit too dull. In fact, I embody the phrase “All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.” I’m not looking for major life upheaval – I already have that in spades, I mean I just want to do something a bit fun at the end of the day to take my mind off work.

I usually keep busy with side projects and internet stuff, but they seem like more of a chore than a hobby lately, and I’ve finished watching the West Wing and 30 Rock. So MJ and I brainstormed a bit, coming up with a few suggestions, but the best one was to read books. This is no.1 on my list of favourite hobbies, and it’s the best way I know to wind down…but I’ve been struggling to get into any of the books on my shelf lately, and have about four books on my side table with bookmarks languishing at page 20. I went to the bookstore on Wednesday (hair colour day) to buy something new that could break the reading funk, but I talked myself out of it because every new book is another book that needs to be shipped home.

But on the bus ride home last night I had a breakthrough! I realised the perfect way to get myself to sit down, push past the first 20 pages of a book and enjoy reading again! (and lighten the load of books that I’ll bring home with me – Once I’ve read my books I can pass them on to friends).

I’ve decided to set myself the challenge of reading every book on my shelf before I leave Bangkok. I have quite a few books, and one of them is the 600 page journal of Joyce Carol Oates, so it’s more of an experiment to see how far I get than a challenge I expect to win, but I’m excited nonetheless!

Last night I started Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott, which I think will get my reading muscles moving again. I thoroughly enjoyed the first few chapters and am looking forward to getting back into it tonight. See, Sarah’s Bangkok Reading Challenge is already working!

Does reading help my social life?

Nothing more fun about a blog than the opportunity to link to people I think are right. It’s a way of saying “this is what I would have said if I’d thought it about it earlier”.

And now for today’s “Person I agree with”:

Psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley.

Katie Christian writes at the UTNE Reader:

An activity as solitary as reading a work of fiction may actually help us become better at connecting with others, writes psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley in Greater Good.

Oatley says fiction is about “possible selves in possible worlds,” and can aid interpersonal skills in two ways: by helping readers develop “theory of mind”—imagining what others are thinking and feeling—as well as showing how people interact with one another.

Readers of fiction were found to have higher social ability than those who preferred non-fiction. The reason?

“Fiction is principally about the difficulties of selves navigating the social world. Non-fiction is about, well, whatever it is about: selfish genes, or how to make Mediterranean food, or whether climate changes will harm our planet. So with fiction we tend to become more expert at empathizing and socializing. By contrast, readers of non-fiction are likely to become more expert at genetics, or cookery, or environmental studies, or whatever they spend their time reading and thinking about.”

True dat Keith Oatley. I am IMMEDIATELY suspicious of anyone who says, “I prefer non-fiction”…or even worse, “I don’t read books”. Get away from me you soulless devils. AWAY!

Talking about work and other things

I just got back from visiting Nicole down the road where we drank Vietnamese coffee and ate mini muffins in her sunny and stylish apartment. It was also the first time in two weeks that I talked about work related stuff….WORK!

Almost every conversation in Aceh related to work in one way or another. Maybe someone was venting about a problem with a project, or someone had a new philosophy on “where we’re going wrong!” or maybe someone would mention the weird/delicious cake that was brought it for a snack (it was green and you drizzled this maple syrup stuff on it!). We were, after all, simply bodies attached to organisations in that place. Hi, I’m Jean, I work for Red Cross. Hi, I’m Dan, I work for Oxfam. Or if you want to get really personal: Hi, I’m Jose, I work for Save the Children and I’m from Spain. Once in a yoga class that my friend Sarah was leading, she asked each person to introduce themselves and say one thing about them that WAS NOT related to their work. There were audible shrieks of fear in the group.

Since being in Melbourne my brain (very easily) switched off from work and switched onto:

  1. how to burp a baby (I am VERY good at this, if I do say so myself)
  2. remembering to have change for the train or tram
  3. deciding what to eat when there is more than one choice

Looking after babies obviously requires more brain power than deciding what to eat for lunch, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the stress either activity causes me. I am absolutely certain that I do not like having choices. I don’t deal well with choices.

Back to visiting with Nicole, she is a smaaaaart cookie, in the early stages of a PhD that’s about all sorts of things that interest us both so there was a lot of talking we simply needed to do. We talked about the kind of stuff that, when we worked together (she was the BOSS), we would get stuck in her office talking for hours about. Big picture stuff about the state of development (and the world for that matter). For her it was relevant. For me, who probably should have been calling someone to chase up something, or sending off a contract to be signed, it was the most fun part of my day.

We wandered down to A1 Bakery for some tasty Middle Eastern baked goods for lunch and talked about work some more. Eventually I had to let Nicole get back to applying her thoughts in a meaningful way.

On the way back to Benjamin’s place I stopped in at the Book Grocer and bought eight books! I don’t have a bookshelf to store books on, and I certainly can’t take these eight books (along with the others I’ve already earmarked) to Bangkok with me. But they were only $5 each and I was convinced I needed each one. The Bonds of Freedom: Simone de Beauvoir’s Existentialist Ethics. Can you believe I didn’t already have a copy?!

Yes, I admit I just bought eight books which will probably be read to the 20th page and put aside for another time.

Now I am back on Benj’s couch coughing and spluttering and enjoying the warmer weather (the icy winds have finally moved on! Come forth Spring!) Maybe, now that I am committing to the couch for at least an hour or two I will read one of my new books (my favourite title of today’s bunch: Breaking Hearts: The Two Sides of Unrequited Love)

Speaking of matters of the heart, I scanned this picture and sonnet from a book in MJ’s collection called “The Poetry of Artists” or something like that (MJ has had this book since before she was MJ Fortuna–more than 40 years ago I’m estimating–so I’m having trouble locating it on Amazon).

Raphael Sonnet

Raphael Sonnet (click to enlarge)