The Lose Your Belly Diet

If you’re suspicious of books trying to convince you to eat better, I’d invite you to direct your attention this way. Dr. Travis Stork explains how what we eats affects the microbiome that lives within us and that a healthy microbiome leads to a healthy weight and less illness. Seems simple right?Belly

Well it is. He first begins by breaking down what our microbiomes are and how they relate to our overall health. Then, he explains how different foods affect these microbiomes. He rounds out the book by showing how to put healthy eating habits into practice which will result in a healthy microbiome.

I first noticed that the tone of this book was a lot less preachy than some of the diet books I’ve read have been. He doesn’t make me feel guilty for not already eating how he suggests nor does he present his own triumphs as examples for why we should eat this way. Instead, he uses science and nutrition facts to explain the what, hows, and whys.

I also feel there’s a lot of common sense in this book. He’s not asking readers to cut out specific food groups. He’s not asking readers to eat massive amounts of a certain food group. And he’s not asking readers to do anything other than what a lot of health professionals have been saying lately.

The most valuable part of this book is his guidelines for healthy eating and the suggestions for what these guidelines look like in real life. He helps me take the theory and put it into practice. There’s also a lot of ways I can adjust these guidelines to individualize my diet. To me, this means I have a higher chance at eating healthier and maintaining healthy eating habits.

The Bulletproof Diet

I first heard of The Bulletproof Diet on a podcast. Supposedly, it works with your body’s chemistry to help you think clearer and to jump start your metabolism.  It’s key foundation is to eat more fat. What intrigued me is that it was an actor (of course) who said he followed this diet and it seemed to help him think better and look good without having to spend hours in the gym.  I’ve not heard of a lot of actors talk about how eating fat can help them, and if I can avoid hours at the gym (which I already seem pretty good at avoiding) and still look good, then I’m intrigued.Bulletproof

Sadly, after reading The Bulletproof Diet, I’m not too impressed by Dave Asprey’s outline for a healthy diet. He advocates for more healthy fats, no nuts, limited fruits, certain veggies, lots of proteins, and no carbs. On the whole, I don’t disagree with him. I believe that everything in moderation is good. However, he cuts out a lot of foods making the diet very restrictive.  There’s just no way that I can actually make this a daily habit.  It’s so restrictive that you’d have to scrap all of your recipes and basically buy his cookbook.  I just don’t see how people sustain this type of diet.  Oh wait, I guess if you’re wealthy enough I supposed you could hire someone to cook these restrictive meals for you (I’m looking at you podcast actor).

The other piece that bothered me is that he’s not a big proponent of cooking things,
i.e. raw food. Sure, somethings may be better raw and eating raw from time to time is good, but it’s expensive to buy the organic foods Asprey advocates.  And frankly, an Illinois winter is not a great time to be eating cold soups.  It’s just not going to happen.

All in all, there’s nothing too crazy about what Asprey proposes. There’s several healthy principles he incorporates into his plan, but I just didn’t find it was anything new, revealing, or sustainable.

The Journal of Best Practices

David Finch embarks on a project to understand himself and his wife after realizing he has Asperger’s and needs to make some changes to save his marriage.  It’s a brave task to tackle getting to know yourself as an adult after you feel you knew who you were.  Using his skills to analyze people, Mr. Finch reflects on why his wife reacts the way she does and how he can better support her and communicate what he needs.Journal

He begins analyzing the behaviors and mindsets that are causing setbacks and using this analysis to form strategies for positive changes.

Mr. Finch does a great job sharing the honest, gritty details of his project and makes it seem like the writer is right there alongside he and his wife, Kristen.

While I don’t have Asperger’s, I related to this book in that a lot what Mr. Finch realizes is that being who you are, putting others first, and being present in the moment are the foundation for improving all sorts of relationships. The idea that we need to be perfect to be loved and to love gets in the way of too many of our relationships.

What is hard to believe is that no one noticed that something was different about Mr. Finch.  On one hand, he was born before Aspberger’s was even a diagnosis, but still, it seems his parents just thought he was a unique kid.  Even when he went through the school system, you’d think some of his very Aspberger’s behaviors would’ve flagged something in the educational system.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that he needed to be fixed or that he wasn’t able to cope on his own.  It just seems that life would’ve been easier for him if he could’ve seen an occupational therapist who could’ve helped him with social issues as well as learning how to lead a productive life and still be who he is.  I still think a visit to an O.T. would serve he and his wife well.  That’s just my humble opinion.

This was an enjoyable read and whether you have Asperger’s or are neurotypical, there are pieces of this experience to which we can all relate.

The Cider House Rules

Have you ever read a book and were looking for how the title relates to the story? then when you found the connection you thought it was pointless and then wondered why you’re still reading the book? That’s pretty much my experience with The Cider House Rules. cider

There’s an interesting story at the heart of this book but it gets lost in the mire of random character musings and odd plot spin-offs. We start with Homer Wells and how he can’t find a permanent adopted home away from St. Cloud’s Orphanage. Then suddenly we’re given a complete background on the man who runs the orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch. Who finds himself both delivering babies and giving abortions. Then we go back to Homer Wells who clearly becomes the main focus of the book. Homer’s story focuses on him finding a home and making a family and struggling with the idea that he belongs at St. Cloud’s; as if he owes them something.

I liked Homer but I don’t think the author knew what to do with him sometimes. As a reader, I sympathized with him, was weirded out by him, admired him, and cheered for him. Maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do? Several of the other characters were
entertaining if not obnoxious at some points. There were also a lot very odd sexual things happening in the book.  More time was spent talking about, and saving, pubic hair than I cared for.  And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Several good ethical points were brought up in this book regarding birth control, abortion, the medical field, race relations in the North pre-, during, and post-WWII, but again, they all mire together and by the end you just want the book to stop.

Mortal Engines

Steampunk interests me.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’ve enjoyed several steampunk films I’ve seen.  Mortal Engines was the first steampunk novel I’ve read. When I first picked it up I had no idea that it was a steampunk motif.  Halfway through it suddenly dawned on me that this is what a lot of people talk about when they say a steampunk novel.  Mortal

Mortal Engines is set in the post-apocalyptic future where cities are movable and travel around devouring one another in order to gain citizens and the parts of the cities they “eat”. They call it city Darwinism. Their only competition is the Anti-traction league who stay put and live lives like we currently do. The problem is that they are in danger from cities like London who have developed weapons that can obliterate any competition.

I liked the Steampunk aspects. The airships (dirigibles) and the iron bodied cities and the goggles and hoods many people wear. The idea of cities moving around devouring each other for resources is quite clever. The short-comings in the book revolve around the characters.

Tom is the first protagonist we meet and he’s ok. He’s just very immature emotionally and doesn’t seem to act the way a teenage boy would for his age. The same goes for Katherine. She’s a strong character except for her childish emotional maturity. The only one who seems to be emotionally matched to her age is Hester.

This is an entertaining read, the the problems with the characters aren’t too distracting just more of a nuisance. The actions of Tom, Kate, and Hester are all admirable although sometimes waaaay too dramatic. It’s a fun read and if I was a teenager I’d probably really like this book.

It Can’t Happen Here

There’s a good story in here somewhere. The premise is intriguing. What would’ve happened had a populist presidential candidate, who campaigned on the promise that he would give the lower classes exactly what they wanted, had won the 1936 presidential election? The result is a watered-down version of Nazi Germany in Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here. Happen

This book has seen a boon in sales recently, seeing as how we have elected a populist president who’s given the lower-classes (i.e. blue-collar Whites) what they wanted. The difference is that so far the checks on power have not failed and we have not devolved into tyranny. While the political consequences of the book have no come true, I understand why some would want to read about a book that warned against this type of political upheaval; it’s a good cautionary tale. What doesn’t work is the vehicle Lewis uses to carry his idea in.

We bounce around from Doremus Jessup, a rural Vermont newspaper editor, and the cadre of despots in Washington. The plot of the book reads like a movie you may have seen on TCM or the like. It’s set in the 1930’s and the actors can’t decide whether they are going to stick with melodrama or devolve into stand-up comedy. It wasn’t clear to me whether Lewis was trying to keep the book from becoming to heavy by adding in the random comedic attempts or whether he just didn’t know how to write characters that are complex.

The protagonist, Jessup, reminded me a lot of “1984”‘s Winston accept that Jessup is not as misogynistic, nor as poor-me as Winston. At the same time, my eyes are still sore from the many eye-rolls when Jessup complains that he just wishes he could spend more time with mistress in order to escape all of his wife’s flippant comments about American politics.

I’m also not convinced that Lewis wasn’t a hermit. A lot of the dialogue seems flat as if everyone is reading the script some seventh grade wrote about mobsters. The worst offenses occured whenever Shad Ledue would try and make a pass at Sissy. If men really talked like that, and women really responded as she did, I’m shocked that humanity has been able to survive.

Ok, enough savagery. Read this book if you dare, but maybe read it in installments with something more exciting in between to cleanse your literary palate.

The Sisters Brothers

Carl and Eli Sisters are two hired guns on the West Coast during the California Gold Rush era. We follow them from their hometown of Oregon City to San Francisco to the foothills of the Sierra. They are hired gunmen and their target this time is a prospector who may have found a way to discover gold using science. Along the way, we learn the complexities of being a gunslinger that is often times overlooked in many of our Westerns as well as the fact that these brothers share many of the same qualities and complexities that modern brothers exhibit. Sisters

Patrick DeWitt unravels some of the myth around Western gunslingers.  He makes them in seem more complex and less heroic, more relatable yet more detestable.  I appreciated this more “human” look at this American archetype.  Too often I feel we tend to romanticize the West and the people who settled it.  With nostalgia has come a gloss of denial. Ultimately, The Sisters Brothers are no John Waynes.

DeWitt’s honest portrayal of the West and life in the West made me appreciate it.  While I’m not from that era, clearly, having lived in California, Washington, and Nevada, I appreicated the way in which nature is portrayed not just as a setting but as a character unto itself.  I think that the West tends to be seen today as some hippie-leftist bastion, while we forget that it was. It’s neither villainized nor romanticized.

There’s also a surprising character, Eli’s horse Tug, who represents the relationship between man and nature and how man tends to destroy the latter. Trigger warning: animals are harmed in the plot of this book. Again though, it’s not maudlin. It’s honest and, what I believe, contributed to the sometimes aloof vibe that many Nor Cal folks give off.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon

With the new Wonder Woman movie coming out soon, I wanted to brush up on my knowledge of Diana. I happened upon this graphic novel in my library and thought I would pick it up. I’ll be honest, besides the 1970’s show, which I think is the only time Wonder Woman has had her own screen time, I didn’t know anything about her.Wonder Woman

The graphic novel roots Diana’s story in ancient Greece and the war between Herakles and the Amazon’s queen. They end up moving to this awesome island and, no spoilers, Diana comes to be. She’s a demigod and no one seems to check her ego and curb some of her uber-competitiveness. Time passes and in one moment of tenacity, Diana makes a bad choice and has to pay the consequences by being exiled from the Amazons and doing good in the world.

I find this story intriguing because, one, I didn’t know any of this, and two, I didn’t realize that the early Diana was a jerk. Ok, maybe not quite a jerk, but she’s arrogant and it comes across as selfish and callous. I’m curious to see what Diana is like in the film and whether they are going to tell this story as well. There’s a lot of room left at the end of this book to explain some of the tools Wonder Woman has at the ready. This edition didn’t go into any detail about the tiara, the lasso of truth and the golden girdle. I’m hoping they will in the next volume.

Spoiler: I’ve just seen the movie and I’m happy to report that some of this origin story makes it into the film!  I’m grateful to have read this first because it gave me some context to what was happening.  In my opinion Gal Gadot’s Diana is waaaaaay better than the one in this graphic novel.

Saga, Vol. 7

Every time a new volume of Saga comes out, it turns into a race between my wife and I to see who can check it out first from the library.  She beat me this time.  Luckily, she’s good enough not to react too vocally to what’s happening so that by the time I have a chance to read it, there’s not a lot I feel I can predict.Saga

Vol. 7 is getting the plot back on track. I had a complaint about this regarding Vol. 6. After several volumes of meandering through several plot lines, they are all starting to converge again. In this case, we meet The Will, Gwendolyn, Marcos, et al. The seeds have been sown for an interesting turn of events in respect to the Landfallians and Wreath. We learn that the war is becoming more complex and people are starting to be seen as either resources or liabilities. Hazel is starting to assert herself in the story and I’m enjoying getting to know her. I hope she’s as prominent in future volumes.

The underlying message of this volume seemed to be the collateral damage between warring parties. In this case it’s the people of Phang, who are also Sophie’s people too. On this comet, innocent people are ignored by Landfall and Wreath in their quest to maintain control of the fuel resources. In a twist dramatic irony, we learn that Landfall and Wreath do agree on something and this becomes the climax of the volume. I’m curious to see how these threads will play out. I feel like the plot can either begin to wrap up, or we’re about to embark on a new plot line. Either way, I’m in for the journey.

The Best American Travel Writing 2015

I’ve never read a concentrated collection of travel writing prior to picking up this anthology. I’d only read the odd essay in magazines like “Times” or “Esquire”. I like to travel and I’ve done some informal writing based on some of the big trips that I’ve taken. I find that reflecting on what I’ve done either on a daily basis during a trip, or looking back at the trip as a whole gives meaning to where I’ve been and what I’ve seen.  It makes me feel more engaged with where I am because I’m thinking about what I’m going to write about.  This anthology has a lot of pieces that share some of those same goals and I felt that I could connect with the writers as well as learn from their own 2015

Lisa Abend’s “The Sound of Silence” shares her experience getting lost, alone, in the Scottish highlands.

Scott Anderson’s “Lawrence of Arabia” explores the sites and history of the man who put the Modern Middle East into motion. I learned a lot of geopolitics I hadn’t known before.

Kevin Baker’s “21st Century Limited” shares the current state of train travel in the US and while it doesn’t woo him, sadly, it also doesn’t make him believe it should be done away with.

Patricia Marx’s “Tale of a Tub” hilariously recounts her experience traveling from Philly to Hamburg via freight ship.

Nick Paumgarten explores Berlin’s history as the center for techno music and culture in “Berlin Nights”.

“Baked Alaska” takes readers to a remote Aleutian island where Christopher Solomon and two friends hike into a remote volcano and then kayak around the island. Oh, and encounter lots of bears.

Even if you don’t get to travel, reading these experiences will give that vicarious experience while avoiding some of the pitfalls the authors survived in order to give we readers this tome.