I've developed a kind of affinity in the recent past for books that destroy my faith in things (religion, the country, other people, etc.) and this one os no different. Grant already reviewed this one, so I won't go too in depth. I kind of feel like the book's title i a bit of a misnomer simply because "Snake Oil Science" conjured up the image of dastardly characters in old-west stories trying to sell cat urine to balding men. What the book is really about is the placebo effect and how it plays into the supposed effectiveness of CAM therapies. The author makes it very clear that most proponents of CAM therapies are not dishonest, but misled. The only other thing I thought was weird was that after spending 300 pages talking about why CAM therapies don't actually have a chemical of biological effect on the body, he says in the last chapter that we should use them anyway because the placebo effect will make them seem like they're working. (that is, unless you read the book....) Still, all-in-all, it's kind of dense and boring sometimes, but it's pretty cool stuff and will save me a lot of money on magnets. 6.5/10
I often tell people Black Swan Green is pretty much my favorite book. I have had more trouble picking a favorite novel than a band or a song or movie because I return to novels so seldomly...even reading one twice means that years have passed since the previous experience, and I fall in love with a good book pretty easily, and comparing old feelings to the flavor of the week makes the whole favorite thing tricky. But after recommending this to the blog and anyone else who would listen, and reading your loving comments, I felt it was time to revisit and rejudge for myself.
The plot and love for this book has been well documented on this site, so I'll digress a bit. What makes this book so special is not the story (though its a good one) but the way it is told. In poking around the internet I discovered that this book is a) semiautobiographical and b) apparently part of the storied literary genre bildungsroman (more famous examples of which are Candide, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Catcher In the Rye). The semiautobiography makes sense...the other thing that makes this book so special is David Mitchell. His writing is not only realistic, its so casually beautiful that every few pages I would think, that passage there, that is the one I am going to copy down and put in the blog. After a certain point I stopped trying to remember the last one I thought that about. Which saddens me, because I want to pick such a beautiful passage that everyone who has read this book goes "oh yeah, that WAS beautiful" and everyone who hasn't says "I must read it NOW" and everyone says "Josh can sure pick a beautiful passage". Maybe I'll go back and add one.
I'm scared of reviewing this book. I don't know why.
White Noise is the story of Jack Gladney, founder of the Hitler Studies undergraduate program at a small liberal arts college in a small town in America. He's married to his fourth wife, Babette, whom he loves, but desperately wishes to outlive. He also has four children, all to different mothers. The eldest son, Heinrich, plays chess by mail with a convicted killer in a nearby penitentiary. Heinrich is fourteen. He's losing his hair.
The Gladney family goes to the supermarket, watches television, listens to the radio, is consumed by the white noise, the waves and radiation, the patterns and codes of society. One day, the youngest daughter finds a strange bottle of pills that Babette is hiding behind a radiator. A man in a yellow Mylex suit dies in the elementary school. The television says: "Let's sit half lotus and think about our spines."
And then there's an accident. An airborne toxic event. A black chemical cloud, called Nyodene D, which causes skin irritation and sweaty palms, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, deja vu, miscarriages. And death. In rats, officially. But quite possibly in humans as well. And Jack Gladney is terrified of dying.
I think that's all I want to say about the story.
Reggie, this is my favorite book so far.
And if I may, I'd like to include a favorite passage from the book. If you're not interested, you may stop reading. But if you have a few more moments, why not? Ahem ahem:
The plane had lost power in all three engines, dropped from thirty-four thousand feet to twelve thousand feet. Something like four miles. When the steep glide began, people rose, fell, collided, swam in their seats. Then the serious screaming and moaning began. Almost immediately a voice from the flight deck was heard on the intercom: "We're falling out of the sky! We're going down! We're a silver gleaming death machine!" This outburst struck the passengers as an all but total breakdown of authority, competence and command presence and it brought on a round of fresh and desperate wailing.
Objects were rolling out of the galley, the aisles were full of drinking glasses, utensils, coats and blankets. A stewardess pinned to the bulkhead by the sharp angle of descent was trying to find the relevant passage in a handbook titled "Manual of Disasters." Then there was a second male voice from the flight deck, this one remarkably calm and precise, making the passengers believe there was someone in charge after all, an element of hope: "This is American two-one-three to the cockpit voice recorder. Now we know what it's like. It is worse than we'd ever imagined. They didn't prepare us for this at the death simulator in Denver. Our fear is pure, so totally stripped of distractions and pressures as to be a form of transcendental meditation. In less than three minutes we will touch down, so to speak. They will find our bodies in some smoking field, strewn about in the grisly attitudes of death. I love you, Lance." This time there was a brief pause before the mass wailing recommenced. Lance? What kind of people were in control of this aircraft? The crying took on a bitter and disillusioned tone.
And so on and so forth. This book is amazing. I can't wait to read it again. In the future, I say! In the future.
I fancy myself both something of a foodie and an aspiring chef. As such, I found a lot to relate to in Buford's sometime rambling account of his time in the kitchen of Mario Batali's NYC restaurant, Babbo, and as a bitch/apprentice in various Italian landmarks. Buford is/was an editor and writer at the New Yorker, and being somewhat of an amateur chef himself, decided to do a piece on Babbo, where he basically embedded himself in Batali's kitchen for a year, working his way up from basic daytime prep to the most intense stations in the actual restaurant kitchen itself. In between this, in the first half of the book, is a recounting of Batali's rise to food-fame-and-fortune, complete with accounts of his time (Batali's) apprenticing in a tiny Italian kitchen. Buford, once he completes his time at Babbo, decides the next logical step will be to retrace Batali's, and he himself sojourns to Italy for months at a time to apprentice and learn first pasta making and then butchery from Italians who have been plying their particular trade for generations. Along the way, he learns (obviously) a ton about both food and himself.
This book had been recommended to me by many, but most specifically by my friend Liza, who is herself planning to attend culinary school (she lent me her copy after the second in a series of supper clubs she has been throwing, where she cooks a ton of food and we eat it. This one featured homemade pasta, very apropos) and my father, who listened to it on tape. Apparently, Buford himself reads it, and my dad said that helped get through the draggy parts in the middle. Its never boring, but Buford's experiences tend to repeat themselves a bit...he goes to Italy, struggles, stops struggling, goes back to NY and applies what he learned, decides he didn't learn enough, goes back to Italy etc. The joy of the book is in hearing the accounts of Batali, who is apparently not only a truly gifted chef but such an oversize personality that most of the stories seem slightly unbelievable (not the least of which the ones where he drinks half a case of wine himself) and of the harsh but fun relaties of the restaurant worker subculture. Also fun are the Italian personalities and Bufords attempts to repeat what he has learned (at one point he buys a 225 lb. pig from a farmer's market, then has to ride it home to his Manhattan apt on his scooter, and share the elevator with a fellow tenant who tries to ignore the dead pig is his building). All in all, its a lite read, and definitely contains enough joy for the food lover to pull through.