Hippie Food

Hippie Food coverHippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat
Jonathan Kauffman
Narrated by George Newbern
HarperAudio, January 23, 2018
$20.27 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

I started college in 1971 and was surrounded by people who were into natural foods and vegetarian eating. At Pitzer College it was written into the food service contract that each dinner meal had to have one vegetarian entrée. My senior year, when I lived off campus, I had a copy of the first edition of Diet for a Small Planet, and I was very much in tune with Frances Moore Lappé’s philosophy that we should get our protein from plants rather than animals.

Hippie Food, then, addressed a subject in which I was very interested. Kauffman really covers the waterfront on the topic. He writes about the early Seventh Day Adventists in the nineteenth century who believed in a vegetarian diet. He discusses the natural food and vegetarian restaurants in Los Angeles in the 1940’s that attracted the elite in Hollywood. He talks about Stephen Gaskin and The Farm commune. Kauffman accurately describes how vegetarian cookbooks evolved, from Lappé’ to Mollie Katzen and her Moosewood Cookbook as well as those between and beyond. Near the end of the book he chronicles the food co-op wars of the seventies and eighties, describing the debate over healthy for the few versus affordable for the working class. He explains how Whole Foods arose out of all that.

It’s all fascinating stuff and narrator George Newbern delivers the material in an extraordinarily pleasant and engaging manner. I found it a most enjoyable listening experience.


The Sun Is a Compass

The Sun is a Compass coverThe Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds
Caroline Van Hemert
Narrated by Xe Sands
Hachette Audio, March 19, 2019
$20.76 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

The author is a biologist who specializes in the study of birds, particularly species found in Alaska. She married a former college roommate of her sister, a man who loves the outdoors and who would build cabins in the wilderness with his two hands. Caroline was becoming bored with academia, research, and dissertation writing, so the two of them decided to trek across the Alaskan and Canadian arctic.

This was no small excursion. They planned a four thousand mile, six month journey across lands that were not mapped or perhaps barely mapped. Some of the of the segments on their trip many have been most recently mapped decades earlier. Everything had to be carefully planned: how much they would carry with them, where they could pick up pre-arranged re-supply packages, and all sorts of logistical details.

Van Hemert’s writing is flowing, precise, and descriptive. Much of the book reads like a novel as she describes those times when their lives were in real danger. I knew that they would make it through each perilous incident since this is a memoir, not a novel, and she survived to write the account. Nonetheless, I really felt the tension in those precarious moments.

The narrator, Xe Sands, is a skilled voice actor. You hear Caroline’s emotions in her voice and I felt as if I was actually listening to the author herself.

If you enjoy this genre, do not overlook The Sun Is a Compass.


Sapiens

Sapiens coverSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari
narrated by Derek Perkins
HarperAudio, 2017
$23.07 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

The author of this book got his PhD at Oxford and teaches history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has the hubris in this volume to attempt to provide a complete history of the human race. Surprisingly, he pretty much succeeds.

Harari starts with the story of early man, and points out that Homo sapiens was not the only human species. He explains that sapiens competed against other human species, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis. It was not inevitable that Homo sapiens would be the successful species, but it became so for a variety of reasons.

He describes the success of the hunter-gatherers and discusses how that group had a healthier, more varied diet than the wheat farmers. Harari explains how wheat domesticated humankind, and not the other way around because in growing wheat a community could feed more people in a smaller area than its hunter-gatherer counterparts.

The author lays out how empire, for all its faults, was required for culture and that there would be no culture without empire. He goes on to describe the interrelationship between war and capitalism.

In the modern era, Harari discusses factory farming in painful detail and how the system has no respect for the natural needs and desires of the animals involved. That section may make you rethink drinking milk and eating meat.

As he nears the close of the book the author discusses genetic engineering and the cyborg elements of science: combining the organic with the non-organic.

The book is well-narrated by Derek Perkins, and his inflections are in sync with the text. His engaging and authoritative British accent kept my interest throughout.

This is good stuff, though not always easy to listen to.


Save Me the Plums

Save Me the Plums coverSave Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir
Ruth Reichl
narrated by the author
Random House Audio, 2019
$19.60 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

I read My Kitchen Year, Ruth Reichl’s memoir cum cookbook, when it came out in 2015, so I was keen on reading, well, listening to, her latest book. My Kitchen Year is Reichl’s story about her life in the year after Gourmet magazine, of which she was editor-in-chief, was shut down, and in it she included a number of recipes that helped her make it through that year. Save Me the Plums is her narrative about her decade at Gourmet.

This is one of those audiobooks that is made far better by being read by the author. Reichl describes being lured to the Condé Nast publication from her job as food critic for The New York Times. She describes how she helped revitalize the magazine, which had become staid and stale. She talks about the lavish expense accounts and other perquisites that came with being part of Condé Nast. She talks about the politics of publishing and the idiosyncrasies of Condé Nast owner S.I. Newhouse. She describes the belt-tightening that came with the Great Recession and Newhouse’s decision, sudden and unexpected, to shut down the magazine. Throughout it all Reichl offers a variety of recipes.

This book will appeal to a variety of audiences: foodies, lovers of food writing, and those with an interest in the magazine publishing business. Enjoyable, engaging listening.


Almost Everything

Notes on Hope coverAlmost Everything: Notes on Hope
Anne Lamott
narrated by the author
Penguin Audio, 2018
$12.25 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

I have not read an Anne Lamott book for several years. When I decided to add an Audible subscription to my Amazon account, however, this is the first book I purchased with one of my credits. I was past due for an Anne Lamott fix.

The book did not disappoint. I was very familiar with Anne’s voice from her many appearances on the late, lamented West Coast Live, a highly intelligent public radio program that Terry and I faithfully listened to each week. It only made sense that she narrate her own book; another voice would not have sounded right.

Anne writes about family, friends, recovery, and writing. She writes about people whose lives were cut short by disease. But she also talks about community, about faith, about grace, and, naturally, about hope. She says people who engender hate want exactly that: for us to hate them, and we should thwart them by not doing so. That makes me seriously reconsider my own feelings about the current occupant of the White House.

She writes about grace. “We can’t logically get from where we were to where we are now. I think that is what they mean by grace.” She calls grace “spiritual WD-40.”

There is not a lot new here. Anne Lamott is Anne Lamott, although I did learn for the first time about her son’s struggle with addiction and recovery. If you are an Anne Lamott fan, however, you will find yourself in familiar and comfortable territory with this book.


This is Audible

If you have ever purchased an audiobook from Audible you know that every book starts with a familiar voice saying, “This is audible.” (Rather like the “You’ve got mail” from the heyday of AOL. Someone whose voice became familiar to millions and who probably got paid very little for recording the phrase.) That Audible voice was present in the early days of the company and it is still very much present today in the Amazon-owned era.

AudibleI wrote a couple of weeks ago about my audiobook dilemma. I liked the fact that I could download audiobooks from the library at no cost, but I disliked the fact that most new titles were unavailable, being already checked out by others, and that I was under time pressure to finish the book. I said that I didn’t have a problem in principle with the Audible monthly fee, but I didn’t want to put yet another monthly subscription on my credit card.

Here’s was I did. I was already aware that I was in overwhelm mode with my streaming video options, so I decided that was a good place to cut back, allowing me in good conscience to take on the Audible subscription.

My first impression: I am delighted. When I was an Audible subscriber many years ago the selection was somewhat limited. I had a credit that I had to use each month or lose (they later began to allow credit rollovers), but there wasn’t necessarily a book available that month which I wanted. These days almost every new book that comes out has an audio version, as well as print and ebook editions. Amazon makes it easy because when you search for a book the entry displays all the various formats that are available. I am not by any means going to give up reading print books in Kindle format, but many books do lend themselves to the audio format. While I will continue to read my Kindle books in the evening, I have audiobooks which I can listen to while walking, driving, doing yard work, or simply doing daily mundane tasks. It’s nice to be able to listen to an audiobook while emptying the dishwasher.

There’s another benefit that having an Audible subscription provides. I get my one credit each month, but if I come to the end of a book before I come to the end of the month the cost of that second audiobook is considerably less for Audible members than it is for non-members.

I think the value of the subscription is going to be well worth the cost.


The Origins of Creativity

Origins of Creativity coverThe Origins of Creativity
Edward O. Wilson
narrated by Jonathan Hogan
Recorded Books, 2017
Audiobook $17.95, Kindle edition $8.98
audiobook borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System

This was enjoyable listening. Edward O. Wilson is a distinguished Harvard scientist who first made his name in the field of entomology (the study of insects – as opposed to etymology, the study of word origins). In particular, he is one of the foremost experts in the world on ants.

This book goes far beyond the ant world, however. His thesis is that we can do a lot to salvage culture and society by the coming together of science and the humanities. In this discussion, he describes storytelling in hunter-gatherer societies, the social conventions of insects, the evolution of the genus homo, and archetypes in movies. Wilson also discusses religion, though not always in a favorable light. At the same time, he has some positive things to say about religion and even admits to a couple of moving religious experiences in his own life.

The narration by Jonathan Hogan is excellent. His inflection, cadence, and pace make this a very enjoyable book to listen to. I did at times think that maybe I should be reading the print version; there were times when I wanted to flip back a few pages, something that is easier to do in print than with audio.

Overall, however, this was a delightful and educational listening experience.