I read two books in June, very different from each other, but both worthwhile.
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym was the first title. I had heard of Barbara Pym, but had never read any of her books. For whatever reason, I thought she was a sappy romance writer. Then I read a post on Melanie's book blog, where she mentioned that Excellent Women was a book she could see herself reading again and again. Since Melanie didn't strike me as someone who was a big fan of sappy romances, I decided to check Amazon and read the reviews.
Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter, unmarried, and the story takes place in England during the 1950s. Mildred is a person who tries to do good works for her church and her community, and tends to get involved with others' lives and their problems as a result. For the most part, she leads a quiet life, but the characters around her manage to turn things upside down from time to time.
I really enjoyed this book! I had no trouble visualizing the characters, based on Pym's written descriptions. The story was involved at times, but I could keep track of all the main characters without much of a problem. Some of the observations made by Mildred and those around her were really funny, both in the way Pym wrote, and because even though the 1950s were not that long ago, people really did have different expectations about societal roles. This book struck me as a modern comedy of manners, and evoked a place and time that was easy to see in my mind.
The second book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle : A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. I have not read all of Kingsolver's writing, but enough of it that I am always curious to take a look at anything new from her. This book is the story of her family's move from Tucson, Arizona, to a small family farm, in a small town in Virginia. They decided to try for one year, to feed themselves from their land, their livestock, and from food products produced in the area. They wanted to see if it was possible in this day and age to accomplish a varied, healthy menu, without the absolute necessity of grocery stores.
I thought this book was very interesting. Kingsolver and her family were trying something that I have thought about from time to time, but needless to say, have never done. It was fascinating to see how each family member contributed, and what/how they learned what plants and animals would be successful for them. I have been trying for a while to buy food that is produced locally, as opposed to food produced, say, in China. I'm not always successful, and a lot of the time it's not clear where the actual product originated. Barbara Kingsolver makes a convincing case for the local farmer, and the local community as support systems for each other.
The book includes a lot of detailed information about the plants and animals they raised, as well as how they became part of the local farming community, along with the benefit to each member of the family. Her descriptions include killing of some of their animals so that they, and others in the area, would have food for the table. She makes the argument that vegetarianism is a luxury that only middle class people in developed countries can afford. I was especially interested in the case she made, since a few years prior to this experiment, she and her family had been on a vegetarian diet. She certainly raised a lot of valid points, but this part of the book did make her sound like she was on the defensive. It's not a large part of the overall story, but it does stand out from the rest of the book.
Overall though, I thought it was an enjoyable, and thought-provoking read. It underscored for me the importance of understanding where your food comes from, and how it is produced. I have started to try and pay closer attention to the food I buy, prepare, and eat, not just to help local (or regional) farmers, but also to make myself consider how much fuel may have been used transporting produce from far-flung parts of the world, so that Americans have fresh cantalope in December.
I actually had an experience at our local farmers' market yesterday that was eye-opening. One of the farmers had some garlic for sale, with a sign that said, "Pre-Chinese Garlic from New York State." Of course, I had to find out what Pre-Chinese garlic was - really old garlic, or what? According to him, since approximately 1997, most garlic sold in grocery stores along the eastern seaboard is from China. Prior to that, it was primarily from New York, or from seeds of plants from New York. Since the Chinese product was cheaper for the grocery stores to sell, and available in mass quantities, the New York farmers got pushed aside. So this farmer was selling garlic grown locally from seeds he obtained from a fellow farmer in New York. I had never given any thought to the origin of the garlic I would buy at the grocery store, so this was a revelation to me. So yes, I did buy some, because a) it's garlic, b) it's garlic, and c) it was locally grown.
In knitting book news ...
Yesterday, I helped out at Rosie's for a few hours, since another person was on vacation. While I was there, I had the chance to look through a book that came out a couple of months ago, that I had not seen yet, Knitting Fashions of the 1940s: Styles, Patterns and History, by Jane Waller. What a cool book! I didn't get to spend a lot of time studying it, since I was there to help customers rather than do my own reading, but I did like the illustration methods they used. It would show a black-and-white photo from the original pattern, and then show a color version of the item that had been knitted, with adaptations for today's yarns and needles. I thought that placing the photos right next to each other was especially appealing, and the book seemed to have a nice variety of patterns for men, women, and children. I think I'll have to take a closer look at this title, because it combines three things I am interested in: knitting, history, and old photos. And trust me, some of the old photos are priceless!