Riss Reads

You don’t have to be on the political right to read Megyn Kelly’s and Dana Perino’s memoirs and see they are right regarding life.  These two women had successful careers as a lawyer and White House press secretary, respectively, but their shows on Fox News gave them the notoriety and perspective to write really insightful memoirs at ripe ages.   Even though they are by no means towards the ends of their careers, they took huge paychecks early in life to leave the private sector and pursue what they each love – politics and journalism.  Sacrificing to follow one’s vocation is always an inspiration.

IMG_0884Both women are blonde and live in New York and look amazing without working out — I am none of those things.  But I relate so strongly with their reflections on their first years out of college as young working women searching for their vocations.  And The Good News Is by Perino and Settle For More by Kelly provide both emotional and professional advice.  From stories of failed first relationships to dealing with loss; from anecdotes of serendipitous job acceptances to addressing gender discrimination; the authors provide clear voices and relate their surreal experiences to any working woman’s life.

I strongly encourage you to read both books, mainly because these women were not given success — they really worked hard to earn it.  Kelly’s humble beginnings in upstate New York and Perino’s ranch raising out West are testaments to one’s ability to make a name for yourself, not rely on those before you who share that name.  I especially love how real they are with how unglamorous their success has been at times.  Kelly would breastfeed her baby on set right before taping a show, and she felt deathly ill prior to the first presidential primary debate, which would be an unforgettable night in her career.  Perino used to read news articles on the elliptical because she didn’t have time to not multitask, and she stood on a crate at the press secretary’s podium because she was too short to reach the mic.  These are the stories that stick with me and make me admire these tenacious women, who acknowledge their careers have been successful not just because of their talents but because of the people that helped them get to where they are.  In Settle for More, Kelly cites a time where Perino came to her aid and asked her “what did that cameraman say to you in Chicago?” Perino asked. “Pay it forward,” Kelly told her. “Pay it forward,” Perino repeated. Below are some of my other favorite quotes from each book; I encourage to check them out yourself, heed some of their advice, and pay it forward:

And The Goods News Is… by Dana Perino

  • “Say little. But when you speak, utter gentle words that touch the heart. Be truthful. Express kindness. Abstain from vanity. This is the way.”
  • “As soon as voices are raised productivity is lost. Disagreeing for disagreement’s sake won’t get you very far. To win a heated argument, you have to keep your cool.”
  • “It’s okay to have butterflies in your stomach, as long as you make them fly in formation.”
  • “Helping a student with a four-year bachelor’s degree is very generous, but an advanced degree should be considered a personal responsibility. That will ensure that the coursework is taken very seriously and makes the young person take ownership of their degree. and when they graduate, it’s a shared accomplishment that the whole family can be proud of. But do not encourage graduate school just for graduate school’s sake. Work experience is much more valuable if the decision come down to that.”
  • “I look at it this way – I don’t ever want to apologize for something I’ve said, but I want to be gracious enough to be ready to apologize if I ever need to. My answers to those questions have come gradually and after some trial and error. In my own life, personally and professionally, I’ve realized that being civil is an active decision that I get to choose to make several times a day. That’s why I believe there’s hope – civility is not extinct. It is a choice.”
  • “In America, we are blessed with the freedom to speak our minds—and we should do so thoughtfully. We also have to recognize that people who disagree with us are not enemies. We’re all in this together—and we should act like it.”

Settle for More by Megyn Kelly

  • “The ‘zone of genius’ [is] the place where one’s top talent combines with one’s passion–with what one really wants.”
  • “Dr. Phil says of fighting in relationships, ‘How can you win when the person you love most is losing?'”
  • “I told her I am not a feminist…Is there no room for ambivalence about this term? We need more women in this sisterhood tent, not less. Who gives a damn what label we use, so long as we are living a life that supports other women?”
  • “A quick note on what’s happening on our college campuses these days. Some in the younger generation today seem determined to shut down any opinions that don’t happen to match their own values. I believe this…is bad for us as a society. I believe in the right to offend….It’s not that we are supposed to enjoy it, it’s that we’re supposed to allow it and then respond in a more persuasive voice.”
  • “I do my best to avoid celebrations of destruction where I can. ‘Sharing news that does not create more resentment takes great style.'”
  • “My feeling on the subject of women’s equality is that it’s better to show than tell. I believe in the Steve Martin mantra, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.'”
  • “Money removes many stressors, but it has not changed my level of happiness, nor who I am. It changes how I spend my time.”
  • “When something stressful happens to me, I often remind myself: ‘Remember who you are.’ It is the rip cord that releases me from almost any dark situation, because it reminds me that what I really value is almost never at stake.”
  • “‘It’s too bad our son isn’t old enough to remember this day,’ [Kelly’s husband] said. ‘It’s all ingredients in the cake,’ [Kelly] said.”

© Rissponsible Living, 2017

Riss Reads: Best of 2016

Is your new years resolution to lose weight?  Scratch that.  Take the number of pounds you planned to lose and multiply it by two, and that is the number of books you should aim to read in 2017.  Why?  Because reading is the best.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one,” mused George R.R. Martin.  Dr. Seuss rhymed, “You can find magic wherever you look.  Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.”  It’s not that I need an escape from reality, but I find that one of the ways I can best relieve stress or distract myself from something is to bury my head in a book.  It’s also a wonderful conversation starter to tell someone about the book you’re currently reading, or to mention a great book you read recently.  These are the reasons why I read 40 books this year (and probably why I look so tired sometimes or procrastinate cleaning my room).  I’ve been keeping track of these books in Goodreads, an amazing social media site for avid readers.  Feel free to add me on Goodreads, and take a peak at some of my favorite reads of 2016:

History
The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer | Who knew art could be so interesting?  This ornate tale of the rise and fall of artist Gustav Klimt is immortalized by his renowned Portait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, and familiarly known as the “Lady in Gold.”  The prized painting survived the Nazi era and became the subject of a heated lawsuit to return it to its owner’s ancestry.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics | Without a doubt one of the best pieces of nonfiction I’ve ever read.  It’s not a book about Nazi Germany, but more about Hitler’s vision for the Olympics and how the varsity boys boat at the University of Washington thwarted his vision and overcame all odds to medal (I won’t tell you which one!).  In an era when rowing was one of the most popular sports in the country, it’s a great book for history and sports aficionados alike.  (Thank you to my dad for lending me this book and telling me I should read it!).

Memoir
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail | It’s hard for me to believe that the novel’s protagonist, and author, was only 26 when she embarked on an unfathomable journey: hiking over one-thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from southern California to Washington, alone.  The anecdotes from her expedition are incredible and inspiring, and you will enjoy embarking on the journey with her.
Hillbilly Elegy | J.D. Vance delivers one of the best books of 2016 in this heart-wrenching and awe-inspiring memoir about his upbringing in a white, poor, rural town in Ohio in the heart of the “hillbilly highway.”  He is now a veteran of the Marines, Ivy League graduate, and successful lawyer and husband in San Francisco.  Read this memoir to see how he got there and why so many from his childhood have not had the good fortune he has.  (Thank you to my friend Laura for telling me about this book before it was cool!)

Self Help
The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now | I appropriately read this on my 22nd birthday and it set a wonderful precedent for my year ahead.  So many people say “thirty is the new twenty,” but that’s not true.  As the author illustrates with many anecdotes from young people, no one wants to wake up 30 years old and realize they haven’t accomplished anything.  Even if you don’t want to plan your future right now or make long-term commitments, use your twenties to earn some “identity capital” and acquire skills, characteristics, and experiences that will serve you well in the long run.

riss-2016-reads
 Just some of the 40 books I read in 2016. I can happily say I loved them all.

Biography
41: A Portrait of My Father | One of the best biographies I’ve ever read, mainly because it’s not everyday you read a biography of a U.S. president, written by his son, another president.  George H.W. Bush is an extraordinary man with arguably one of the strongest resumes of any U.S. president in history.  The stories that his son, George W. Bush, shares about his entire life are gems that only the bond between a father and son could unearth.
And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side | My boyfriend gave me this book because he has a crush on Dana Perino, and honestly now I do too.  The TV host and commentator on Fox News was the second-ever female White House Press Secretary, and she was only 35 years old when President George W. Bush appointed her to the position.  Her path to success at such a young age was an unconventional one, and is proof that your vocation isn’t always in plain sight, but who you surround yourself with and the choices you make can definitely put you on the right path to one.  (Thank you to Chris for giving this to me!)

Business
The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life | Written by AEI scholar Charles Murray, this book originated from a guide of tips and advice for interns that staff contributed to at the American Enterprise Institute.  It is full of priceless wisdom for how to approach an internship, college classes, your first job, working your way up at a job, and taking steps to find happiness as a young adult.  Charles Murray points out that millennials have a lot of innate flaws, such as saying “like” too often, but having a curmudgeon as a boss (or even a parent) can correct any wrong behavior and help catalyze your success.  The Curmudgeon’s Guide and The Defining Decade are my top must-reads for anyone in their twenties.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead | I happened to read this book on my way to the beach this summer, after I graduated college and defended my thesis on paid maternity leave.  Sheryl Sandberg is living proof that being a woman in the working world comes with a host of obstacles and challenges, and that’s even before you have children and have to raise them.  While I don’t think I appreciate Lean In at the age of 22 as much as a working mother does, it gives a profound glimpse of the road ahead for young working women.

Mystery
Capital Crimes Series | Besides Harry Potter, the only sequel of novels I read this year and enjoyed almost as much is the Capital Crimes series by Margaret Truman.  The daughter of President Harry Truman, Margaret Truman lived in the White House as a girl and then in D.C. for the rest of her life.  Her novels are some of the most accurate representations I’ve ever read of the nation’s capital, from neighborhood hangouts to popular museums and historic streets.  And these are also good old-fashioned, not sociopathic or chilling, mystery novels (sorry, I did not like The Girl On The Train).  You can read the series in order, or skip around to read some of my favorites: Murder in the White HouseMurder in Georgetown, and Murder at the National Gallery.  (Thank you to my mother for recalling her days as a D.C. lawyer and which books she read to pass the time on the Metro!)

Humor
Why Not Me? | Someone warned me that I would pee myself laughing during this Mindy Kaling masterpiece, and I almost did.  From her geeky childhood and messy dating life to her comedic frankness about her image insecurity and work life, everything she writes is 134901230498% relatable.  Reading her books makes me want to watch “Mindy” from start to finish right after.  I don’t know if I liked this as much as Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? but it was so good I took notes of funny quotes in my phone to text to friends.

Christian
God and Money: How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School | The authors, John and Greg, were Harvard MBA students who worked hard on acquiring wealth and planned to retire by 40.  Then, in a theology class while at Harvard Business School, they realized that they could use their financial skills to give money away instead to those who needed it more than they do.  This book is full of great spiritual examples and personal anecdotes, and John and Greg lead such lives of examples and are true servants of God and His Kingdom.  If you are a person of faith and don’t always feel the fulfillment of a Christ-lived life, or seek success but still feel empty, read this book!  It’ll change how you think about wealth, success, and your life’s purpose.

Beach Reads
Here’s to Us | I bought this hardcover in Nantucket and whenever I was missing that magical island I could delve into this book (and many other Elin Hilderbrand novels) to be transported.  This one I liked a lot more than Elin’s other books because it didn’t have murder, (too many) affairs, or a dirty feel.  It focuses on the meaning of family and how families come in all shapes and sizes, and even ones that don’t get along can still come together for a momentous occasion.  Plus the main character is a chef so the author creatively sprinkles some yummy recipes throughout the book.  (Thank you to my friend Kira for always recommending Elin’s books to me and being my Nantucket adventure pal)
Me Before You | I am so glad I read this instead of seeing the movie because I know I would have cried.  Will is a wealthy young man paralyzed by a past accident, and Louisa is a quirky young woman hired to be his caregiver.  Louisa and Will have such a beautiful love story, and I actually found it pretty believable.  I like romances that start between friends and theirs is a strong friendship…one that I recommend reading about and falling for.
A Certain Age | I have only read a few good historical fiction novels that transport you to the glamour of the age but also quench your thirst for gossip, and A Certain Age does both.  A wealthy married woman of Fifth Avenue and Southampton has been in love with her young lover, and the feeling is mutual, until he falls for a girl more his age.  The book takes exciting and unpredictable turns but also paints a detailed picture of high-society New York wrestling with the Jazz Age.  (Thank you to my friend Corinne for lending it to me!)

Thank you for being extraordinarily patient and reading these book suggestions and teasers!  Please comment on this post if you have any books suggestions related to the ones above, and do make a Goodreads profile!  It changed my life for the better.  Also, if you have already read most of the above books or this list doesn’t satiate your appetite, here are some of the books I’m looking forward to reading in 2017…happy new year and happy reading!

I want to read in 2017… Love in the Time of Cholera, Beloved, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Settle for More, Alexander Hamilton, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter, Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, America Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract In the Age of Individualism, The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region.

© Rissponsible Living, 2017

Riss Reads: Super Freakonomics

I am not a self-described fan of economics, and I loved this book. New York Times bestseller Super Freakonomics, written by economics professor Steven Levitt and former New York Times editor Stephen Dubner, turns so many facts and phenomenons that society considers irrefutable on its head. It makes you question the unquestionable! For example, did you know that 43% of players of European national youth soccer teams were born in January, February, or March? And that car seat belts (which only cost $25 each) have saved a quarter million lives since they were invented? Or why changing computer screen savers was the most successful incentive to improve hospital staff hygiene in the U.S.? You must read this incredible book to find out!

For me, one of the world-turned-upside-down parts of this book was its focus on global warming, and a few of these facts I didn’t know (keep in mind, this book was published in 2009, but I believe most of these facts are evergreen):

  • In the mid-1970s, global cooling was more of a concern than global warming, our current issue. From 1945 to 1968, the Northern Hemisphere cooled by .5 degrees Fahrenheit (page 166)
  • “Buying locally produced food actually increases greenhouse gas emissions,” two Carnegie Mellon researchers found. Although in 2016 we are encouraged to “eat local” and seasonally, these researchers found that more than 80% of emissions associated with food comes from the production phase, whereas transportation accounts for only 11% of emissions. Thus, the researchers suggest that subtle changes to your diet (i.e. replacing red meat with more sustainable proteins) can reduce the carbon footprint of your plate more substantially (page 167)
  • “It is much too late for sustainable development; what we need is a sustainable retreat” – a good quote by James Lovelock (page 170)
  • (WARNING: this one contains some econ jargon!) “Once you strip away the religious fervor and scientific complexity, an incredibly simple dilemma lies at the heart of global warming. Economists fondly call it an externality.” (page 171)
    • “What’s an externality? It’s what happens when someone takes an action but someone else, without agreeing, pays some or all the costs of that action. An externality is an economic version of taxation without representation.”
    • The authors give the example of having a friendly bonfire: you’re not just toasting marshmallows in your backyard, your fire is emitting gasses that help to heat the whole planet. “Every time you get behind the wheel of a car, or eat a hamburger, or fly in an airplane, you are generating some by-products you’re not paying for.”
  • The problem with global warming being an externality is that people often have little incentive to change their behavior because it’s an externality. “People are being asked to change their behavior not out of self-interest but rather out of selflessness. This might make global warming seem like a hopeless problem unless — and this is what [“An Inconvenient Truth” creator] Al Gore is banking on — people are willing to put aside their self-interest and do the right thing even if it’s personally costly. Gore is appealing to our altruistic selves, our externality-hating better angels.” (page 173)
    • As an aside, I completely agree with this. If I put aside my self-interest I would become a vegetarian or vegan to reduce my food’s carbon footprint, but I’m not as altruistic as Al Gore thinks I am! Maybe I should be…
  • Fun fact: volcanic eruptions are scary (and often fatal), but the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 discharged more than 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, which sounds bad, but this “stratospheric haze of sulfur dioxide acted like a layer of sunscreen, reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth”!!! How cool is that? (page 176)
    • The authors note that the connection between volcanoes and climate is “hardly a new idea.” In 1784, Benjamin Franklin published the first scientific paper on the topic, noting that recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland had caused a particularly harsh winter and a cool summer with “constant fog all over Europe, and a great part of North America.”
  • This book was published in 2009, so this part of about “An Inconvenient Truth” was more relevant then, but still makes a point about pop environmentalism and green documentaries:
    • The authors write that when “An Inconvenient Truth” is mentioned at a table of scientists, they all groan. It’s because the film’s purpose, inventor Nathan Myhrvold believes, was “to scare the crap out of people.” Al Gore “isn’t technically lying” Mryhvold says, but some of the nightmare scenarios Gore claims in his film (i.e. the state of Florida disappearing under rising seas) “don’t have any basis in physical reality in any reasonable time frame. No climate model shows them happening.” (page 181)
  • The authors interview several scientists or “climate heavyweights” and their proposed solutions to alleviate worsening global warming, and these solutions involve geoengineering. But they’re just scientists – the real heavyweights in the climate fight, the authors write, are people like Al Gore. But what does Gore think of geoengineering? “I think it’s nuts,” he said. Environmentalist Al Gore thinks geoengineering is nuts! So what we do? (page 200)
    • “The scary scenarios could occur even if we make herculean efforts to reduce our emissions, in which case the only real answer is geoengineering,” Myrhvold said. (page 203)
    • Al Gore, on the other hand, said “If we don’t know enough to stop putting 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, how in God’s name can we know enough to precisely counteract that?”
    • The authors’ response: “If you think like a cold-blooded economist instead of a warm-hearted humanist, Gore’s reasoning doesn’t track. It’s not that we don’t know how to stop polluting the atmosphere. We don’t want to stop, or aren’t willing to pay the price. Most pollution remember, is a negative externality of our consumption. As hard as engineering or physics may be, getting human beings to change their behavior is probably harder. At present, the rewards for limiting consumption are weak, as are the penalties for overconsuming. Gore and other environmentalists are pleading for humankind to consume less and therefore pollute less, and that is a noble invitation. But as incentives go, it’s not a very strong one.”

© Rissponsible Living, 2016

Riss Reads: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Praised as “an eater’s manifesto” by the Washington PostThe Omnivore’s Dilemma is “thoughtful, engrossing…you’re not likely to get a better explanation of where food comes from” (New York Times). Written by author, journalist, and professor Michael Pollan, this New York Time’s bestseller is a must-read for any American to better understand the food industry’s past, present, and future.

One of the most informative topics in the text for millennials is the history of 20th century farming in American — an era that precedes our generation. Especially if you are a millennial in the city, it is easy to overlook the drastic evolution of farming in the past century or so. Pollan’s example of this evolution is the Naylor farm in Greene County, Iowa. When George Naylor’s grandfather bought his farm in 1919, one of every four Americans lived on a farm. Now 100 years later, fewer than 2 million Americans still farm. Twenty-first century farmers like Naylor’s grandson (who only raised corn and soybeans on a typical Iowa farm) are so productive that each farmer can provide food for about 129 Americans. “Measured in terms of output per worker, American farmers like Naylor are the most productive humans who have ever lived” (p. 34).

If the vanishing of farm towns in America is not a topic that hits close-to-home, many urbanites and millennials can understand the financial drain of farming in America. Our country is currently in a subsidy crisis: the federal treasury spends $5 billion a year subsidizing cheap corn (p. 54). The cause of this expense? “Earl ‘Rusty’ Butz, Richard Nixon’s second secretary of agriculture, probably did more than any other single individual to orchestrate George Naylor’s plague of cheap corn” (p. 51).

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan covers every part of the spectrum of food: he differentiates corn-the-food versus corn-the-commodity (p. 58), purchases his own steer and follows the process of his production, and cooks a meal for family and friends comprised only of ingredients he harvested or hunted. One of my favorite anecdotes of Pollan’s is his trip to McDonald’s with his family. Pollan calculates the amount of corn that was used to make the three McDonald’s meals for his wife, his son, and himself. The grand total? Pollan writes that the only way to fathom the amount of corn consumed is to imagine infinite ears of corn filling up his family’s car and spilling out the trunk. At that lunch, the Pollan family consumed 4,510 calories in their three McDonald’s meals; thus, he demonstrates how these meals are a complete reduction of energy and failure to use corn to its full ability. His drive-thru experience at McDonald’s illustrates greater problems at hand: our country’s dependence on corn, our nation’s increasing obesity, the economic incentive of using corn, and the loss of energy in doing so. This is just one example of the omnivore’s dilemma.

Regardless of the anecdote or chapter, The Omnivore’s Dilemma makes the reader “think through the moral ramifications of our eating habits” (New York Times). These are just a few notable quotes from the novel that made me think through my own.

  • “The great edifice of variety and choice that is an American supermarket turns out to rest on a remarkably narrow biological foundation comprised of a tiny group of plants that is dominated by a single spcies: Zea mays, the giant tropical grass most Americans know as corn” (p. 18)
  • “You are what you eat, it’s often said, and if this is true, then what we are mostly is corn — or, more precisely, processed corn” (p. 20)
  • “‘The free market has never worked in agriculture and it never will'” (p. 54)
  • “And while number 2 field corn certainly looks like the corn you would eat…it is less a food than an industrial raw material — and an abstraction” (p. 58)
  • “The economic logic behind corn is unassailable, and on a factory farm there is no other kind. Calories are calories, and corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories on the market” (p. 75)
  • “‘You are what you eat’ is a truism hard to argue with, and yet it is, as a visit to the feedlot suggests, incomplete, for you are what you eat eats, too. And what we are, or have become, is not just meat but number 2 corn and oil” (p. 84)
  • “It seems that even organic food has succumbed to the economic logic of processing” (p. 96)
  • “…obesity today is officially an epidemic; it is arguably the most pressing public health problem we face, costing the health care system an estimated $90 billion a year. Three of every five Americans are overweight; one of every five is obese. The disease formerly known as adult-onset diabetes has had to be renamed Type II diabetes since it now occurs so frequently in children” (p. 102)
  • “To eat corn directly (as Mexicans and Africans do) is to consume all the energy in that corn, but when you feed that corn to a steer or a chicken, 90 percent of its energy is lost — to bones or feathers or fur, to living and metabolizing as a steer or chicken. This is why vegetarians advocate eating “low on the food chain”; every step up with the chain reduces the amount of food energy by a factor of ten, which is why in any ecosystem there are only a fraction as many predators as there are prey. But processing food also burns energy. What this means is that the amount of food energy lost in the making of [4,510 calories of McDonald’s meals for three people, is actually] ten of thousand of corn calories that could have fed a great many hungry people” (p. 118)
  • “‘Just because we can ship organic lettuce from the Salinas Valley, or organic cut flowers from Peru, doesn’t mean we should do it, not if we’re really serious about energy and seasonality and bioregionalism” (p. 133)
  • “A one-pound box of prewashed lettuce contains 80 calories of food energy. According to Cornell ecologist David Pimentel, growing, chilling, washing, packaging, and transporting that box of organic salad to a plate on the East Coast takes more than 4,600 calories of fossil fuel energy, or 57 calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food” (p. 167)
  • “‘One look at their books convinced him that all the advice he’d been hearing from consultants and extension agents — to build silos, graze the forest, plant corn, and sell commodities — was a recipe for financial ruin'” (p. 206)
  • “‘There’s been a tremendous brain drain in rural America. Of course that suits Wall Street just fine; Wall Street is always trying to extract brainpower and capital from the countryside. First they take the brightest bulbs off the farm and put them to work in Dilbert’s cubicle, and then they go after the capital of the dimmer ones who stayed behind, by selling them a bunch of gee-whiz solutions to their problems.’ This isn’t just the farmer’s problem, either. ‘It’s a foolish culture that entrusts its food supply to simpletons'” (p. 221)
  • “Joel is convinced ‘clean food’ could compete with supermarket food if the government would exempt farmers from the thicket of regulations that prohibit them from processing and selling meat from the farm. For him, regulation is the single biggest impediment to building a viable food chain, and what’s at stake is our liberty, nothing less” (p. 236)
  • “‘Don’t you find it odd that people will put more work into choosing heir mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food?'” (p. 240)
  • “A global food market, which brings us New Zealand lamb in the spring, Chilean asparagus in December, and fresh tomatoes the year round, has smudged the bright colors of the seasonal food calendar we all once knew by heart. But for local food chains to succeed, people will have to relearn what it means to eat according to the seasons” (p. 253)
  • “It is true that farms like this are but a speck on the monolith of modern animal agriculture, yet their very existence, and the possibility that implies, throws the whole argument for animal rights into a different light” (p. 319)
  • “Morality is an artifact of human culture devised to help humans negotiate human social relations. It’s very good for that. But just as we recognize that nature doesn’t provide a very good guide for human social conduct, isn’t it anthropocentric of us to assume that our moral system offers an adequate guide for what should happen in nature? Is the individual the crucial moral entity in nature as we’ve decided it should be in human society?” (p. 325)
  • “For we would no longer need any reminding that however we choose to feed ourselves, we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world” (p. 411)

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

Riss Reads: East of Eden

One of the greatest voices of American literature, you could say John Steinbeck is saint of the Salinas Valley in California. East of Eden, published in 1952, was considered the “magnum opus” of the California native and Nobel Prize winner.

Like many of his novels, East of Eden focuses on a humble farming family at the beginning of the century. The cast of eclectic and engaging characters all face different challenges as the country awaits World War I, but the protagonist is particularly unique. Samuel Hamilton and his family are supposedly based on the real-life Hamiltons, a lower-class farming family that Steinbeck’s mother grew up in. Thus, Samuel Hamilton would be Steinbeck’s maternal grandfather, and we, the readers, briefly see Salinas Valley and a growing California through a young John Steinbeck’s eyes.

“Steinbeck’s novels can all be classified as social novels dealing with the economic problems of rural labor, but there is also a streak of worship of the soil in his books.” This description from the Nobel Prize organization holds true for East of Eden. It is not a strictly environmental read, nor does it go into intense detail about the ecosystem of Salinas Valley. Yet there is definitely Steinbeck’s “worship of the soil.”

The richness of one family estate’s soil makes them exponentially richer than their county neighbors, although the neighbors labor on their land endlessly. Regardless of a family’s social status, sons and daughters graduating from high school are heading to a little college called Stanford; this trend foreshadows the current “brain drain in rural America,” where A students are fleeing small farm towns to head to college, even though their hometown farms need their ingenuity and high IQ. The novel also poses powerful questions on religion and spirituality, and many of its themes parallel the Book of Genesis.

East of Eden is a book that I could not put down, and as someone who lives in California, this novel about the golden state 100 years ago taught me a lot about it now. Plus Steinbeck’s beautifully woven stories in East of Eden make me want to re-read his other notable works. Here are some memorable quotes from East of Eden I noted as I read it:

  • “The Salinas was only a part-time river. The summer sun drove it underground. It was not a fine river at all, but it was the only one we had and so we boasted about it — how dangerous it was in a wet winter and how dry it was in a dry summer. You can boast about anything if it’s all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast” (p. 4)
  • “I have spoken of the rich years when the rainfall was plentiful. But there were dry years too, and they put a terror on the valley….And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way” (p. 5-6)
  • “There was no question of inheritance. Although the hill ranch was large it was abysmally poor. Samuel sunk well after well and could not find water on his own land. That would have made the difference. Water would have made them comparatively rich” (p. 43)
  • “It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing are all born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused” (p. 130-131)
  • “He was not alone in his preoccupation with the future. The whole valley, the whole West was that way. It was a time when the past had lost its sweetness and its sap. You’d do a good long road before you’d find a man, and he very old, who wished to bring back a golden past. Men were notched and comfortable in the present, hard and unfruitful as it was,  but only as a doorstep into a fantastic future” (p. 155)
  • “In the towns they talked of sewers and inside toilets, and some already had them; and arc lights on the street corners — Salinas had those — and telephones. There wasn’t any limit, no boundary at all, to the future. And it would be so a man wouldn’t have room to store his happiness” (p. 156)
  • “But there’s all that fallow land, and here beside me is all that fallow man. It seems a waste. And I have a bad feeling about waste because I could never afford it. Is it a good feeling to let your life lie fallow?” (p. 293)
  • “I know that it might be better for you to come out from under your might-have-beens, into the winds of the world. And while I tell you, I myself am sifting my memories, the way men pan the dirt under a barroom floor for the bits of gold dust that fall between the cracks. It’s small mining — small mining. You’re too young a man to be panning memories, Adam. You should be getting yourself some new ones, so that the mining will be richer when you come to age” (p. 294)

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

Riss Reads

I once encountered a reader’s review that said, “Reading Walden was kind of like eating bran flakes: it’s not the most exciting, but you know that it’s good for you.” These were my original sentiments about Henry David Thoreau’s novel: that even if it is filled with more reflections and observations of his natural surroundings than a normal novel’s plot twists and climaxes, at least it’s a renowned work of literature I can say I read. Once I learned more about Thoreau’s philosophy, and read excerpts from his journals (1837-1851) and “Huckleberries” (c. 1860), I developed a greater appreciation for Walden. 

First published in 1854, Walden is Thoreau’s most renowned work, describing his home, daily activities, and observations at Walden Pond. Thoreau lived his entire life in Concord, Massachusetts, and as a leading transcendentalist, he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, which are two sources of modern-day environmentalism. Extremely reverent of nature, Thoreau views humans as a distracted people, obsessed with progress and not concerned enough about the environment. Our exhaustion of resources is often unnecessary and disregards the process of time, Thoreau argues: “A plant which it has taken two centuries to perfect rising by slow stages into the heavens – has this afternoon ceased to exist,” he notes while observing a pine tree be cut down. The earth is very much alive, Thoreau believes, and with this philosophy he gives us Walden. 

Below are some notable quotes from this novel that I marked while reading it:

  • “‘All intelligences awake with the morning’…All poets and heroes emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me” (p. 84)
  • “To be awake is to be alive” (p. 85)
  • Individuals “should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?” (excerpt)
  • “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had o teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was no life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it” (p. 85)
  • “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us” (p. 87)
  • “This whole earth which we inhibit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?” (p. 126)
  • “The only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses,which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things” (p. 193)
  • “Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones” (p. 208)
  • “Enter ye that have leisure and a quiet mind, who earnestly seeks the right read” (p. 253)
  • “Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machine of the universe, you carrying on the work. Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth” (p. 309)
  • “The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more today to dawn. The sun is but a morning star” (p. 312)

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

Riss Reads

One of my favorite books of all time, and a hand-me-down from my mother, The Road from Coorain is a beautiful story of a young girl growing up in Australia’s Outback. Jill Ker was raised on her family’s sheep station in New South Wales. Her childhood was in total isolation — she had never seen any other children besides her brothers until she was about seven years old. During her adolescence, the Ker farm managed to scrape by during a drought that would last for seven years — a time when Jill’s father’s health would also drastically decline with the farm.

The Road from Coorain (1989) is the autobiography of Jill Ker Conway’s early years. She would eventually become the first woman president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the U.S.

There is so much beautiful imagery of the Australian landscape, wildlife, and the land’s colonial and aboriginal history in this novel. Imagining the isolated life of Jill Ker — her family’s livelihood so dependent on its surroundings — is unfathomable but inspirational.

One of my favorite quotes from the novel is: “…my new awareness that university study was about learning and reflection, not the cramming of texts and information. Now I had a purpose in life” (p. 168).

If the author found her purpose in life through a love of higher education, what are you willing to learn? What is your purpose?