Monday, December 2, 2013

Reviewitas - Communist pigs (literally) and hormonal cows

Animal Farm
There's not much I can say about Animal Farm that hasn't already been said.  It is one of those books that everyone knows and references.  And probably reads, since it's quite short.  And as I make my way at 2X speed through dozens of audiobooks a year on my agonizingly long commute to work, I figured I should make more of an effort to read the classics.  (Next up:  The Jungle.)

So, Animal Farm.  A world-famous satire about farm animals that break the shackles of the humans that enslaved them, only to fall under the power of the pigs.

I can understand this book's power in the post-WWII era, when communism was a huge threat to western power.  And it was a very powerful read.  I knew exactly how it would end, and even as we hurtled inevitably towards that ending, the book kept my interest the whole way through.  The novel is completely scathing in its view of communism.

But there's a lot that makes sense for the world everywhere, too.  For example, as the story continues, the pigs rewrite history and insist that the other animals must not remember events correctly.  And the animals, confused and overworked, assume that they must have misremembered what happened.  And so history is rewritten.  It seems so easy, and the impact is terrifying.

I am glad I finally read this book.  It was very low on the time commitment scale, and it's so obviously satirical and allegorical that you can easily understand the message Orwell is trying to send.  Recommended if you want to beef up your classics shelf and understand part of the red scare that infected so many people in the 50s and 60s; when viewed through that lens, Orwell seems quite prescient.

My Year of Meats
 In addition to trying to read more classics on my commute, I am also trying to read more diversely.  Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats fit the bill, and as I had recently heard about her A Tale for the Time Being, I figured I could start with her backlist.

My Year of Meats is about two women.  Jane Takagi-Little is a documentarian on assignment to film a series of shows for a Japanese audience.  The show is called My American Wife and it is supposed to showcase small-town American culture while providing the Japanese with new recipe ideas on how to cook American meat.  Akiko Ueno is one of the Japanese housewives who watches the show.  A victim of domestic violence, Akiko learns more and more about herself as she watches the show and finally gains the confidence she needs to make a decision for herself.

Oh, and there's a lot about dangerous hormones in the American meat industry.  A lot about dangerous meat hormones.

I am glad I read this in audiobook form because the narrator was really fantastic and engaging.  She managed to make a lot of horrible information about birth defects and cancer caused by eating factory-farmed meat easily digestible (pun unintended) and kept me interested in the story and the characters the whole way through.  I really liked spending time with Jane and Akiko and all of the other women that Jane interviewed.  In many ways, this book was a fun journey through middle America in the 1990s, and it's fascinating to see just how much the world has changed in so short a time.  For example, everyone communited via fax, and I don't know many people who do anything like that any more.  Also, all of Jane's recording was done on VHS.

However, I thought there was a pretty jarring disconnect between the story about My American Wife and Jane and Akiko's lives and the very detailed information about growth hormones in American beef.  It's not that I didn't value the information.  I do.  I don't eat beef, but I have read enough about the American factory farm method of making fruit, vegetables and all sorts of poultry and meat to become much more pro-active and informed about the food I purchase.  But I read Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver for that information.  I don't really expect so much of it to come into play in a novel.  It often felt as though Ozeki was using her novel as a vehicle to get across information about the meat industry.  I understand, really - so many people are uninformed about the food systems and it's scary how much of an impact these things can have on your life and your health and you don't even know.  But... it just wasn't what I was looking for in this book.

Still, the writing and the characters were very interesting and the narrator was fantastic, so I'm glad to have discovered Ozeki and look forward to reading more by her.

4 comments:

  1. Four legs good, two legs better! I love animal farm. This makes me want to read it again. Great review!

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  2. I have been sticking with 1.5x. I did 2 for a while, but I felt if I got distracted at all I would entirely miss what they are saying. As I usually listen on the treadmill this makes it really hard to go back. Anyway, I read Animal Farm in some school (high school or university). It's wasn't bad. I have never read anything else by Orwell. Maybe one day. Good luck getting through the classics!

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  3. I haven't yet read anything from Ozeki's backlist, but oh how I loved A Tale for the Time Being. Such a wonderful book. I hope you can get to that one soon, and that you are able to love it unreservedly, at least unreservedlier than you did her meat book.

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