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Category: Book Reviews

Leah Reads Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick“Beautifully written and incredibly funny, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about the importance of friendship and human connection. I fell in love with Eleanor, an eccentric and regimented loner whose life beautifully unfolds after a chance encounter with a stranger; I think you will fall in love, too!” —Reese Witherspoon“This wacky, charming novel. . . draws you in with humor, then turns out to contain both a suspenseful subplot and a sweet romance. . . Hilarious and moving.”—People No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine. Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.  But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart…

Description
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .
 
The only way to survive is to open your heart. 
Notes
I'll be completely honest: I almost put this book down. By page 14, I felt like I couldn't connect with the main character, she bugged me with her haughtiness, and I just couldn't see myself reading an entire story about someone so completely unlikeable. Spoiler alert? That's the absolute point. ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE is a funny, surprising, original read. Gail Honeyman expertly crafts this debut so that the reader roots for the unlikeable character anyway, learns to understand her, and even empathizes with her just a bit. If a book can teach a lesson, this one shows us that patience can work magic and that we truly do not understand anyone until we get to know her. Set in Glasgow, Scotland, Honeyman brings us smack into a world of personal struggle, daily monotony (and the reasons for it), individual heartaches, and people who are as real and charming and wonderful as anyone who happens to be sitting next to you on a train into work in the morning. Honeyman's writing reminds me a lot of Maria Semple in WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? and Helen Simonson's MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND (which are two of my favorite books). If you are a reader who enjoys intelligent, witty, insightful stories about the quirkiest of characters, this one is right up your alley. Eleanor Oliphant (our protagonist herself) will stay with you long after you pass page 14 and finish this lovely book.

Leah Reads The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor, by Mark Schatzker

A lively argument from an award-winning journalist proving that the key to reversing America’s health crisis lies in the overlooked link between nutrition and flavor: “The Dorito Effect is one of the most important health and food books I have read” (Dr. David B. Agus, New York Times bestselling author).We are in the grip of a food crisis. Obesity has become a leading cause of preventable death, after only smoking. For nearly half a century we’ve been trying to pin the blame somewhere—fat, carbs, sugar, wheat, high-fructose corn syrup. But that search has been in vain, because the food problem that’s killing us is not a nutrient problem. It’s a behavioral problem, and it’s caused by the changing flavor of the food we eat. Ever since the 1940s, with the rise of industrialized food production, we have been gradually leeching the taste out of what we grow. Simultaneously, we have taken great leaps forward in technology, creating a flavor industry, worth billions annually, in an attempt to put back the tastes we’ve engineered out of our food. The result is a national cuisine that increasingly resembles the paragon of flavor…

Description
A lively argument from an award-winning journalist proving that the key to reversing America’s health crisis lies in the overlooked link between nutrition and flavor: “The Dorito Effect is one of the most important health and food books I have read” (Dr. David B. Agus, New York Times bestselling author).

We are in the grip of a food crisis. Obesity has become a leading cause of preventable death, after only smoking. For nearly half a century we’ve been trying to pin the blame somewhere—fat, carbs, sugar, wheat, high-fructose corn syrup. But that search has been in vain, because the food problem that’s killing us is not a nutrient problem. It’s a behavioral problem, and it’s caused by the changing flavor of the food we eat.

Ever since the 1940s, with the rise of industrialized food production, we have been gradually leeching the taste out of what we grow. Simultaneously, we have taken great leaps forward in technology, creating a flavor industry, worth billions annually, in an attempt to put back the tastes we’ve engineered out of our food. The result is a national cuisine that increasingly resembles the paragon of flavor manipulation: Doritos. As food—all food—becomes increasingly bland, we dress it up with calories and flavor chemicals to make it delicious again. We have rewired our palates and our brains, and the results are making us sick and killing us.

With in-depth historical and scientific research, The Dorito Effect casts the food crisis in a fascinating new light, weaving an enthralling tale of how we got to this point and where we are headed. We’ve been telling ourselves that our addiction to flavor is the problem, but it is actually the solution. We are on the cusp of a new revolution in agriculture that will allow us to eat healthier and live longer by enjoying flavor the way nature intended.
Notes
I happened upon THE DORITO EFFECT courtesy of my sister-in-law (she knows me well), and I've been obsessed with it ever since. It’s a known fact in my family that I will eat up (ha! get it?) books like Michael Pollan's FOOD MATTERS and documentaries with names like "Food, Inc." But this book in particular threw me for a loop. In terms of research and life-changing information, the knowledge and view of the food industry and farming presented here by Mark Schatzker blows the other materials I’ve read and seen out of the water. Researcher and writer Schatzker leads us through the science and the "why"s of the food we eat now (and how it relates to our modern war with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and all of the physical effects of eating a diet low on nutrition and flavor and high on synthetic chemicals). He explains how modern agriculture, in a race to increase yield, has resulted in meats, vegetables and fruits that are low in flavor and nutrition--and how, in our natural instinct to seek out those things, Americans have turned to the synthetic foods—(full of flavor and trick-your-brain additives) the food industry offers us in droves as a replacement for the stuff we should be taking from nature. It’s a depressing book, truly—to learn how far and how quickly we’ve moved away from the bounty nature is meant to provide for us makes for an uncomfortable read. But I think it’s an important one, and for that I am very grateful for Sarah (my good-gift-giving sister-in-law). I did have some issues with the book: Schatzker has a tendency to come across with a little arrogance (kind of like that super fit friend of yours who quietly patronizes you for never finding time for the gym), which can be off-putting. The information can be dense at times. I found myself wishing for photographs of some of the scientists and places he visited while researching the book. There is a very short chapter of “tips” at the end of the book, but I wish he’d finished each chapter with a “What You Can Do About It” section: a lot of this information is scary and unsettling, and often I was left feeling hopeless without any clue how I could make the situation better, on a small scale. But overall, I highly recommend this to anyone interested in modern food. It’s intriguing, interesting, and Schatzker can be funny and casual, especially toward the end when he began using more of his own personal anecdotes. Much to my family’s Cheetos-loving chagrin, this book has altered the way I plan our family meals, the restaurants we patronize--even where we buy our groceries. A book like THE DORITO EFFECT that has the power to make someone make positive change is worth a look.