That's right! A series. My goal this year is to read three books a month. Obviously some of those books will be short. I'm including one of my favorite reads from the end of 2011 because it's still applying in a big way and I love it. Here we go!
Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan
I love to cook and I love to eat, but cooking became really difficult when it was accompanied by two screaming babies trying to pull my pants down while I was standing at the stove. We were eating fast food more often and stuff that was easy to pull out of a box and put in the oven. Brian and I were also drinking a lot of soda. I looked forward to my 10:30 date with Dr. Pepper every morning. We didn't feel well during this time, in case you were wondering. Tired, puffy, bad bellies.
My sister, Jennie, gave me The Omnivore's Dilemma a few years ago and when I saw Michael Pollan on The Colbert Report talking about his book Food Rules, I paid attention. Pollan is all about common sense - he didn't invent a new way of eating, he took his "rules" from grandparents, nutritionists, scientists, friends, farmers. The main point of his philosophy is to eat food, not food-flavored substances.
Starting in about the middle of November 2011, we tried living these rules. I cooked more and we started eating greens with every dinner (salad, broccoli, green beans, peas) and carrot sticks instead of potato chips. We're down to two sodas a month and we very rarely eat fast food. Both of us feel better and we've even lost a few lbs. I still have two screaming babies at my feet when I cook some of the time (on my best days I've done all the prep for dinner while the babies are napping), but we all sit down together and eat dinner. It's a Food Revolution!
2. The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson, and the World's Greatest Royal Mystery by Greg King and Penny Wilson
Everything I knew about the Russian royal family was from the cartoon "Anastasia" that Bridget likes to watch. Surprisingly, their story and the cartoon are not much alike. The tsar and his family, which consisted of his wife and five children, were taken "prisoner" (they couldn't leave one of their really nice homes) during World War I. After a few months they were moved to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, where they were not treated as kindly. One morning the Bolshevik soldiers took the Romanovs to the basement along with their doctor and a few servants. The soldiers shot Nicholas (the tsar), then Alexandra and their son Alexei, who was sitting in her lap. Then they shot the doctor and servants. They shot the duchesses last. There were a lot of bullets ricocheting around the basement and Anastasia and her sister Marie were only wounded when the soldiers piled the bodies into a wagon and took them out to the forest to bury them. When the soldiers realized the girls were still alive, they beat them to death and buried Anastasia and her brother, Alexei, 200 yards from the pit they put the rest of the bodies in. The mass grave wasn't found until the late 1990s and Anastasia and Alexei's bodies weren't found until later still.
The reason I write all that gory information is because the woman who claimed to be Anastasia was able to pull it off for her entire lifetime because no one had found Anastasia's body. Anna Anderson was a Polish peasant with a miserable life. She was smart, but terribly damaged psychologically. It wasn't a great time to be a Polish peasant woman - Anna had lost the man she loved to the war, she'd had an abortion in a back alley, she'd been beaten by a German soldier while she was at work, and she had recently turned to prostitution to pay her rent. Anna decided to jump off a bridge one night. When she was found and taken to a nearby hospital, someone told her (after seeing a magazine article about the Romanovs) that she resembled one of the duchesses. Anna didn't talk much and she had been there for several weeks when this article came out. She decided she liked the attention she was getting and told a nurse that she was, in fact, Anastasia.
For the rest of her life, Anna Anderson was visited and questioned by just about every living relative of the Romanov family. Some believed she was Anastasia, most did not. This book laid out every piece of evidence in favor and against Anna Anderson being Anastasia. It was fascinating! She had Nicholas's eyes, she acted like an educated, privileged woman, she could speak all the languages Anastasia could, etc. The poor Romanov family wanted to believe that someone had survived the massacre, so some of them were blind to all the evidence that Anna could not be Anastasia. My favorite reasoning of her supporters was that there was no way a Polish peasant woman could behave like a royal. Ha! Acting! It must have been exhausting to play a part for 60 years.
I enjoyed the book because it's still unbelievable that all of that even happened and the story itself is compelling. I didn't care for the construction of the book - it was repetitive and it didn't need to be. It really made me wonder if I would be taken in if one of my relatives came back from the grave. (Hey - did anyone else notice that there might be a similar situation at Downton Abbey on Sunday?! That badly injured guy asking Lord Grantham, "Don't you recognize me?")
Bossypants by Tina Fey
I just enjoy Tina Fey's humor so much. She is a kindred spirit... and possibly my doppelganger. (Bridget told me once that I look like Liz Lemon without the glasses.) This book is a series of essays from different points in Fey's life, mostly related to her work and how she became the boss she is now. I loved the chapter about her father. He is a strong person with integrity and he influenced Fey for good. That chapter made me cry a little bit even though it was funny. I also loved the last story she told about her Mom babysitting some sheltered Greek kids and how the boy (about 6 years-old) asked his sister (a 2 year-old in a playpen) in Greek, "What will become of us?!" That is funny funny funny to me.
Too many swears to recommend this one wholeheartedly. I sure like it, though. :)