Awhile back I read a book that made me realize that commerce doesn’t have to be about making money. It doesn’t have to be about profits or sales or annual reports or anything like that. Don’t get me wrong, those things are necessary to maintain a thriving business, but they’re not what’s really important. People are what’s important. I’ve always believed that, but until I read this book, I wasn’t sure if anyone else did, too.
The Lovemarks Effect by Kevin Roberts is the second book about Lovemarks. The first book, Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, was a smash hit. Most smash hits get rave reviews in the Times. Lovemarks got such enthusiastic feedback that author Kevin Roberts published a book, this book, dedicated entirely to how much people love his awesome idea.
I read this book thoroughly and glossed over the first. I like this one much better because it’s better written, better designed, and its interviews have a lot more impact.
But let’s get right to it. What the heck’s a Lovemark?
If you’ve ever read any of my posts about books, you can probably tell that I’m rarely a fan of contemporary fiction. I can’t help it; when compared to Shakespeare or Fitzgerald, many modern books seem to be little more than novelized movies. You know the type: The Devil Wears Prada was originally a crappy book but the movie was fabulous, and the same goes for Julie and Julia. They’re everywhere these days, so I am very pleased to say that The Elegance of the Hedgehog proved to me that there are still authors who respect and can expertly handle their chosen medium.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is written from two points of view and features three extremely intelligent characters. Renée, an aging concierge at a posh apartment complex in Paris, is a chronic recluse. She spends a lot of energy trying to hide her intelligence and fool the residents into believing she is a low-class, idiot concierge, like she believes they expect. She rarely interacts with anyone as her true self. Paloma is a young girl who, in only 12 short years, has decided there is nothing in life worth living for. Paloma, who lives in the apartments, is disgusted and appalled by the behavior of the upper class, and, like Renée, spends most of her time alone. The story is told through alternating journal entries written by Renée and Paloma, and the two characters seem to hardly have noticed each other until an elderly Japanese man named Kakuro moves into one of the apartments. Kakuro is elegant and intriguing and he sees both Renée and Paloma for who they are. Paloma is grateful for his insight, but Renée is frightened, and it takes the encouragement of both Kakuro and Paloma to help her from her shell.
The beginning of the novel has very little plot, but I enjoyed it. Barbery expertly constructed the novel so the reader continually makes discoveries about the characters and life along with Renée and Paloma. At the end of the novel, I was surprised to find out how emotionally attached I was to the characters. Throughout the discussion of tea, Anna Karenina, and camelias, Barbery quietly tied my sentiments to her leading ladies and I found myself cheering and begging with Renée when she is trying to muster the nerve to see Kakuro and jeering with Paloma at her older sister. And although Barbery does and excellent job of interweaving the lives of her characters, I especially appreciated how each character comes away with their own unique lessons learned in the end of the book. Barbery shows that there are many ways to comprehend meaning behind one event, equally important meanings that are often overlooked.
If you haven’t read this book, you should. I managed to read it at the very end of a college semester, sneaking chapters in between finals and after studying at nights. It’s a wonderfully penned book and a life-changing event.
A few days ago a friend asked me if I counted calories, because she was considering it and wanted my opinion. I promptly recommended she read this book.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto is direct, informative, and entertaining, true to Pollan form. Just as I predicted, I loved it. I’ve already recommended it to four others besides my contemplating-calorie-counting friend.
Pollan leads the reader through nutritionism and the Western diet and both of their histories (which often overlap). He discusses the consequences of both (and the influence of food marketing), including, but not limited to, heart disease, weight gain, and teeth that don’t last.
After reading this book, both my mom and I have gotten in the habit of labeling processed foods “foodlike substances.” It’s almost become a game with us. Food or “foodlike substance”? Wonderful supermarket entertainment. Thank you, Michael Pollan, for finally coining a great phrase to simply define packaged, processed junk.
Perhaps the biggest surprise which awaited me in this book was Pollan’s take on nutritionism. When I first read what Pollan has to say about nutritionism, I nearly put the book down. I, like so many others, had grown accustomed to nutritionism dictating what we eat. It is science, after all, and our generation is so used to allowing scientists the final say. However, Pollan once again uses common sense to hit me in the face. I now strive to avoid anything that lists its carbohydrate count. This book helped me realize there is so much we don’t know about food — nature still baffles us. Nutrition science is useful for interpreting food, but as Pollan makes abundantly clear, it is a terrible way to eat.
As Pollan suggests in his introductory chapter, this book is an excellent companion to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, however, it is possible to enjoy this book on its own, and for some I would probably recommend it. Defense is more accessible than Dilemma because it deals more directly with the averse affects of the Western diet on individuals rather than the broad-spectrum, global take Dilemma has. I would say Dilemma is for the very serious, eco-savvy foodie and Defense is more a very informative diet book, a must-read for anyone who plans to eat anything in contemporary society.
Perhaps what I like most about this book is Pollan’s opening line: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Concise, direct, simplified. Doesn’t get any better than that.
At the beginning of the summer I compiled a list of books I wanted to read, and although Judy Blume’s Wifey was number two, it was the one I got my hands on first.
I hate to say it, but Wifey was a disappointment. For me, the plot was lacking. (Spoiler alert!!) The woman realizes she’s bored with life, has men throwing themselves at her (so of course, she sleeps with them), is slapped in the face by the love of her life and, in the last few pages, realizes she didn’t have it all that bad to begin with. The whole conflict seems to be solely that the protagonist, Sandy, was being rather whiney and reacting to her aging marriage in an immature way. The profound realization that her husband really and truly does love her was lost on me because it happened so quickly I had to reread it to make sure that’s really what happened.
It was just kind of bland. Maybe I am biased — the novel received high praise in the book I mentioned in my prior post, which, in retrospect, makes sense. Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume is a collection of essays praising JB herself so I should have done myself a favor and taken its praise with a grain of salt before picking up Wifey. Maybe if I hadn’t had such high expectations I would have enjoyed the novel more. If nothing else, it was well-written, making it an easy summer read and poolside companion.