I read three books in January. None of them were difficult so it would seem that I could have managed to write about them and get them off my desk sooner. At the same time, they were, for the most part, non-fiction and I have a tougher time writing about non-fiction books than fiction. It must be something about the way my brain is wired. Facts are important and useful, but my focus is elsewhere.
The first book was The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean, which I found to a fascinating and entertaining read. Kean has a great talent for making difficult subjects clear and easy to understand. Of course the technique he uses, of combining the story of DNA with the stories of the scientists who study it and the lives of people who are affected by specific attributes of DNA, was gauranteed to attract me at least, loving stories as I do, especially as these stories illustrate ideas that challenge the way I think about the world. I have to say that it was a worthwhile book, fast and fun, but which has made a lasting impression.
Next up was Norm Robillard's Fast Track Digestion Heartburn which was recommended to me by a friend. Since this particular friend is strictly low-carb, almost to the point of fanatacism, and she knows that I manage my own heartburn issues by managing carb levels, (but not nearly as strictly) I assumed this book would be another text recommending the complete abandonment of carbohydrates in the diet.
I was pleased however, to learn that my assumptions were incorrect. Although Dr. Robillard does recommend a diet far lower in carbs than is common in the Standard American Diet (SAD), he does not advocate the elimination of all carbs. In fact he acknowledges that some low carb foods can contribute to heartburn, and acknowledges that certain carbohydrates, including some varieties of rice, do not contribute to intestinal distress. I found his arguments interesting and compelling.
There is a lot of science in this book including a thorough discussion of the different types of sugars and carbohydrates and the process of digestion with an analysis of why some foods are more digestable than others. There are also lots of diagrams of sugar molecules, monosaccharides and disaccharides, as well as a few more complex forms and I found this fascinating. It was like a trip back to my freshman year in college only this time I was more interested in these little figures because I now have a practical basis for relating them to my own life. Not being a scientist and not really having a particularly scientific way of looking at the world, perhaps my views are simplistic, although I must say that looking at these little monosaccharide drawings and noting the difference between fructose and all the other simple sugars really helped clarify the argument that fructose is not as readily absorbed by the body as other simple sugars, with all the attendant complications that may cause. This was an Aha! moment for me simply because I know I am fructose intolerant and this has been confirmed by hydrogen breath testing. I discovered this during the process of actually being diagnosed as celiac, although the people who ran my test felt very strongly that fructose intolerance was more common than most people realized. Anyway, this is just a roundabout way of saying that Dr. Robillard also recommends limiting high fructose fruits and foods.
For those who suffer from heartburn, or those who have family members who suffer from heartburn, I believe this is an interesting and informative book with compelling arguments. The book only concerns itself with digestive issues however, not general health, and is therefore limited to that part of the population (not small) who suffers from indigestion, heartburn, or any of their attendant symptoms. I am personally am not inclined to take heartburn medicines, except under duress and for very short term use, as I feel they simply mask symptoms but do nothing to solve the problem, so I am biased toward dietary changes as opposed to medications to solve digestive problems. It seems obvious to me that what we eat is the biggest contributing factor in digestive issues, and probably one of the biggest environmental factors in many other diseases of civilization. In this I agree with Dr. Robillard although my opinions are only anecdotal, based on my own exeriences.
I must note that I I pretty much ignored the last half of the book, which is a list of recipes and menus, and a breakdown of Dr. Robillard's formula determining the carbs, fiber, and fermentation potential of various foods. I have worked out a diet that works for me, but this is probably a good reference work to keep around, at least for now.
At last, after plowing through both of these books I got to a little fiction in the form of the short, but not so sweet, tale The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffeneggar which I found to be just wonderful if also somewhat disconcerting. In this brief story, a young woman, Lexi, has had a fight with her boyfriend and is out walking the streets of Chicago in the wee hours of the morning when she comes across a Winnebago which, she learns, is the night bookmobile and it contains everything she has read in her lifetime. She wishes to stay forever but as dawn breaks the bookmobile closes and she is forced to leave. She is bereft. Lexi becomes obsessed with finding the bookmobile again, and in the process she changes her life and her career, perhaps finding a path that is more suited to her temperament. But she cannot let go of the bookmobile and her dream of inhabiting it forever. This is a very short but very rewarding look at the joys of reading, the claims books make on us, the tension between the inner life and the life of the world and the danger of losing oneself completely in books as a refuge from life. Does this not sound likea book that would appeal to me? The Night Bookmobile definitely is my favorite book from January.
The Violinist's Thumb, image from bn.com.
Fast Track Digestion Heartburn image from fasttrackdigestion.com.
Image of The Night Bookmobile from amazon.com