A Novel I Really Loved: Adam Johnson’s ‘Parasites Like Us’

2014 09 21 parasites

At the airport on my way to a recent beach getaway I picked up a copy of Adam Johnson‘s “Parasites Like Us.”

It is a remarkably good novel.

Though the book was published ten years ago, I hadn’t heard of it. (Johnson’s 2012 novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. “Parasites Like Us” is his debut novel.)

It tells the story of an eccentric anthropology professor, his similarly wacky students, and an apocalyptic scenario. (Previous post about apocalypic scenarios is here.)

But the book’s mostly about relationships, love, the passage of time, and what, if anything, we can learn from those who inhabited the earth 10,000 years ago, at the dawn of civilization.

The writing is evocative. The characters are vivid. And it’s extremely funny. I found the passages describing the landscape — the story takes place in South Dakota — especially moving.

For more, here’s the New York Times‘s review. Some reviews I’ve read are critical of certain elements of the book. But I loved it.

There’s No E-Book Version of Nicholas Negroponte’s ‘Being Digital’?

Being digital no ebook

More later on this topic, perhaps, but I wanted to post this for now.

Is there truly no e-book version of Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 book Being Digital?

What’s wrong with this picture?

The text I’ve circled in the image above is Amazon’s standard “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle.”*

Is this situation ironic? (It would seem so. It depends on your perspective on technology and traditional media, I suppose.)

Is it telling? (Perhaps.)

*My initial searching reveals there isn’t an e-book version available elsewhere, via any other retailers.

Off Topic: An Excellent Book about Nutrition

2012 08 10 why calories count

I’m read several books, over the years, about food and nutrition. I’ve tackled Gary Taubes’s popular books “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why We Get Fat,” as well as “In Defense of Food”, the hit book by Michael Pollan.

I’ve also done some reading on “paleo nutrition,” which is popular in Crossfit circles.

Perhaps the most compelling nutrition book I’ve read so far, though, is one I recently completed called “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.”

Written by the nutrition scholars Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim, the book is — as you would expect — rooted in science and references hard data. And that approach appeals to me.

The book focuses on topics like the scientific history of our understanding of calories; how our bodies use calories; how calories are measured; how our metabolism works; what happens when we consume too few and too many calories; and — perhaps most interesting — the modern food environment and public policies surrounding food.

Here are some of the points that stood out for me:

  1. The authors say that when it comes to gaining or losing weight, the quantity of what you eat is generally more important than the macronutrients in your food. As the title says, calories do count. So while diets that restrict carbohydrates — the kind of diet that seems to be especially popular now (see this earlier post) — work well for some people, science dictates that when you restrict calories, you lose weight. Generally, it doesn’t matter if you cut back on carbs, fat, or protein — it’s the overall calories that have been shown to matter. (Of course, long-term strategies for weight maintenance are a different story.)
  2. The human body has a tremendous capacity to deal with severely restricted calories, but we are horrible at dealing with calories in great excess. Once you’re obese, your metabolism actually fights to keep you overweight.
  3. Our physical surroundings matter: The authors talk about the U.S.’s “eat-more” environment, with its prevalent advertisements for calorically dense food. This seems to contribute to overeating, especially among children.
  4. Body weight is thought to be about 60 to 70 percent genetically determined.
  5. Many people over-emphasize the importance of exercise in weight loss. The best way to lose weight, or to maintain a healthy weight, is not to overeat. Yes, exercise is important because it keeps our bodies functioning optimally, and it provides psychological benefits. But to maintain your weight, just as we’ve heard through the years, its best to consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, etc. Yes: this is common sense.
  6. Interestingly, one reason, the authors say, that weight loss strategies in the U.S. so often focus heavily on exercise — think about the workout scenes in “The Biggest Loser” — is that exercise doesn’t threaten the food industry or policymakers. If you tell people to eat less, then the question becomes: Eat less of what? And that raises problems for, say, companies that derive their revenues from packaged food products. (As the saying goes, you can only squeeze so much profit out of broccoli.)

7 Books

2012 04 27 books
Some books and long-form works I’ve downloaded, bought in physical form, am reading, or have recently finished:

  1. The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, by David Goldblatt
  2. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, by Max Hastings
  3. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande
  4. The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better, by Tyler Cowen
  5. The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, by Diana B. Henriques
  6. Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World’s Most Popular Sport, by Simon Kuper
  7. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

(Cartoon via.)