Ellen Heltzel: What to Read Now

Book Critic and Author, Ellen Heltzel, stopped by with some great ideas for what to read now.

Gardeners and foodies, take note! Here are three hot titles for summer reading:

1. "Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation," by Michael Pollan. Pollan is already well-known among gardeners and environmentalists for his books about nature's role in producing the food we eat and how it has been perverted by Big Ag. In this book he addresses the next phase in the food chain, home and hearth. He walks us through the three years he spent relearning how to cook and contemplates solutions to such issues as how we build togetherness (at the dinner table, of course) and how to beat obesity (by cooking from scratch). He emphasizes that everyone, not just women, has to get involved. Lots of tips for the beginning or seasoned cook, and a few recipes, in a book that repeats itself a bit too much.

2. "To Eat: A Country Life," by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. This gentle book, chronicle of two gardeners who created their own design firm and an internationally known garden in Vermont, is a gardener's delight. It gets down to specific, using each chapter to dwell on the pains and pleasures that go with growing a particular fruit or vegetable. Anyone who has ever been to a farmer's market can relish this reminder of how we produce luscious strawberries and crunchy veggies that don't taste like the container they came in. Recipes are sprinkled about.

3. "Big Brother: A Novel," by Lionel Shriver. Make a 180-degree turn from above. This satirical work of fiction written by the author of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (also a movie) features a woman who gives up everything in a desperate effort to save her brother from himself -- and his eating habits. When Edison comes to live with her, he is wearing so much weight that he breaks her husband's hand-crafted furniture. That's not his only problem, but it becomes the focus of her efforts to change him. In the process, Shriver holds up a mirror to the American obsession over food and weight and reminds us of the simple truth that you can't rescue someone unless they want to be rescued.

Now, on another topic.... two noteworthy books by Portland area authors:

4. "100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared," by Kim Stafford. Stafford, son of the late, great Oregon poet William Stafford, retraces the steps of his life with the brother who committed suicide in 1988. But this lovely memoir sweeps much wider, encompassing his whole family, and the silences that stood between individuals with such a heightened awareness of words. Not a straightforward narrative, it gains power as a rumination about family dynamics. A moving testament, not a tell-all.

5. "Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory," by R. Gregory Nokes. Nokes, a former editor at The Oregonian, has made Northwest history his bailiwick over the past decade. In this, his second book, he tells the story behind the only slavery case taken up by the Oregon courts. Arriving in Oregon in 1844, two slaves had been promised their freedom if they helped their owner develop his Willamette Valley farm. When he refused to honor the agreement, they went to court and won their case. For Nokes, their story is part of a larger picture showing how pro-slavery Oregon was in its early days, and how that shaped attitudes going forward.

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