Found after Wilder’s death, the final book in the Little House series covers the first four years of Laura’s marriage to Almanzo. Although the Wilders welcome their daughter, Rose, the first four years of their marriage are marked largely by death – the destruction of their farm, the struggle to make it as farmers, and the unexpected and unexplained death of their unnamed infant son. Almanzo promised Laura at the beginning of their marriage that he would leave farming if they were unsuccessful and Laura was unhappy and, by the book’s conclusion, Laura must decide if that is still the case.

Unlike the happy and golden (to borrow Wilder’s words) hue of the previous book, this book is much starker and matter of fact in its presentation of Almanzo and Laura’s life together. They had a baby. They lost their farm. They lost their second baby. The only time real emotion seeps onto the pages is when an older, childless couple offers to trade their best horse for the Wilders’ daughter, Rose, and the description of Laura giving birth is so convoluted that I can remember thinking she had a stomachache or appendicitis the first time I read the book as a child. The whole novel lacks the descriptive warmth of her previous novels and leaves the series with an unpolished, stark end.

Now that I’m older, however, I can understand why Wilder would have left this manuscript incomplete. I’m sure it was quite difficult to fictionalize the tragedies in her life, to reimagine them over and over again into words, especially when one particular tragedy in her life occurred with no explanation. The afterward also states that Wilder stopped writing after the death of her husband so she likely no longer wanted to continue to dwell on the sadder aspects of her life. I do wish the book had been more polished and longer (four years in 135 pages is so quick!), but I also appreciate that the readers at least know what happened between Laura and Almanzo after their marriage. I would have been left wondering otherwise.

Book Mentioned:

  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. The First Four Years. New York: Scholastic, 1971. 135 pgs. ISBN: 9780590488136. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Scholastic. Retrieved: June 15, 2013.


Borrowing | I’m borrowing the format I’ve seen Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness and Vasilly of 1330v to write my first Sunday Salon post in over a year and a half. Yikes! Has it really been that long?

Updating | After walking at graduation this past May, I planned to move home and finish my masters thesis in order to receive my degree in August. A week after moving home, I received a job offer, which I accepted, and am now going to spending the new four weeks looking for an apartment, finishing my thesis, and doing as much reading and hiking or biking with my family as I can.

Reading | I’m about a hundred pages into Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir, which is a biography of the mother of perhaps the most famous king in British history, Henry VIII. Weir is one of my favorite historians so I was so happy to spot this book on the shelf at the local library.

Planning | Next up, I’m planning to read Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner. I have a list of about ten books I’m hoping to read before I move in order to help further clear off my bookshelves and reduce the number of books I have to move.

Watching | In addition to watching season two of “Orange is the New Black” with my parents, I’ve been on an Audrey Hepburn film kick lately. I watched “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” yesterday after watching “Charade” and “Roman Holiday” back in May. I’m considering watching “How to Steal a Million” next weekend.

Blogging | I have nine reviews to write up. After not reading and reviewing books for months, I feel a bit out practice so rather than stumbling over my words, I’ve been reaching for the next book in my stack. I’ll get through the backlog eventually.

Avoiding | Although I passed my thesis defense, my reading committee gave me a long list of corrections and additions they wanted to see in my thesis. After weeks of going back and forth, I finally put my foot down and told them I don’t have time to chase variables that so far have not had any significance and greatly deviate from the original questions posed in my thesis. The back and forth has drained any enthusiasm I had for working on my paper.

Anticipating | I’m looking forward to apartment hunting at the end of the month and starting my new job in July! It’ll be hard to move away (again!) but I’ve always liked a good adventure and it’ll be nice to feel like a “real” adult soon.

The Sunday Salon:

The Sunday The Sunday Salon encourages bloggers to get together –at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones– every Sunday and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another’s blogs. Salon participants are encouraged to blog about their time spent reading, pages read, information about current reading, discuss a reaction to a book, state what they plan to read the following week, or make suggestions for a group read.

Photography © Me. Taken: June 5, 2013.

Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It all comes from processed food, which is heavily dependent upon salt, sugar, and fat to create texture, taste, and a “heavy users” base of customers.

Moss utilizes examples from some of the most recognizable and profitable food companies and brands of the last half century — Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun — to explain how the average American ended up here. Food scientists funded by both the United States government use cutting-edge technology to calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages or enhance the “mouthfeel” of fat by manipulating its chemical structure so processed food not only taste good but also leaves the eater wanting more.

Marketing campaigns are designed using techniques adapted from tobacco companies to redirect concerns about the health risks of their products: decrease one ingredient, increase the other two, and tout the new line as “fat-free” or “low-salt”. Ultimately, Moss shows that today’s “food” companies could never produce healthy alternatives to their products because the industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat.

Moss’ book is divided into three sections and not in the order the book cover would suggest — first sugar, then fat, followed by salt. The first book is quite easily the best; I gleamed the most information from this chapter. I’ve been told for years that I need to stop drinking soda, but it wasn’t until I read the chapters on Coca-Cola featuring a former executive that it began to sink in just how much I need to kick this addition to the curb. Coca-Cola’s formula is specially designed to sit right at the “bliss point”, a term used by the food industry to describe food that leaves eaters craving more, and the goal of the company is not to increase the number of people drinking soda but the number of sodas people drink. In other words, I’m never going to be able to kick this habit to the curb unless I go cold turkey because one twelve-ounce can is never going to satisfy me. I’m always going to want more. I do wish Moss had used a measure other than teaspoons; it’s hard to reconcile the five teaspoons women are allowed max with the grams reported on food nutrition labels.

The problem with fat, apparently, is cheese. As Americans have rushed to eliminate trans-fat and saturated fat and drink skim milk, dairy produces in the country has been left with millions of pounds of milk fat that they can nothing with other than make into cheese. Production of cheese used to take months but industrialization by the food industry means the process now takes a matter of days, and the abundance of fat on the market means cheese is a relatively cheap product to inset into foods. Hence the advent of stuffed crust pizza, three cheese pizza, etc. Plus, when consumers push for sugar-free or reduced sugar options, the food industry increases the amount of fat and sugar in products to maintain the same taste. Moss cites another book on the topic of fat that I’m curious to read now.

The final section, Salt, was the least informative of the three. I knew that the majority of salt in the American diet does not come from the salt shaker on the table, and there wasn’t anything particularly eyeopening like Coca-Cola and the bliss point in this section for me, which is disappointing because salt appears to be the most commonly used ingredient and the hardest to escape. Moss explains how even Corn Flakes produced by Kellogg’s have salt and without it tastes like metal with the texture of cardboard. Gross. And unlike sugar, babies are not born liking it but must be conditioned into eating it so how did we begin to crave it? Moss never really explains, and I’m hoping I can comb through his citations and find a book that focuses more in depth on salt.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Moss, Michael. Salt Sugar Fat. New York: Random House, 2013. Print. 446 pgs. ISBN: 9781400069804. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Random House. Retrieved: June 5, 2014.

Subtitled “German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields”, Lower accounts for the role of German women during the Third Reich, particularly those who traveled to occupied areas in the East (i.e. Poland, Ukraine, Austria) and served as midwives, teachers/re-educators, secretaries and typists, and concentration camp guards. Portrayed during the war by the Nazis as wives and mothers — the producers and molders of future generation of Germans loyal to the Nazi regime — and after the war as victims, Lower attempts to dismantle this portrayal by introducing readers to 13 women employed by the Third Reich who she presents as representative of the 500,000 young women Lower says she can place directly in the killing fields.

Are the group of secretaries picnicking near Riga, Latvia who smelled the stench of fresh mass graves and chose a different spot guilty of mass murder? Or, is the agricultural overseer’s wife in the town of Buczacz, Ukraine who “noticed that the water tasted strange and realized that Jewish corpses had polluted the groundwater” (pg. 86) but didn’t intercede? Or, to quote Lower:

“In Holocaust studies, one type of perpetrator, fashioned after Adolf Eichmann and others who organized deportations of Jews from Berlin headquarters, is the male bureaucratic killer, or desk murder. He commits genocide through giving or passing along written orders; thus his pen or typewriter keys become his weapon. This type of modern genocidaire assumes that the paper, like its administrator, remains clean and bloodless. The desk murderer does is official duty. He convinces himself as he orders the deaths of tens of thousands that he has remained decent, civilized, and even innocent of the crime. What about the women who staffed those offices, the female assistants whose agile fingers pressed the keys on the typewriters, and whose clean hands distributed the orders to kill?” (pg. 98-99)

Certainly, I am pleased someone finally addressed the misrepresentation of German women during this time as victims rather than perpetrators. But this is the not the robust analyst I needed to be with Lower largely asserting that because women were in vicinity of where atrocities occurred, they must have participated. To quote Lower, again, in an interview with the New York Times:

“While writing the book, my editor and I made certain decisions about how to present the material to a general audience — for example, I ended up cutting about 100 pages of historiographical analysis, extended footnotes and examples from the original manuscript, and inserted a list of main characters to help readers remember the basic profiles of the 13 featured women.”

Why cut your analysis or the footnotes supporting your theory? At many points in this book, it felt as though Lower had decided her assertion was correct and didn’t need to bother with finding the evidence to support such claims. Given her statement above, it could be possible the necessary footnotes, analysis, and examples were removed, but she and her editor did her book a great disservice in chasing a more general audience. It’s not up to par with other research books; it’s too confusing to be presented to a general audience.

Repeating information at every turn, Lower slips in anecdotal evidence to support her theories but never gives us a clear picture of who the 13 women she outlined at the beginning of the book were. The book is riddled with awkward transitions — again, possibly because whole paragraphs were deleted — and I found myself rereading passages in order to understand exactly what Lower was trying to say. What could have been a groundbreaking and powerful study turned out to be poorly executed forcing me to muddle through until the end in order to reach the footnotes that I had wrongly assumed would support Lower’s assertions.

Book Mentioned:

  • Lower, Wendy. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Print. 270 pgs. ISBN: 9780547863382. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Retrieved: June 2, 2014.

Subtitled “Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation”, Khalil provides his first-person insights into the 2011 Egyptian Revolution from his home base of Cairo where he serves as a journalist for an English-language paper in the country. Contrary to what was originally reported in the American news media, the revolution was more than a spontaneous uprising.

The problem was not just Hosni Mubarak but the way his reign turned Egypt into, according to Khalil, a country full of cynical people who believe nothing can change. But small events, particularly the murder of a young man who was seen as everyone’s son by the general public, helped contribute to years of mounting tension brought on by a state that shamelessly abused its authority rigging elections, silencing opposition, and violently attacking its citizens.

Introducing readers to these small events help to foster a better understanding of why the revolution occurred the way it did. Painting a bigger, clear picture of the country suddenly thrust into the spotlight in the American news media would certainly go a long way in helping readers understand the country Khalil is from and covers. In many ways, I felt like I was right there in Tahrir Square with Khalil as he interviewed the participants, as he was mobbed by pro-Mubark protestors.

I can appreciate this insight and wish it had been available as events were unfolding, but I can’t help think this isn’t a definitive account. It relies so much on seeing events as participant that the background as to how Mubark came into power, how he consolidated that power and created the Interior department that terrorized the Egyptian people is fairly glossed over. I found myself reaching the final page and wishing for a more detailed historical analysis, and I guess I will have to wait a few more years for that book to be published. This one, after all, was published in the same year as the revolution.

Book Mentioned:

  • Khalil, Ashraf. Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011. Print. 324 pgs. ISBN: 9781250006691. Source: Library.
Book Cover © St. Martin’s Press. Retrieved: May 31, 2014.
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