Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Jane Austen Education

As I have previously written, I am greatly appreciative of the works of Jane Austen.  So when reading reviews of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz I was intrigued.  I read it this weekend and could not put it down.  In a light, humorous, and self-effacing manner, Deresiewicz describes himself at the age of 26 embarking on a grad school program in literature.  Required to take a class on 19th century British Literature, he is appalled at the fact that he will be required to read a novel by Jane Austen, Emma.  His perception of Austen's novels were that they were light, fluffy stories about women and romance, more like "chick-lit," not serious "Literature."

By the end of the novel, Deresiewicz realizes that Austen is indeed a genius.  Her stories are in fact about so much more than the small-town gossip he had originally thought, and teach us about friendship, goodness, and the importance of everyday life.  Of Austen, writing Emma he says, "She understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts, and what fills our hearts should fill our novels."

Deresiewicz examines each novel, and explains what they taught him about his own life.  Honest about his own shortcomings, he is able to apply the lesson of the novels to help him see how he can change, moving from a sarcastic know-it-all to a good friend, and ultimately husband.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading his insights from the novels, and while I maybe don't get the same things from Austen that he did, I love hearing how others have been influenced by her work, and it was enjoyable seeing an old friend in a new light.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Wheat Belly

When I was in high school, back in the 70s, I wrote a speech on the efforts to end world hunger.  I cited the efforts of Norman Bourlaug, an agronomist who was working on creating a new strain of wheat that would be drought resistant, enabling it to be planted in areas of the world that were unable to grow other varieties of wheat, effectively solving hunger problems.  Bourlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, and became one of my heroes.

Now, according to William Davis MD, Bourlaug is also responsible for the nation's obesity epidemic.  In his soon-to-be published book, Wheat Belly, Davis maintains that the strain of wheat grown today contains so many genetic mutations due to hybridization that it bears little resemblance to the wheat of our grandparents' times.  Today's wheat, according to Davis, is responsible for many physical problems, including diabetes, obesity, celiac disease, and heart problems.  In addition, the chemical components of wheat are addictive and stimulate the appetite.  

The only solution to these problems is to completely eliminate wheat from one's diet.  Davis claims that his patients who have done this have reversed the effects of a lifetime of wheat consumption.  Davis provides a great deal of scientific explanation and includes references to the research on this topic.  Davis also discusses the current gluten-free food industry, and sees problems with its replacing wheat with corn, rice, and tapioca starch, stating that these foods can create as many problems as wheat.

Wheat Belly concludes with advice from Davis on how to replace wheat in your diet.  He advocates the consumption of meat, cheese,eggs and nuts, as well as natural artificial sweeteners, such as stevia or Splenda.  He also feels that without wheat's appetite stimulant, one will not feel as hungry without it.  The book concludes with recipes for such items as "Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge,"  and "Classic Cheesecake with Wheatless Crust."  I read the book as an advanced copy in epub format on my nook, and the recipes did not show up in a form conducive for actually trying them, but if I get a chance I'll try to translate them and maybe try one.

I'm not exactly sure if I totally agree with Davis, but his book is loaded with scientific research, and there may be something to what he says.  The only way to really find out is to try it, which I think I will probably have to do.  There were sections of the book that reminded me of David Kessler's The End of Overeating, which helped me lose 25 pounds, so I think I'll probably give it a go.  I'll let you know what happens.