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Two old, two related, one unrelated

I'm a bit behind in my book reviews, so I'll give the abbreviated version for two of the most recent and one that was finished, I don't know, four months ago?
First up, the oldest (though not the oldest date of publication) Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. This book has made such the rounds that it is even poked fun at in the book Stuff White People Like (Well, perhaps the book is not being made fun of, rather the middle and upper class, left-leaning Whites are the target). In short, Pollan follows corn and beef, the two items that Americans seem to eat the most of, through two (three, actually) food systems: conventional (or if you prefer, industrial) agriculture, what Pollan labels "Big" organic (essentially commercialized and idustrialized organic processes) and sustainable ag. He goes into great detail about corn, it's history, it's sex (yes, truly!) and what it's found in. He also follows a cow in the industrial system from pasture to feedlot. Suffice to say, many, many people have written about and read this book. What makes it stand out for me is the description he gives of Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in northern Virginia. There he shows how Salatin has partnered with nature to produce a healthy and (so they say) delicious product of beef, chicken, and turkey. That section (two or three chapters) is worth the price of the book alone.

Related and most recently finished is Matthew Dickerson's and Jonathan Evans' Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien. "Huh?" you shrug. Wasn't LOTR about good and evil, myth, and adventure. You are correct, sir (or ma'am), but within Tolkien's sprawling epic (the authors include The Hobbit and The Silmarillion and also some unrelated short stories) is an ethic for Creation. The authors focus specifically on three environments: the agriculture of the Hobbits, the horticulture of the elves, and the (neologism alert) feraculture of the ents. Dickerson and Evans assert that there are many lessons to be learned for us from this imaginary world. Think about the contrast of the Shire, before Frodo and Sam's departure with Sharkey's invasion of it after the fall of Isengard. Sharkey's vision is industrial and ugly, while the Hobbit's vision is one of preindustrial ag. with limited machinery. This could be seen as simplistic, but the author's show that even though Tolkien sided with the Hobbits (they were stand-ins for Englishmen, after all) they had their faults and shortcomings too.
This book is a fairly exhaustive exploration of how Tolkien's thoughts on creation stewardship--before any environmental movement--are strongly woven throughout his tale, and yet it never slips into propaganda--obviously, since so few have taken this tack with LOTR. I could say "You don't have to have read LOTR to enjoy this" but that would be false, but when you reread (and your should) LOTR you'll look at it with a different eye and perhaps wish to make some of the best of Middle-Earth occur on this earth.

Lastly, (the unrelated) is Wonderful Fool by one of my favorite authors Shusaku Endo.
This novel tells part of the story of Gaston Bonaparte (yes, he's a relative of Napoleon) who visits Japan (in the 1960s I believe) under mysterious circumstances. He's met by his pen pal Takamori and his proto-feminist sister Tomoe after he arrives in a freighter. Takamori and Tomoe aren't quite sure what to do with Gaston, he's big, tall, horse-faced and seems a bit simple. Gaston is also a bumbler and hasn't quite mastered Japanese. The brother and sister are annoyed with the foreigner's seemingly ignorant desires to visit non-touristy places, but after he leaves they find themselves caring for him, much to their chagrin. Gaston explores the underbelly of Japan--befriending prostitutes, fortune-tellers, and mangy dogs; Gas, as he comes to be called, involves himself in a murder plot of a vengeful brother.
Endo created a character who is both sympathetic and slightly maddening at times, not to the degree of Bjork in Dancer in the Dark, for the reader does not wish the death of Gas, unlike Bjork character. No, Endo has endowed Gas as a believable Christ-figure. And that, dear reader, is the point of the tale. This book is obscure, but if you can obtain a copy, I'm sure you'll enjoy the subtle humor and pathos.

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