Welcome to Reading Things, a quarterly newsletter from the Thingelstad Family, sharing thoughts on and about books! Thank you for reading with us! 📚
In this issue: This Is Your Mind on Plants, Calvin and Hobbes, Locally Laid, Ghost, Evicted, The Honey Bus, and Nature & Walking.
Hey peeps! Happy fall! Did you know that leaves are yellow and orange colored year round, but these colors only have a chance to shine when they're overpowering green chlorophyll fades in autumn? Also, when leaves fall, they die, and when leaves die, they release gases into the air, creating that distinct fall scent that we all love! However, some trees stay green throughout the winter because their needles are covered in wax and anti-freezers! There are more babies born in September than any other month, and babies born in the fall are generally more active and have a higher chance of living to 100! The ancient Greeks explained fall by saying that the goddess of fertility and harvest was so upset by her daughter that she allowed all the plants and crops to wither until the spring!
Halloween itself was sparked by a Pagan tradition, called “All Hallows Eve,” in which people wore sheets over their heads to hide from bad spirits that came out during the transition from summer to winter. But don’t worry, for all the scaredy-cats out there, a few freaky halloween scares can actually improve heart health! It might surprise you that Americans buy enough candy every Halloween to fill six Titanic's! Peculiarly, pumpkins are technically fruits and every part of the pumpkin — even the stem — is edible! The world’s largest pumpkin weighed over 2,600 pounds and the largest pumpkin pie ever made weighed 3,699 pounds! The Irish actually created the first Jack O’ Lanterns, which were made out of turnips and potatoes!
Wow, that was a lot of facts, but hopefully you can use them to fully embrace these cool days before winter arrives! Hold up, I think I forgot one little thing…
Did you know you’re reading THE FALL EDITION OF READING THINGS 2021?!?!?!?! Make sure to enjoy fall, but especially these over-the-top books!!!! — Mazie
When we are traveling we tend to find ourselves in local bookstores and I always find it fun to walk around the stacks.
Fair Trade Books in Red Wing, MN.
Michael Pollan (2021), 288 pages.
This book is the followup to How to Change Your Mind which I thought was a very interesting book about psychedelics. In many ways, this book reminded me of reading In Defense of Food after I had read The Omnivore's Dilemma. As a stand-alone book I don't think either Mind on Plants or Defense of Food would do that well, but if you read the more significant books that preceded them they are reasonable encores.
Mind on Plants was very crisply divided into three sections, almost three separate books really.
The first section was on opium and poppies. Aside from the introduction and end of this section, it was actually written in the mid 1990's. In 1997 Pollan published Opium, Made Easy in Harpers Magazine. He tells the story about writing this and the risks potentially involved. This was the height of the War on Drugs and merely describing the process of making opium could potentially get you arrested. Pollan makes a big deal about the legal matters, which interestingly the publisher of Harpers disagrees with, but I'll leave the bickering aside. Mostly this section is interesting because of how simple it is to grow poppies, and how accessible small amounts of opium really can be.
The second section is all about caffeine. Being an avid coffee drinker and plenty geeky myself, I've read a lot on caffeine and how it affects people. I wouldn't say that I learned anything specifically new in this section, but I did find the process that Pollan went through interesting. In all of his books, he directly experiments with the subject at hand. Well, how do you do that when you are a regular coffee drinker and thus a regular caffeine user? This was the part that I found a bit of an aha. In reality, for those of us that have caffeine daily, the person that we identify as ourselves is actually a drug induced state. Just think on that for a moment. As Pollan got off of caffeine, he specifically "didn’t feel like himself." That isn't ground breaking by any means, but it does speak to how highly integrated caffeine is in our culture. He goes on to suggest that caffeine aided the rise of capitalism and that it is the only drug that employers, in the form of free coffee, give to their employees.
The final section was about mescaline and this was the one that I found the most interesting. I learned a lot about the relationship between peyote and native tribes. There is an intense set of spiritual practices around peyote, and it can only be done with natural grown cactus. There are other sources of peyote, notably the San Pedro cactus. So there is an entire section here just about the sourcing of peyote and mescaline that was interesting. The other aspect of mescaline that sounded interesting was how it is very different from psilocybin. Mescaline does not cause hallucinations, it doesn't take you to other worlds. It instead amplifies the world you are in, and in fact grounds your connection even further. It is described as turning the volume knob up on the world around you.
Overall an interesting read, but I would only recommend it if you have already read How to Change Your Mind and would just like a little bit more. — Jamie
Bill Watterson (2012), 1,456 pages.
Tyler has read through every volume of this Calvin and Hobbes collection multiple times, but it wasn't until he decided to write about it that it dawned on me that daily comic strips in a newspaper were completely foreign to him. Like why are some of the comics in color, but most are not? — Jamie
Calvin and Hobbes is a great 4 book series full of laughter, adventure, and much more. Each book is a bit over 300 pages long but pretty simple to read because it is comic strips. I would recommend this book for kids 8+. Calvin and Hobbes is about a boy named Calvin who has a stuffed animal tiger but the whole series he pretends that the tiger is real. He has all these scenes where he is either doing homework, talking about life, or when he is eating food. Another cool thing is most of the cartoon strips are black and white with some in color. The author does a great job capturing Calvin with the tiger being fake so you know the tiger is fake but then him and the tiger have so much fun and do so much you feel like the tiger is real. I would give this book a 4.6 out of 5 since it is so funny and cool. — Tyler
Lucie Amundsen (2017), 336 pages.
I came across this book by accident. I happened to be at Barnes and Noble as part of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Day’ (a day where all of the cousins select an activity and my sisters and I drive them around to complete all of the activities in one action-packed day) and I was browsing the ‘buy one, get one 50% off’ table and came across this book. I know the Locally Laid egg brand as I see it each time I go to the grocery store and a friend of mine is very fond of their brand, so I thought why not buy the book.
I love a non-fiction book where you learn about something you are interested in, but through story and not through the (to me) more boring prose of educational writing. The woman behind the man that started Locally Laid wrote the book and I really enjoyed it. The book details the years that she and her husband worked to get Locally Laid up and off of the ground. She seems like someone I would like to know. She’s funny, irreverent and brutally honest about the hard work, financial insecurity and reasonably unpleasant life of farmer or chicken in modern day America. These chickens have it good compared to most laying hens, but it’s still a rough life.
I think I had romanticized the eggs that I buy, thinking of chickens frolicking in open pasture and bedding down at night in a cute little egg trailer. I’ve purchased local, “free range” eggs for as long as I can remember, but reading about the real nitty gritty took some of the veneer off of my vision of harmless consumer. And reading about how hard it is to make a living being a medium size egg producer made me appreciate the people that do it even more than I already did.
Locally Laid is a company from Northern Minnesota and as a Minnesotan myself, I also enjoyed that aspect of the book. It’s fun when you recognize the places and things being talked about in a book. It’s fun when you get to learn more about your own backyard. I throughly enjoyed this book! — Tammy
Jason Reynolds (2017), 208 pages.
I read Ghost in four days. Yeah, it was that good. It’s one of those go-to books that you instantly pick up in your every free moment. Ghost is uplifting, entertaining, and always appealing to read. It will have you rooting for Ghost (yeah, the book is named after him) the whole way through.
This is the first of four books in the Track series, which I first heard my mom mention this summer and then saw in a bookstore (the world’s largest bookstore, actually) a few days later. When I heard it was about running, I was immediately interested because I used to run cross country (and despised it, but whatever...) and wanted to experience such a thing through the form of words. It instantly called to me in the store, it’s mango spine a radiant gem in the dull sea of the rest of the books. I knew that I had to buy it and when I cracked it open later that day, I knew I had made the right choice. Ghost is just that character. Inviting. Friendly, even though he doesn’t act it. You read the first sentence and feel like you’ve known him forever. You understand his situation and you feel invested in his future. You’re told one fact about him and suddenly could explain his every dimension. This is really what makes the story so compelling- the fact that you’re not just reading about a kid named Ghost, you’re reading about an old friend. This is a comeback story, a feel-good tale of how an unlucky, unmotivated kid stumbles across this thing called running, and it ends up changing his life. And the great thing is, you can keep reading forever because there is a whole series!
Each book focuses in on a different “newbie” from the track team Ghost discovers in the first book. I’m currently on the second book, and am loving Patina as much as I did Ghost. These are truly great books that anyone would enjoy, but even third or fourth grade kids would be able to read. Seriously, the next time you need a book, Ghost is the one. I promise! 😊 — Mazie
Matthew Desmond (2016), 448 pages.
This is a powerful book that follows eight families in Milwaukee and shares so many of the dimensions around eviction which is always paired with poverty, drugs, and unstable lives. I liked how Desmond approached telling the stories here. He got close to the people and didn’t paint anyone as victims or villains. As is always the case, the world is much more complicated than that. The book is also peppered with further statistical data so you do get a solid grounding in the data, but you don't lose sight of the fact that this is all about people and the unfortunate situations they find themselves in.
He does end the book with a section suggesting action that could be taken to reduce the amount of evictions. I did leave the book feeling that this is a problem that needs more attention than it gets. I kept imagining the feeling of losing your housing, being evicted by the sherrif, with your children there and them not knowing where they will sleep tonight or what school they will go to. With no ability to plant roots, it has to be exceptionally hard to grow anything resembling a family. — Jamie
Meredith May (2019), 336 pages.
I grew up in the honey business. My dad and his brother owned Mel-O Honey which they took over from their father when he retired. They sold the business when they retired as no one in the family was interested in taking over. I used to work at Mel-O Honey both on the ‘line’ and in the office when I was a teenager and throughout college. One of my cousins was the state and national honey queen. One of my sisters was also the state and national honey queen. Another cousin keeps bees and has a honey extracting facility. My national honey queen sister keeps bees. Growing up I never liked honey and didn’t have much interest in it as a result. I was fine working at Mel-O Honey when they needed me as it produced a paycheck and as a little kid I loved going to the ‘plant’ to play on the conveyer belts and drive the lift trucks, but despite being surrounded by bees and honey, I’ve never really known a thing about them or cared to. It’s only in the last few years as hobby beekeeping has gained in popularity and as I’ve watched my sister with her hives, that I’ve developed any interest in knowing more. After reading Locally Laid, I thought to myself, I would love to read a book like that except about beekeeping. We were on a trip in Vermont at the time and we wandered into a little bookstore and what do you know, one of the employees of the store had written up the Honey Bus as one of their book recommendations and I had my wish granted.
The Honey Bus is a memoir of Meredith’s troubled childhood as her parents divorce and she, her brother and mother move across country to California to live with her grandparents. Her mother recedes from life as she’s very depressed and her grandmother is more concerned about her daughter than her grandkids. But her grandpa is loving and kind and has a bus that he’s converted into a honey factory. It’s whacky and cool and so is he. He keeps bees all over the Caramel Valley and he teaches Meredith about life while teaching her about the bees. It’s another book in my sweet spot of story mixed with learning. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Locally Laid, but I really liked it. If you are interested in learning more about bees, I’d recommend it as a fun place to start. — Tammy
This is the first book I've read of either Emerson or Thoreau. Technically I guess these are essays. Either way, my first conclusion from reading these is that I am not well prepared to read this type of writing. If I picked up a book of Shakespeare, it would take me serious mental effort to follow it. I felt similar with this. I started with Nature from Emerson and I found myself reading the words, and they would just go in and out and after I had read several paragraphs I would stop and realize I had no idea what I had just read.
I called an audible and ditched Nature halfway through and jumped to Walking by Emerson. For no reason I can identify Emerson resonated more with me. I found the prose more approachable, and the ideas hit me harder. In fact, two called out strongly to me.
We are accustomed to say in New England that few and fewer pigeons visit us every year. Our forests furnish no mast for them. So, it would seem, few and fewer thoughts visit each growing man from year to year, for the grove in our minds is laid waste, — sold to feed unnecessary fires of ambition, or sent to mill, and there is scarcely a twig left for them to perch on.
I read the above several times, and still find it lovely. The metaphor is beautiful and the meaning is important. The book ended with a beautiful turn of phrase.
So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.
The mental picture here is so strong. I've seen that fall light laying low on the horizon and the yellow and orange of trees popping as the light hits them like a spotlight. When I see this it just stops me in my tracks.
After finishing with Thoreau I decided to go back to Emerson. On a second read, and perhaps being acclimated to the prose, I found it much more enjoyable and interesting. However, I think I need to give it another read, or two, before I really would feel like I had read it. — Jamie
Inquiring Minds Bookstore in New Paltz, NY.
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