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Haiku Humour: Wit and Folly in Japanese Poems and Prints  by Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto.

It’s probably worth pointing out that this book is called Haiku Humour and not, say, Hilarious Hakiu! or Side-Splitting Haiku. Humour in the context of haiku is more in the vein of smiling tenderly on the quirky and funny and beautiful things in life. And it’s lovely. Here are some of my favourites:

Very squarely
it sets its buttocks down
the pumpkin.
(Natsume Soseki, 1867-1916)

Overflowing with love
the cat as coquettish
as a courtesan
(Saimaro, 1656-1738)

Even the winner
of the argument
has a hard time sleeping.
(Gyukutoro, 1887-1953)

I don’t know enough about haiku to describe this as a significant, groundbreaking or insightful collection (you’re welcome), but it was great. It was interesting, fun and easy to read, and I find myself thinking in haiku from time to time, which is cool.

The Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan

Hooray more Michael Pollan! Hard on the closure of In Defence of Food, I opened The Botany of Desire and roared through it like wind across the desert. It’s great: it’s an investigation of the history of four plants that have a major role in human culture. Pollan explores each one through the lens of the impulse that drove humans to participate in the evolution of that plant. He looks at apples (pursuit of sweetness), potatoes (sustenance), tulips (beauty) and cannabis (intoxication). I could go into a lot of detail about why this book is so good: there’s the history of the potato and what it represents in terms of diversity and control in food production; the nature of intoxication in general, cannabis high in particular and a short history of criminalisation of same; the economic and cultural processes that frenzied around the tulip; and the history, myth and incredible adaptation of apples. But I might as well rewrite the book. It’s a really absorbing book, easy to read, clear and fascinating. The whole book is just completely awesomesaucepan.

Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer

This was a hard book to read: it doesn’t aim to be a shocking exposé of the meat industry, just a straightforward examination of where meat comes from. The revelations were shocking, really horrible, and not at all hyperbolic. I think this is important stuff: I know going meat-free isn’t for everyone, and that’s cool. But if you’re going to eat meat, to ask another living entity to die so that you can have bangers and mash, you should know what it is you’re asking of them. For me, the book was incredibly eye-opening in terms of examining the factory farming process. Most people still talk about meat production as if it’s field to abbatoir to plate; a few recognise that there’s an intermediary “feedlot” bit, but haven’t thought closely about what that is; even fewer realise the pasture or field stage is a complete myth. There are other issues — antibiotics, environmental impact, fishing, waste production — but for me the really harrowing stuff came from the discussion of behaviour in the slaughterhouses, feedlots and factories that kill, rear and chop up the animals. Foer doesn’t start out with a call to vegetarianism, but after all the facts he unearths and reviews, he shows how unjustifiable the factory farming industry is. Beautifully, he looks at the dilemma of reconciling culture, memory, family and tradition with the decision to reject factory farmed meat, a matter that’s sometimes treated as soft or unimportant in meat-eating discussions. It’s a good book: educating, thought-provoking and very, very important.

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