Book Lovers Live Longer

The news was so hot, two friends called and another sent me the clipping of the article by Pulitzer winning writer Amy Ellis Nutt from the Washington Post – Scientists Say Book Lovers Live Longer Than Non-Readers.  Just reading books more than 3.5 hours a week – a half hour a day – can add to your life span.  Imagine what reading more in a day can do, but be careful to get up and move around now and then, since the Annals of Internal Medicine recently linked a sedentary lifestyle to early death.

Someone suggested listening to books on tape while walking, jogging, biking –  to cover all bases.  I could never give up the pleasure of turning the pages, or the convenience of a quick download of a best seller, but I am working on my Audible list.  Here are a few:

  • The Country Wife – starring Maggie Smith in a BBC dramatization
  • Say Something Happened by Alan Bennett
  • The Road Home: Stories of Lake Wobegon by Garrison Kellor
  • In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson


My favorite study, however, linked eating chocolate to good health and long life.




Steinbeck and Chocolate Covered Sausages

English: A Baby Ruth candy bar split in half. ...

Since one of my book clubs is meeting to dissect Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, I wondered what an appropriate sweet snack might be to motivate the discussion.

Ideas from the pages:

  • The Seer gets arrested when he escalates from stealing one Baby Ruth or Mounds candy bar to three from the Safeway;
  • Elegant Joe bakes a cake with marshmallow topping;
  • Doc sprinkles chocolate over sausages.

Took the easy way – Baby Ruths and Mounds but decided to play it safe and buy them.

Julia’s Chocolates

The cover of the book shows a wedding dress hanging in a tree, but the title, Julia’s Chocolates, seduced me with chocolate – the reason I bought the book five years ago.  It’s been sitting on my shelf, waiting; I could never dispose of a book that promises chocolate – but I’d forgotten about it until a friend told me she was about to read another of Cathy Lamb’s stories.

Although Lamb delivers the promised chocolate, it’s with an intense dose of abused women and the camaradarie of unconditional friendship.   Julia Bennett escapes from her rich boyfriend on the day they are to be married, leaving behind his demeaning remarks about her appearance, and with a black eye added to his other physical abuse.  She finds a haven at her Aunt Lydia’s egg farm, hiding out with the chickens and the pigs and the toilet bowl planters in the front yard – hoping her boyfriend will not find her to seek revenge.

Through the feisty Lydia’s weekly group meetings, Julia meets a few of the local women who have their own problems.  Although Julia’s abusive past threatens to ruin her present and future life, Lamb offers many sides to abuse (some not always so obvious) through the other women in the group:  Katie, who has her own housekeeping business and four children, and supports her drunken slob of a husband; Lara, who’s bored of being the pastor’s wife and secretly wants to be an artist; Caroline, who can see into the future, especially when something dire is about to happen.  Lydia picks weekly topics that are humorous as well as affirming, and becomes the catalyst that helps the young women assert themselves.  And, of course, there’s the chocolate – and a handsome lawyer who happens to have a weekend house nearby and becomes Julia’s new love interest.

Chocolate is Julia’s savior.  She eats and bakes with chocolate for therapy, and to promote good feelings in others.  Eventually, chocolate develops into a business that saves the town, as well as Julia – but not before the horrible boyfriend reappears and tries to exact his revenge.

Lamb wraps the story with everyone living happily ever after – with each woman finding her true self, after cleansing herself of negative male influences that have kept her from fulfilling her destiny.   The cover flap connects the story to The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood – a good comparison – women coming together to support each other through the miseries and having a good time and some fun as a distraction from reality. Lamb has published three books since this one – all with themes that include women:

  • The Last Time I Was Me ( a career woman – angry and making life changes)
  • Henry’s Sisters (caring for an ailing mother, a demented grandmother, and a brother who is mentally handicapped)
  • Such a Pretty Face (a woman whose life changes more than physically after bariatric surgery).

But, her latest, has the most appeal for me – The First Day of the Rest of My Life.

Looking forward to reading it, while eating some good chocolate.  

Post Easter Blues

No wonder it didn’t feel like Easter – no plastic grass sprinkled on the rug, no colored eggs hidden in the flower-pot – no chocolate bunny ears to steal.  Just too grown up with brunch at a restaurant and an afternoon walk to wear off the mimosa.

And no left over Easter baskets with squishy jelly beans or sticky marshmallow peeps. Maybe if I read a bunny book?

 Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.  So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”   “If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.  For you are my little bunny.”

But my mother isn’t here.  I need chocolate…

Read about the author – Margaret Chase Brown

Chocolate Wars

With history and heritage on her side, Deborah Cadbury, a relative in the famous chocolate empire,  offers the Cadbury family version of the history of chocolate. Written just as Kraft has made the famous independent Quaker family business one of their subsidiaries, Chocolate Wars offers not only historic perspective but also a plea for the future of Cadbury’s reputation.

The first few chapters go back to England, the Quaker tradition, the near failure of the business, and the ingenuity of the Cadbury brothers’ investment in the Dutch process that saved them from annihilation and made them competitive with the French and other well-established English companies.  Their creativity in using advertising and packaging of their “pure cocoa” –  against the Quaker tradition, as well as the conventional business practices of the day – added to establishing Cadbury as a name in chocolate.

The author begins her tale of subterfuge as far back as 1870 with Joseph Rowntree, a fellow Quaker , who “even as he was engaged in …espionage of {Cadbury} his Quaker competitors… {he was} suggest(ing) that they collaborate”  against foreign competition – Lindt, Tobler, Nestlé, who were inventing new ways to manufacture a better tasting chocolate, and Hershey and Ghirardelli who were in the American mix.  Rowntree and his successors, creator of the still popular Chocolate Crisp (known in the U.S. as KitKat), continue to reappear in the narrative as fortunes rise and fall.

Although sprinkled with the philanthropy and good deeds of the Cadbury family, as well as extensive explanations of their Quaker and business background, the book has a somewhat one-sided, but still fascinating appraisal of how the chocolate industry, flourished and became what it is today.  At the same time, Cadbury seems intent on exonerating any lingering blemishes on the family name that few would even know about without her book.

If the book had been written by Hershey or one of the other chocolate barons, most of the historic facts would be similar, but the political innuendos might be a little different.  It’s hard not to detect a note of jealousy for Hershey’s seemingly unchallenged success in America – until Frank Mars came along with the Milky Way.  The rivals became partners and Cadbury reveals the mystery behind M&M, named for Murrie (president of the Hershey Company) and Mars.

“The war (World War II) reshaped the chocolate business, randomly creating winners and losers depending on accidents of geography or birth.  One winner was Forrest Mars.”

Cadbury does not try to hide her contempt for Mars – “money was the new religion” – as she follows his attempted takeover of Hershey, which survived.  Her real target is the Kraft takeover of the Cadbury company in 2010.  After years of struggle and growth, the company was no longer a family-run Quaker business but in the business of making money for its shareholders, and Cadbury assures her readers that the chocolate business is on its way downhill.

“ A week after closing the deal, Kraft confirmed the closure of the famous Cadbury factory at Somerdale…four hundred jobs had to go…The danger is that people no longer see the reason for giving of their best…the opposite of what George Cadbury tried to achieve…”

Cadbury ends with a caution – smaller firms have disappeared into two giant corporations –Nestlé and Kraft, resulting in “excessive pay, bonuses, and pensions for those in the upper echelons…with a growing gap between rich and poor.”   And our greed for more and cheaper confections is leading to “ an obesity epidemic.”

Sour grapes or too much chocolate?  Chocolate Wars is an easy-to-read and somewhat biased documentary that offers an uneasy omen for small business.  Other than the revelations about the story behind a few of the names, the taste is bittersweet – more fun to ride through the Hershey chocolate factory or just enjoy the chocolate while you still can.

It is the season to eat some of those delicious Cadbury eggs.  My favorite is the Flake.