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Book City: What you eat is an act of belonging

Whidbey Island author Vicki Robin on living, eating and reading in community.
Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin lives on South Whidbey Island, where she’s been eating close to home for her new book “Blessing the Hands that Feed Us.” As co-author of the perennial best seller “Your Money or Your Life,” Robin was an early prophet of downsizing. She’s an amateur stand up comic and a world traveler, with a popular TED talk on “Rational Eating.”

Val Easton: What books are lying open on your nightstand right now?

Vicki Robin: It’s an eclectic assortment for sure. I’m in the midst of reading “Rebuilding Regional Foodsheds,” by Phillip Ackerman-Leist, because that’s the layer of social change I’m most interested in now.

“Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which combines personal narrative, natural history and indigenous wisdom; the plant world is fascinating.

I always say I want to be Barbara Kingsolver when I grow up. I’m reading “Flight Behavior,” and am in awe of her use of language, how she can take me from tenderness to absurdity in one sentence. We share a love of the natural world. I’m not sure which Dave Barry book I have open at the moment, but I’m a big fan. He cracks me up. If it can’t be Barbara Kingsolver, I’d choose Dave Barry.

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

“A Tale for a Time Being,” by Ruth Ozeki. She’s such a fine writer; it’s a layered story that reads like a mystery.

Any well-reviewed or popular books lately that you don’t think lived up to the hype?

I hate to say this, given my focus on local food and my near deification of Michael Pollan, but I couldn’t get past the first section in “Cooked.” I seemed to be reading the same scene of a pig roast over and over without much new or fascinating.

When did you and your co-author Joe Dominguez publish “Your Money or Your Life, and why do you think it’s still selling?

“Your Money or Your Life,” came out in 1992. I can’t tell you why it is a classic. We did give a voice to the absurdity of the money culture without making working stiffs wrong or bosses wrong or even bankers wrong. We just said, “Hey everyone, this is nuts. It’s a trap for everyone. Smart people (maybe you), here’s a way out.” We pointed to the obvious — we sell our lives for money, but money isn’t buying us a life we love.

Do you buy books? What does your personal book collection look like?

I buy books when I’m working on a project; books on sustainable economics, happiness, food, spiritual evolution. I have books I’ve collected over sixty years that hold memories, but should be sent to thrift stores because I’ll never read them again. And all the mysteries and novels I get from thrift stores to read on airplanes. I mostly get books from the library now, and download onto my Kindle.

What kinds of books do you seek out?

I love good narrative writing, be it fiction or non-fiction. I love writing that is lush with similes and metaphors in just the right measure to be almost a sensual experience, without getting in the way. I love language that wakes me up to see in a new way. I love elegant turns of phrase that the writer gives you — not to impress you with how great they are, but more like a taste treat…. Savor this…

Does living in a small community like Langley (South Whidbey Island) affect your reading and writing life?

I moved here to recover body and soul from cancer. My new book is all about living in the nourishment of this community. An island itself is a boundary that holds energy, lets it build. Be it friendships or shared experiences or collective work. My writing is all about this place, the island quality.


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