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Reader Writer Runner (Victoria, BC)

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The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life
The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life
by Alex Bellos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.65
5 used & new from CDN$ 11.20

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 2 2014
Warning: the perfection of a circle can cause chills of excitement. Exponents have the power (pun intended) to blow your mind. Understanding calculus beats laughing at a great joke. Not convinced? Then ignore its groan-inducing title and pick up "The Grapes of Math," a fascinating, first-rate survey of the world of mathematics.

British mathematician and philosopher Alex Bellos argues not only that doing math results in aesthetic delight but also that math explains the workings of our entire world. He opens with chapters that explain our deep-seated feelings about numbers: why everyone chooses seven as a favourite, why one represents the masculine "yang" and two the feminine "yin." He then intriguingly discusses Benford's law: the abundance of numbers beginning with one or two and the paucity of higher initial digits in newspaper stories, populations, stock prices etc.

Moving on to geometry, algebra, calculus, the laws of logic and the nature of proofs, Bellos always shows how an esoteric discovery has practical applications. For example, the S segment of a curve, called the clothoid, serves as the transition path used by trains when moving from a straight to a circular path in order to avoid jolting passengers. Certainly, the mathematical principles can grow too complex for the non-expert; in these cases, Bellos advises skipping to the beginning of the next chapter, where he always starts with a clean slate and elementary concepts. In this way, the author guides readers through such marvels as pi and the exponential constant e, noting how often mathematicians deplored new concepts like imaginary numbers and infinity.

Aside from providing a great read for the intellectually curious, the book provides charming sketches of notables like the genius Leonhard Euler, the dysfunctional Bernoullis and the bitter rivals Leibniz and Newton who feuded over who invented calculus. Overall a fantastic book to stretch the brain and have fun doing so.

My Big Truck Book
My Big Truck Book
by Ticktock
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 10.99
29 used & new from CDN$ 3.56

4.0 out of 5 stars Story Time Again..., July 29 2014
This review is from: My Big Truck Book (Hardcover)
The always-impressive TickTock non-fiction books cover a diverse range of subjects from fast cars to fleet of foot animals. Here, "My Big Truck Book" features whopping, diesel-chugging trucks, construction cranes and roaring emergency vehicles.

This nicely presented, well-made book will please boys and girls who like their vehicles on the large side. The glossy photo spreads include facts about each vehicle class; both children and adults will discover, for example that construction workers use dynamite to free up all the dried-on concrete inside the mixing bay of a cement mixer.

If you and your kids find it exciting that monster trucks go through four or more engine changes a year, check this book out.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
by Brian Wansink Ph.D.
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.99
13 used & new from CDN$ 7.53

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 29 2014
Stanford-educated director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab Dr. Brian Wansink knows food. Moreover, he knows the psychology of food: why we eat what we eat and why what we eat sometimes seems out of our control. In his amazing, entertaining and often scary book, Wansink navigates through some of the 200 food choices we make each day and illuminates the ease with which we mindlessly consume extra calories.

"Mindless Eating" shares the results of many fascinating modern food experiments: people will eat more popcorn, even if it’s stale and tasteless, when they receive it in larger buckets; people think wine tastes better when it boasts a fancier label or comes ostensibly from California as opposed to North Dakota; that, in pitch darkness, people eating chocolate-flavoured yogurt can be tricked into thinking it tastes like strawberry, and that people will eat fewer candies when they have to walk to the dish compared to when the dish sits within easy reach.

Taking these results outside the laboratory, Wansink can help a person "mindlessly" lose about 20 lbs per year. The key lies in eliminating the 100-200 calories a day that he calls the "mindless margin." How? Use smaller plates and tall, skinny glasses. Put all food on a plate instead of eating out of a box or bowl. Put junk foods somewhere inconvenient. Eat slowly and don’t multitask while you’re eating.

Even those convinced they know better can fall victim to mindless eating. Wansink finishes his book with a simple plan anyone can use to lose weight mindlessly as well as a description of the most common mindless eating patterns. This wise and interesting book proves that "the best diet is the one you don't know you're on."

Storied Life Of A J Fikry,The
Storied Life Of A J Fikry,The
by Gabrielle Zevin
Edition: Hardcover
7 used & new from CDN$ 14.98

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 29 2014
To say the least, thirty-nine-year-old A.J. Fikry's life has turned out unexpectedly. He never meant to become proprietor of Island Books, the only bookstore on tiny Alice Island in New England. He never prepared to fight to keep the store afloat as the book industry and the economy conspired against him. He never foresaw his copy of "Tamerlane," the first poetry collection by Edgar Allen Poe and one of the rarest, most valuable books in American literature, disappearing from his kitchen. He never planned for life without his wife, who, two months pregnant, died in a car accident. And he certainly never dreamed that a two-year-old would show up on his doorstep accompanied by a note reading, “I love her very much, but I can no longer take care of her.”

The plot of "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" sounds like a trite, cliché-filled and predictable bore: surly, isolated bookseller begins the book acting rude towards his staff, the locals, his former sister-in-law, and anyone else who dares even approach him, including Amelia, the new sales rep for Knightley Press. Foundling child steals his heart and changes both his personality and his life for the better. Romance blossoms and everyone lives happily ever after.

But L.A. based writer, Gabrielle Zevin (better known as a young adult writer), navigates skilfully through treacherous terrain, overturning expectations and avoiding both the “single man struggling humourously with childcare” and “adoption hassles with faceless bureaucracy” tropes. She focuses on the power of life to surprise and on the power of change to provide light in the barest of moments. Less than 300 pages but spanning more than a decade, the story chronicles the idiosyncrasies of small-town life while exploring the depths of grief, yearning and heartbreak. Yes, the hackneyed love story makes an appearance, but Zevin handles it with refreshing sensitivity and genuine clarity.

Perhaps most importantly, "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" is about books. It proves that books and stories can become part of our lives, that we can find ourselves within what we read, that we carry books with us as talismans. Free of metatextualism and philosophical digressions, this book will appeal to anyone who loves books, to anyone who can recognize the power of a well-told story.

by Mark Sakamoto
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
9 used & new from CDN$ 12.30

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 24 2014
This review is from: Forgiveness (Hardcover)
3.5 stars...

An old soldier survives the brutality of a Japanese POW camp after the fall of Hong Kong. The Japanese roots of a young Canadian bride force her from her B.C. home. An author deals with his mother's descent into alcoholism and poverty while drawing strength and the power to forgive from his grandparents. Though seemingly disparate stories, all three morph into one in Torontonian Mark Sakamoto's "Forgiveness." A moving, harrowing and engaging book, it began as an essay and unfortunately reads like a hybrid, never totalling more than its parts.

In the first section, Sakamoto's grandfather, Ralph McLean, receives quick and ineffective training from the Canadian army before being sent to defend the indefensible Hong Kong. Through powerful writing, Sakamoto details the savagery shown by the Japanese post-takeover and describes the slow death that many faced by starvation and horrendous working/living conditions. The second story tells of Sakamoto's grandmother, Mitsue, a young dressmaker and Canadian citizen. Citizen or not, fear, racism and jealousy see her and her family interned to Alberta to work in the sugar beet fields.

Finally, Sakamoto recounts his own childhood in Medicine Hat and lovingly relates his grandparents' acceptance and love for each other. However, the bridges built by his grandparents read in awkward contrast to his own attempt to forgive his mother for paving her ultimately self-destructive path.

Sakamoto has penned a powerful memoir, which comes without preaching, warning or lesson teaching. He shows that victory lies in moving on, in refusing to be defined by injurious years and in living life in the present.

Do Less: A Minimalist Guide to a Simplified, Organized, and Happy Life
Do Less: A Minimalist Guide to a Simplified, Organized, and Happy Life
Price: CDN$ 9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 22 2014
Popular blog writer (The Minimalist Mom) and minimalist expert Rachel Jonat has released a practical, helpful guide to tossing the giant do-list in favour of a more streamlined approach to life. "Do Less: A Minimalist Guide to a Simplified, Happy, and Organized Life" includes sections on organizing the home, money management, daily routines and social commitments. With its clear and organized layout, readers can either skip to the parts of greatest interest or read right through.

Several of Jonat's suggestions will doubtlessly inspire most readers to reduce mental and physical clutter: do a major purge of children's old clothing and toys, create a rotating weekly meal plan to cut stress related to grocery shopping and cooking, install a firm bedtime routine to resist the temptation to stay up late reading or watching TV. Others, however, may only appeal to a narrow audience. A minimalist wardrobe of five outfits may prove unrealistic for some and the idea of taking fewer photos to reduce digital clutter sounds difficult for parents and vacationers.

Fortunately, Jonat doesn't expect readers to adopt each of her ideas; if you pick and choose those appropriate for you and your family, "Do Less" will help in the progression towards a happier, freer lifestyle.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
by Chip Heath
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.06
14 used & new from CDN$ 6.89

5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 19 2014
Why does change come so slowly and with such difficulty? Why do people struggle to lose weight even when armed with knowledge of how to do so? Why do most "problem kids" end up dropping out of school instead of benefiting from teacher intervention? And how does an employee even begin to reform a multi-million dollar corporation? In their witty and instructive "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard," Chip and Dan Heath draw on the sciences of human behaviour to tackle such enigmatic questions.

The Heath brothers believe that "willpower," "leadership" and other platonic solutions only see an individual or a group through temporary change. Our brains do not contain a single decision-making unit, they argue; instead, we have two systems: a rational one, analytical and slow to act ("The Rider") and an emotional one, impulsive and prone to form and follow habits ("The Elephant"). The Rider needs a series of rules to follow and The Elephant needs motivation i.e. an emotional rationale. Concrete information unifies the two systems.

In their introduction, the authors identify three surprises about change: what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity; what looks like laziness is often exhaustion and what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. The solution to overcoming these misconceptions? Direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path. "Switch" supports this thesis primarily through fascinating stories of people, companies and organizations that have successfully undertaken major realignments, sometimes against long odds. A charity drastically reduced childhood malnutrition in Vietnam, a retailer metamorphosed from underwhelming into a trendsetting national powerhouse and a teacher in Portland transformed his classroom by getting the most disruptive students to show up on time and sit in the front row.

"Switch" doesn't announce any scientific breakthroughs. Appeals to emotion have long spurred action faster than have appeals to logic. But therein lies the book's genius: the Heaths clearly demonstrate the importance of bringing both The Rider and The Elephant on board for change and then explain why that still doesn't lead to success. More than we suspect, outside influences control our actions. Good intentions and a host of intelligence face certain defeat in the wrong setting. For any effort at change to count, you have to "shape the path." "Switch" has doubtlessly shaped a path that leads in a promising direction.

My Usual Table: A Life in Restaurants by Andrews, Colman (2014) Hardcover
My Usual Table: A Life in Restaurants by Andrews, Colman (2014) Hardcover
by Colman Andrews
Edition: Hardcover
9 used & new from CDN$ 20.03

3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 18 2014
Restaurant critic, journalist, co-founder of Saveur and cookbook author Colman Andrews has dominated the food-and-drink scene for four decades. His newest book, "My Usual Table," reads like a stroll down memory lane with stops at the small eateries, fancy establishments and places in between that have most profoundly influenced him.

The memoir begins in a lighthearted style with the author recalling his childhood in Los Angeles, inauspicious for someone who would become a serious connoisseur. He did eat out often with his family though home fare included “Franco-American spaghetti with meatballs, and Chef Boyardee beef ravioli….We also had a lot of Spam." There follows a sweet and promising chapter on Chasen’s, the Los Angeles restaurant where Andrews discovered mid-20th-century upscale American cooking and, moving forward in time, the author gives warm, readable salutes to a number of friends and food places: the Ranch House, El Coyote (aka "a Chuck E. Cheese for adults”) and the Adriatic.

Unfortunately, as Andrews's status in the food world rises, so does his sense of entitlement. His writing becomes tedious as he replaces the fun both with “the challenge of reconciling sensual pleasure with political belief” and with celebrity worship. Even more irritatingly, Andrews gets loud about his romantic office relationships, which he ironically kept mum in real life: “we had become a couple, though we made sure that nobody at the office knew.”

By the end of the book, Andrews's self-pity inspires no sympathy. “My problem, of course, was that I was a decade or so ahead of the times” he writes. Such forward thinking proves to be the least of his problems.

Urban Code: 100 Lessons for Understanding the City
Urban Code: 100 Lessons for Understanding the City
by Anne Mikoleit
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.64
26 used & new from CDN$ 11.55

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 17 2014
A slim, elegantly constructed coffee table book, "Urban Code: 100 Lessons for Understanding the City" attempts to construct "lessons" or principles that guide urban life. Drawing on the work of Jane Jacobs, Kevin Lynch, Rem Koolhaas, and others, authors Anne Mikoleit and Moritz Pürckhauer provide a ground-level analysis of the city based on observations of New York's SoHo neighbourhood. While said observations focus too heavily on consumerism and don't always apply to international cities, the book ultimately proves insightful and compelling.

The pithy statements range from the obvious to the illuminating: Food carts smell like food. Old people sit on benches. Tourists carry shopping bags. Small squares attract more people than large ones. Groups walk more slowly than individuals. Each statement appears numbered in large print along the right side of the page; a longer discussion of the lesson appears on the left. Simple illustrations provide a neat visual representation of each concept and numerous full-page black and white photographs of SoHo accompany the text. This text flows nicely and, while some of the observations border on the banal, there are enough gems to make the book worth exploring.

At times, the references to SoHo itself (as opposed to the city in general) get tiring but the authors do challenge readers to validate the “code” by observing and analyzing other cities. In the end, the book poses a thought-provoking question: can one codify something as complex as the city?

Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals
Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals
by Dinah Fried
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.67
43 used & new from CDN$ 9.83

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 17 2014
As both an M.A. in English Literature and a former pastry chef, the concept of "Fictitious Dishes" excited me. Dinah Fried has taken fifty iconic culinary scenes from a variety of literary classics (ranging from "Little Women" to "The Bell Jar" to "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") and set them against her own photographic interpretations. Fried also includes interesting food facts and anecdotes about the authors, their work and their culinary predilections. Unfortunately, what sounds like a delicious idea turns out bland and underwhelming.

It seems the photographer had little regard for accuracy or appreciation of the actual literature. Much gets lost in translation from text to image and the food pictured often does not represent the food described. Additionally, the photos display a lack of historical research; "beans" in "To Kill A Mockingbird" would not have referred to green beans but to butter or lima beans. "Scuppernongs" are not standard green grapes, rather plump, golden ones. And Holden Caufiled would have expressed outrage at the artificiality of American Cheese!

A prime example of a poorly executed, wonderful idea that leaves the reader doubting whether the author actually read or understood any of the books.

This is a prime example of a great idea poorly executed.

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