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Reader Writer Runner (Victoria, BC)
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The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
by Tom Rachman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
8 used & new from CDN$ 9.23

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 19 2014
Brilliant. Accomplished. Powerful. Elegant. One cannot overstate the satisfaction garnered from reading Tom Rachman's ("The Imperfectionists," 2010) new book, "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers." It grabs the reader's attention from the opening page, then thoughtfully, playfully and profoundly tells the intricate tale of Tooly Zylberberg, proprietor of World's End bookshop in Wales.

Readers may expect eccentricity from a book selling protagonist but Tooly quickly defies all expectations and stereotypes. We learn that the bookshop represents the most fixed address she's ever known. That all her possessions would fit in a canvas bag. That, “over the past decade, she had discarded anything of value.” That she pays her assistant, Fogg, from her own savings. Fogg has attempted to slowly introduce Tooly to 20th century technology and, one evening, perusing the Internet, Tooly receives an unexpected Facebook message from a recognized name, a message she can't possibly ignore. Questions abound: from where does Tooly hail and how did she end up in Wales? Who and where are her family? Who has sent her such a life-altering message?

Because of the message, Tooly must journey back to her past, starting in New York. But, while the present (2011) unfolds, Rachman deftly interweaves two other strands to the story: ten-year-old Tooly in 1988 and New York Tooly in 1999. The reader thus sees Tooly grow up through a series of half-understood adventures and misadventures that reveal a tangled and confusing life shared with a sordid entourage of the most likeable outcasts imaginable. And Tooly, herself, emerges as complex, kindhearted and resilient as she discovers the difference between what she seeks and what she finds.

All the while, the novel forces readers to contemplate what really matters. What function and/or value does the family serve? How can one know who to trust? How variable are the ways of love? So much of the novel's wisdom lies in its background; it truly deserves a read, and then a reread.

The Obesity Paradox: When Thinner Means Sicker and Heavier Means Healthier
The Obesity Paradox: When Thinner Means Sicker and Heavier Means Healthier
by Carl J. Lavie M.D.
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.90
41 used & new from CDN$ 3.24

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 19 2014
Could carrying a few extra pounds actually lead to a healthier, longer life? Such an assertion seems almost sacrilege amid today's onslaught of diets and exercise programs that promise a perfect, thin body. But, in "The Obesity Paradox," cardiologist Carl Lavie presents a well-researched, easily understood analysis of body fat and the functions it plays in the human body.

After examining the obvious dangers of excess body fat (increased strain on the heart, high blood pressure, and increased risk for diseases like diabetes), Lavie reveals the advantages of carrying a little extra weight. Unlike overweight people, who carry energy reserves in their fat cells, a thin person has no cushion when he/she falls ill or when an accident occurs. Lavie asserts that the key to optimal health lies in balancing body fat with moderate physical fitness. "If you had to choose between fitness and thinness," he writes, "it looks like it's much more important to maintain your fitness than your svelte waistline...fitness appears to be a lot more protective than a low weight." In other words, being metabolically fit despite extra weight indicates good health more so than being thin (i.e. looking healthy) but having hidden health risks.

After presenting some intriguing data, Lavie neatly summarizes his explorations in ten principles that help readers digest these counterintuitive notions. Ultimately, he provides comprehensible, practical advice that shuns yo-yo dieting and exhaustive exercise regimens for a more lenient lifestyle, opening the door to a new understanding of optimum weight and health.

Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us
Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us
by Murray Carpenter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.24
42 used & new from CDN$ 3.24

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 18 2014
Venti caramel macchiatos, Red Bulls, super-sized Cokes, chocolate. One needn't look far to find a source of caffeine; no wonder it tops the charts of Americans' favourite drugs. In "Caffeinated," journalist (and coffee addict) Murray Carpenter provides an entertaining compendium of facts and figures on this “largely unregulated drug” and describes how easily caffeine takes hold of the human mind and body. “What few of us are willing to admit,” Carpenter writes, “is that the essence of our longing is this bitter white powder.”

Carpenter's book blends history, interviews, personal accounts and a multitude of test results into a huge compendium of statistics. Though initially engrossing, so much data eventually leave the reader glassy-eyed and overwhelmed. Instead, Carpenter's discussion of political issues proves more gripping; he sites thought-provoking examples of corporate marketing tactics designed to underplay caffeine’s ability to cause panic attacks, insomnia, anxiety and addiction.

The author also details uses of caffeine that border on the absurd: caffeinated "apple pie" in a toothpaste-like tube for keeping military personnel "amped up" and caffeine-infused pantyhose that promise weight loss. Finally, Carpenter pleasantly recounts his visits to coffee farms in Guatemala and a coffee roasting plant in Vermont. Refused access to the world’s largest synthetic caffeine factory in China, however, Carpenter notes that the industry has a long way to go. These factories rarely undergo inspection and often sink into unsanitary condition. Something to keep in mind considering that "just three Chinese factories exported seven million pounds of synthetic caffeine to the United States in 2011, nearly half of our total imports.”

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
by Adam M. Grant
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.69
44 used & new from CDN$ 7.12

3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 17 2014
3.5 Stars...

Although it debates the push and pull of business ethics, "Give and Take" argues, at heart, that nice guys don't always finish last. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant provides an interesting host of testimonial stories on the pros and cons of both "giver" and "taker" personalities, concluding that an intelligent combination of both garners the greatest success.

Grant asserts that workplace attitudes tend to fall under the "matcher" variety i.e. “governed by even exchanges of favours.” However, true reciprocal balance proves difficult to achieve in the midst of an array of individual characteristics. "Takers" may efficiently achieve their goals but earn the labels of callous and dominant in the process; "givers," though generally more popular, come across as soft and naive. With case histories of both givers and takers like Kenneth Lay (of Enron infamy), Craig Newmark (of Craigslist), Abraham Lincoln and Frank Lloyd Wright, Grant exposes the underestimation of altruists. Indeed, some play doormats but others enjoy smashing success.

Intertwined with these stories, Grant more tediously explores the nuances of business networking and customer-relationship–building. Those who possess entrepreneurial minds may find said explorations fascinating and useful but, for most, these sections seem less relevant to daily life. Grant's final "Actions for Impact" advocate for prosocial behaviour in every aspect of the business world and end the book on a fresh note.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
by Richard H. Thaler
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
59 used & new from CDN$ 9.64

3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 16 2014
3.5 Stars...

"Blink." "Sway." "Flip." Such snappy, one-word titles purport to reveal the hidden dimensions of human behaviour by both informing and entertaining the reader. "Nudge" certainly falls into this genre but it goes a step further, making a strong case for more enlightened social and economic policies.

We see ourselves as rational creatures, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler point out, but four decades of research show that our choices tend towards the unrealistically optimistic, the status quo and thoughtless conformity. Citing what they call "the emerging science of choice," the authors contend that the framing and presentation of public choices determines the decisions we make: we eat more from large plates, care twice as much about losing money as gaining it and agonize about rare events like plane crashes instead of common ones like auto accidents.

"Choice architecture" can thus guide, or "nudge," people toward making better choices. A nudge, Sunstein and Thaler write, "alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives...Nudges are not mandates. Putting the fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not." The authors dedicate much of the book to practical examples of nudges, detailing how to take advantage of people's tendency to expend a minimum of effort and how to make use of subtle social influences. Many of these examples both persuade and entertain; they describe, for instance, how etching a small black fly in a urinal gives men something to aim at, thus reducing reducing spillage by 80 percent.

Sunstein and Thaler then sway towards the political, an important and worthwhile move but one that becomes tedious and repetitive as the book progresses. They acknowledge that some might see nudges as an infringement on their liberties but, ultimately, they assert, context-free choice does not exist. An approach that both preserves freedom of choice and guides people to make educated, thoughtful decisions could allow people to make their lives healthier, happier and longer. The deliberate oxymoron, "libertarian paternalism," which in itself will cause some eyes to glaze over, describes this philosophy. "Private and public choice architects are not merely trying to track or to implement people’s anticipated choices," the authors conclude. "Rather, they are self-consciously attempting to move people in directions that will make their lives better. They nudge."

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
by Marina Keegan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.01
41 used & new from CDN$ 9.26

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 16 2014
"Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant." So wrote Joan Didion after her husband suddenly died of a heart attack over dinner though the sentiment applies almost universally. It certainly does for Marina Keegan: magna cum laude graduate of Yale, talented writer and political activist on the precipice of a promising literary career. Five days after graduation, at 22 years of age, Keegan died in a car crash.

Soon after her death, Keegan's final essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral. In the piece, she speaks to the college community she loves, beseeching her peers to make a difference in the world. With simultaneous youthful optimism and mature realism, she appreciates that a chapter of her life has closed; with now-tragic irony, she writes, "We are so young. We have so much time." That Marina never had the chance to chase the dreams or experience the womanhood she writes about makes her words all the wiser and more relevant.

The posthumous publication of a collection of Keegan's work bears the same name as this famous essay. Compiled by one of her professors, Anne Fadiman, one of her friends, Vivian Yee, and Keegan's family, “The Opposite of Loneliness” showcases the young writer’s talent. It smacks of juvenile energy but also demonstrates an emotional depth beyond her years. In her fiction, Keegan lures the reader with finely-wrought prose, deftly adopting the voices of a variety of female characters: a girl who confusedly copes with the death of her boyfriend; an elderly lady who forms an unusual relationship with a blind man; a woman in a now-strained relationship with a former high school sweetheart and a desperate group trapped in an incapacitated submarine that slowly sinks to the ocean floor.

In the second half of her collection, Keegan perfectly evokes emotions and nostalgia with non-fiction. She memorializes her beloved 1990 Toyota Camry, recounts her struggle with Celiac disease, reveals the malady of finance and consulting and contemplates her own enduring contribution to the world. Throughout, Keegan lets readers feel her embarrassment, her jubilance and her pride.

Reading “The Opposite of Loneliness,” one cannot help but wonder: if Keegan hadn't died so tragically, would she still boast a published collection of work? Would she have "made it" as a writer? I want to believe that yes, she would have honed her wit, humour and charm and given the world a lifetime of fine writing to enjoy. Though we instead have only a glimpse of her talent, what Keegan left reflects a profound optimism and encourages readers to rediscover beauty in the world.

The Secret Language Of Doctors
The Secret Language Of Doctors
by Brian Goldman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.99
8 used & new from CDN$ 12.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 15 2014
Virtually every specialized field features its own language, an argot that enables workers to communicate quickly and exclusively. Medicine may just boast the most extensive list of foreign terms so, in his new book, CBC Radio's "White Coat, Black Art" host, Dr. Brian Goldman, attempts to translate some of these terms into everyday speech. But "The Secret Language of Doctors" offers more than an insider's guide to medical slang; it provides a candid and intriguing look at the attitudes and issues that shape our healthcare system.

At times, Dr. Goldman comes across as jaded and bitter, describing "a quiet seething...a simmering frustration felt by doctors about their work, their patients and each other." Some of the terms and attitudes he describes when referring to certain types of patients feel offensive and disturbing to read. However, Goldman writes with a respectable, brutal honesty that opens the reader's eyes to an unfortunate truth: our system does not show kindness to the old, the mentally ill, the obese.

Today, Goldman argues, we have an acute care-focused system that primarily treats those with multiple chronic, conditions. Health policies and institutions including health education cannot adjust fast enough; Goldman essentially shows that traditional medical education does not prepare doctors for the realities of today's healthcare. Sadly, doctors and other healthcare workers receive little to no training or support in handling the emotional, human side of medicine; they end up facing patient anxiety, and even extreme distress with little preparation.

Eminently worth reading, this book may help readers better understand personal medical situations and options by decoding some of the overwhelming jargon. Furthermore, for those who desire a more patient-centred model of medicine, it provides an opportunity to conceptualize some of the challenges faced by our doctors.

Landing Gear
Landing Gear
by Kate Pullinger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
16 used & new from CDN$ 11.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 14 2014
This review is from: Landing Gear (Hardcover)
3.5 stars...

Aside from publishing a largely-ignored collection of short stories, Kate Pullinger has remained silent since she won the Governor General's Award for her brilliant historical novel, "The Mistress of Nothing" (2009). In her newly released "Landing Gear," Pullinger tries her hand at writing about contemporary life: the banalities of Facebook, YouTube, video games and reality TV. Barring some awkward pacing, chronological annoyances and implausible events, the book successfully and thought-provokingly conveys the extent to which modern technology permeates our identities.

The novel began as an online "networked narrative" entitled "Flight Paths," on which Pullinger collaborated with Chris Joseph. It opens with the dramatic image of Yacub, a Pakistani man, falling from the sky straight into British wife and mother Harriet's parked car. We learn that Yacub has disembarked mid-flight from a plane's landing gear, where he stowed himself away in hopes of making it to the U.S. after escaping a labour camp in Dubai. Miraculously, perhaps overly so, he survives.

After piquing the reader's interest about Yacub and his fate, Pullinger frustratingly abandons the present for 150 pages of backstory. Yes, this backstory engages and entertains; it spans from Pakistan to Britain to Toronto and tells the interconnected stories of Yacub, Harriet, her husband Michael (who finds himself trapped in North America when an erupting volcano shuts down air traffic over Europe), their teenage son, Jack, and filmmaker, Emily, whose father has died of a heart attack. Yes, it addresses teen drug culture, middle-age ennui, the challenges of globalization, and the changing role of the media. But it seems difficult not to rush through the story of the past after Pullinger has set up such an exciting present. When the novel finally does return to Yacub and Harriet in the parking lot, the reader can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the rest of the profound story.

As she did in her first novel, Pullinger shows her talent for penning sharp and precise prose, the kind that lends a lightness to the narration. She constructs the book in short chapters that build momentum and tension while telling a tale of finding peace and meaning in a busy, plugged-in world.

The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language
The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language
by John H. McWhorter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.02
33 used & new from CDN$ 12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 12 2014
In the late 1930s, linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf theorized that the language we speak affects the way we both think and view the world. "The Language Hoax" presents John McWhorter's "manifesto" against this position; the author aims not only to itemize the empirical flaws of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis but also to unveil its political dangers. McWhorter's slim but finely wrought volume argues that the exotification of speakers of non-Western languages perpetuates inequality.

McWhorter does not dispute that language and culture intersect; language obviously contains words and expressions for aspects of culture. Speakers of English, for example, use a single pronoun when addressing others yet, when speaking a language with politeness distinctions, such as German, one must use the right pronoun in conversation as dictated by cultural norms. This difference can tempt linguists to infer that speakers of different languages necessarily think differently about social organisation and relationships. However, McWhorter remains steadfast in his conclusion “that language’s effect on thought is distinctly subtle and, overall, minor”.

He illustrates his point with the frequently cited 2007 experiment on colour discrimination by cognitive scientist Jonathan Winawer and colleagues. The “Russian blues” study investigated whether the fact that two colours belong to two different linguistic categories (as with light and dark blue in Russian) can affect the speed with which subjects judge the colour difference. Though Russian speakers did have faster reaction times when discriminating two shades of blue, McWhorter points out that the 124-millisecond difference in reaction time hardly proves a difference in “the way Russians experience life”.

The problem, then, in the debate on linguistic relativity lies with the definition of thought. If understood solely as a cognitive process then yes, language can influence thought. But if thought denotes mental activity and its conceptual products, the linguistic relativity hypothesis cannot be validated empirically. Regardless, "The Language Hoax" provides a welcome antidote to Whorfian claims and carries the message that language does not dictate world views.

Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody
Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody
by William Poundstone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.18
26 used & new from CDN$ 14.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Aug. 10 2014
Pop psychology books like Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" (2008) fascinate readers with evidence that reality regularly contradicts common sense. Business and science writer William Poundstone's newest edition to the genre, "Rock Breaks Scissors," delivers somewhat useful advice for taking advantage of this axiom and provides a delightful and engaging read in the process.

At its heart, Poundstone's book demonstrates how to predict others' seemingly unpredictable choices. The author asserts that, "when people make arbitrary, random, or strategic choices, they fall into unconscious patterns that you can predict.” In the famous Rock Paper Scissors game, for example, most men throw rock first (the aggressive choice) whereas most women throw scissors. You can prime your opponent to throw rock at the start of a game by initiating play; most cornered competitors will throw rock. And reverse psychology can work wonders: announce what you’re going to throw and then surprise your competitor by.

In the area of multiple-choice tests, Poundstone asserts that success arises from thinking like a tester. True/false questions are more often true (56% of the time) as it takes more effort to invent a false statement. The second answer (b) in 4-option questions wins as most favoured (28% of the time) but in 5-option questions, (e) prevails 23% of the time. Though answers containing the words never, always, all or none are rarely correct, “none of the above” or “all of the above” are correct a shocking 52% of the time. Finally, you can narrow down options by picking the longest answers because true answers demand the most “qualifying language.”

Poundstone can't help improve your odds of winning the lottery but he does offer tips on getting the biggest payout possible. The key lies in picking unpopular numbers i.e. avoiding anything with 7 as well as the number 13. Unpopular numbers include those ending with 0, 8 or 9 and anything over 31 since many people use significant dates when selecting numbers. The more unpopular numbers you use, the less of a chance that you’ll have to share your pot if you win.

Though some sections of "Rock Breaks Scissors" seem more applicable to real life than others, the book ultimately fits nicely into the everything-you-thought-you-knew-is-wrong category.

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