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Reader Writer Runner (Victoria, BC)

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What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night
What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night
by John Brockman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
43 used & new from CDN$ 3.36

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 7 2014
Every year, founder, John Brockman, poses a thought provoking question to an array of intellectuals, scientists and academics, then publishes the results. Past queries have included, "how is the Internet changing the way you think?" and "what will change everything?" This year, Brockman wondered, "what should we be worried about?" His newest book compiles the answers, which range from the concrete and immediate to the nebulous and unclear.

Scientist Nicholas G. Carr worries that our constant use of "instant" gadgets will make us impatient in our off-line lives. Astronomer Seth Shostak fears that "malevolent extraterrestrial beings” will be drawn to Earth by transmissions sent to other star systems. Journalist and cancer survivor Xeni Jardin frets about how we still have no cure, no better methods of treatment, and no clear sense of causes or prevention of the disease.

"What Should We Be Worried About?" lacks neither detail nor variety but each of the short essays falls into one of two categories: the fascinating or the eminently skimmable. Indeed, some responses bring up grand questions of existence and read too abstractly, at least for a general audience. Psychologist Susan Blackmore argues that we're losing "our role in this world," whatever that means. Managing director of Digital Science, Timo Hannay, delves into the mystery of consciousness, asking whether we live alone in the universe as “fleeting specks of awareness” or whether sentience surrounds us. Apparently, both possibilities lay grounds for worry.

At 500 pages, Brockman's collection provides more fodder for anxiety than the average reader can stomach. Besides, in the end, perhaps all this worry proves pointless. Journalist Virginia Heffernan asserts that “we have nothing to worry about but worry itself...mindful acceptance of present reality” is everything. In that case, the greatest danger lies in going down the rabbit hole of concern, exactly where this book inevitably leads.

Miracles Now: 108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow, and Finding Your True Purpose
Miracles Now: 108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow, and Finding Your True Purpose
by Gabrielle Bernstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.64
34 used & new from CDN$ 9.14

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., July 4 2014
I would not ordinarily feel drawn to a book entitled "Miracles Now"; I can both appreciate the religious importance of miracles and understand what might drive a person to believe in them but I remain skeptical that they ever truly occur. The subtitle, however, captured my interest and ultimately sums up the book's content: "108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow and Finding Your True Purpose."

Gabrielle Bernstein describes quick and simple ways of tackling a variety of common mental difficulties, from stress and insomnia to job worries, stage fright and learning when to say "no." In her first section, she gives readers a powerful mantra: "Happiness is a choice I make." Subsequently, she expands on this premise and offers ways to surrender obsession, release irrationality and respond with peace. Each brief but satisfying chapter contains a clear few paragraphs describing quick and easy techniques like short meditations, breathing exercises and positive affirmations.

"Miracles Now" also keeps social media junkies in mind. Each section ends with a 140-character summary (perfect for tweeting) and Bernstein even gives advice to those harassed by unpleasant Facebook posts: “Forgive and delete”. Reading Bernstein's book may not result in world peace of a cure for cancer but it does prove that miracles can start small, with a deep breath, a smile and a touch of optimism.

Year of No Sugar: A Memoir
Year of No Sugar: A Memoir
by Eve O. Schaub
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
37 used & new from CDN$ 6.97

2.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 29 2014
2.5 Stars...

In this latest selection from the "my year of doing something outlandish" genre, Vermont writer Eve Schaub tells how she became convinced of sugar's toxicity after watching Robert Lustig's famous lecture. She decided to swear off added fructose in all its forms for a year and to take her husband and two daughters along for the ride.

Certainly, reasons to curb dietary sugar abound: it can pack on the pounds (especially in potable forms), cause diabetes and heart disease and skew the body's hunger and fulness cues. Though healthy people have eaten sugar in moderation for decades, moderation does not make for an interesting memoir. Consequently, Shaub becomes obsessed with eliminating trace quantities of fructose from her diet and turns "Year of No Sugar" into an eating disorder manual. She cuts out salad dressing, crackers and deli meats, frets over using lemon juice and balsamic vinegar and ultimately drives herself into social isolation.

Schaub's project, then, becomes a fanatical exercise in self-control. But when she exhibits symptoms of the very serious eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa (from which I personally suffer), she merely jokes that she has a "Little Control Freak" on her shoulder. Apparently, hyper-controlling one's food should not cause alarm. Apparently, eliminating fructose will solve every conceivable health problem. At the same time, though, Schaub devises ways to sweeten foods without breaking her resolution including using recipes teeming with brown rice syrup and dextrose. Do these sweeteners really promote better health?

"Year of No Sugar" makes the salient point that sugar lurks in practically all packaged foods; consumers can easily turn a blind eye to its ubiquity. But framing her experiment as an escape from the "opium den" buys into the myth that eliminating a single ingredient will make you healthy and happy. Shaub displays her addiction to the purported cure, not to the "poison" itself.

Help! We Need a Title!
Help! We Need a Title!
by Herve Tullet
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 12.26
41 used & new from CDN$ 5.76

3.0 out of 5 stars Story Time Again..., June 29 2014
This review is from: Help! We Need a Title! (Hardcover)
Underneath the thick black cover of a sketchbook lies adeptly controlled chaos within which prolific French artist Herve Tullet provides creative inspiration. In the opening pages, Tullet introduces a cast of unfinished characters, utterly confused by the reader's sudden presence. The pink pig, red monster and amorphous stick figure (among others) wonder how to entertain their "very sweet" audience. After producing a banal tropical sunset for background, they agree that they need a story and, thus, an author.

Enter: strange, photographed head-shots of Tullet, which unfortunately signal the end of the book's charming mixed-media tumult. Under pressure from his unruly drawings, the author supplies a sappy and lengthy (8 page) skit that provokes negative critique from said drawings and begs the reader to turn off the light.

Though "Help! We Need a Title" lets 4-8 year-olds interact with the metafiction, it fails to live up to the high standards achieved by Tullet's other books.

The Geography of Pluto
The Geography of Pluto
by Christopher DiRaddo
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.95
10 used & new from CDN$ 13.79

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 27 2014
This review is from: The Geography of Pluto (Paperback)
3.5 stars...

Ostensibly, "The Geography of Pluto" tells Will Ambrose's story, both in the present and in memories. Taking readers through Will's coming of age and his coming out, it reads much like a long get-to-know-you brunch conversation: casual, intense and sometimes rambling. Christopher DiRaddo focuses on Will's relationships to depict an ultimately likeable narrator, the most important one being with his (single) mother. Will's fickle but loyal best friend Angie and his ex-boyfriend Max certainly cause him anguish but, though each of these kinships has its struggle and its climax, they teach Will that only the most important relationships endure.

Though "The Geography of Pluto" explores profound themes such as the clash between romantic love and familial love, the courage of straying from expectations and the fragility of the human body, the book's setting emerges as its most important thread. Anyone who has visited or lived in Montreal will appreciate the presence of the vibrant city's personality; the markets, the mountain, Dawson College, the gay village and even the quirks of engaging in "frenglish" conversations feature just as prominently as the human characters.

In trying to amass so many ideas and emotions, DiRaddo sometimes pens clumsy dialogue and mechanical scenes. He also tends to make too-grand declarations about life and death and sweeping proclamations about "what it's like for gay men." When Will questions his own actions, his uncertainty seems forced and unnecessary; readers can detect Will's emotions without having them spelled out. However, throughout the book, you'll root for Will. You'll sympathize with his heartbreak, feel irritated by his relationship gaffes and respect his closeness to his mother. And, of course, you'll want to explore his dear Montreal, the city for which his love never wanes.

Almost An Animal Alphabet
Almost An Animal Alphabet
by Katie Viggers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.40
29 used & new from CDN$ 13.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Story Time Again..., June 25 2014
No matter how comprehensive, no animal alphabet book can include all the world's creatures. Perhaps that explains Katie Viggers's intriguing title, "Almost an Animal Alphabet." Or perhaps Viggers refers to the fact that each letter does not represent an animal; N is for "night time" and U is for "underground." Regardless, both this whimsical book and it's title encourage the reader to use his/her imagination. In its open-ended style, the book names an animal to match each letter and then illustrates several different species of that animal. The "O is for Owl" page, for example, features six types of owl but how many more exist? And in which parts of the world do these different owls live? Pages like the aforementioned "N is for night time" further spark the imagination. How many nocturnal animals can you name?

"Almost an Animal Alphabet" also delights the senses. It has a lovely, suede-smooth surface and the illustrations look as if the artist has painted them on wood with a soft yet harmonized colour palette. Finally, one highlight remains at the end of the book: a map on the back cover that identifies the habitats of all animals mentioned. Truly a unique take on the often hackneyed alphabet book.

The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue
The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue
by David Sax
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
6 used & new from CDN$ 7.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 23 2014
3.5 Stars...

Breathe a sigh of relief: David Sax makes it clear that his new book aims to examine the rise and decline of food trends while neither creating guilt nor encouraging a "healthier" lifestyle. His refreshing approach of discussing food without diet counselling allows the reader to appreciate the author's careful, detailed study of why industry fads blossom and wane.

Sax divides "The Tastemakers" into three parts, the first of which describes the four types of trends: cultural (sex appeal), agricultural, chef-driven and health-driven. Here, Sax’s personal interactions with each participant in this sequence offer fascinating insider information and lend credibility to his analysis. Part II studies the most intriguing aspect of food trends: how they become part of our lives. Sax challenges the notion that fads catch on randomly by peering into the food company board room, in which corporate honchos meticulously consider data collected on consumer habits before developing a new product. Devious marketing ploys admit certain foods to the "cool club," guaranteeing that we devour them as if they're going out of style. Finally, part III discusses the demise of food trends such as fondue. Sax also explores political issues, delving into food truck wars and municipal legislation.

Unfortunately, "The Tastemakers" suffers from occasional gender stereotypes. A male grain grower comes across as as a warrior who paddles a canoe into alligator-infested waters to hand-harvest rice whereas Sax describes a female goat-herder and artisanal caramel maker as “a slender, freckly redhead with J. Crew catalog looks,” who is lucky enough to sport an “equally hunky husband.” Nearly twice as many men as women have quotes in the book and Sax obnoxiously overdoes the adjective "ballsy" when referring to courage.

Sax sometimes jumps too fast and too far between subjects and his collection of anecdotes interspersed with opinion ultimately leaves the reader hungry for something deeper. But, in fairness, targeting the massive, intricately connected world of food trends in a journalistically reported book is no mean feat. "The Tastemakers" provides plenty of dinner-party facts and tells the compelling truth that the human diet consists of both what the body needs and what society tells us the body needs.

Can't and Won't
Can't and Won't
by Lydia Davis
Edition: Hardcover
21 used & new from CDN$ 16.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 22 2014
This review is from: Can't and Won't (Hardcover)
If Alice Munro can express the pain, loneliness and anguish of a lifetime in 30 stunning pages, Lydia Davis can do the same in a few sentences. Indeed, no one writes like Davis; her ability to compress intense, significant details into an impossibly crisp style puts her prose in a class of its own.

In her new collection, "Can't and Won't," Davis creates stories from next to nothing. Sometimes only conveying a single observation, she excises all superfluous details and leaves only a kernel of completeness. A seemingly minor detail, an apparently casual conversation or a studied, minute thing can become a story with brevity providing the finishing touch rather than leaving the reader hankering for the unsaid. "Bloomington," for example, reads in its entirety: “Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.”

Some stories read like aphorisms, some like parables. Some originate from dreams, most transform the banal into the miraculous. Humourously, Davis also employs the genre of the complaint letter, pouring discomfort and anxiety into a non-personal entity. The stories, "Letter to a Frozen Peas Manufacturer" and "Letter to a Peppermint Candy Company" exemplify a fun and unique style.

In her notes, Davis explains that thirteen of her stories were “formed from material found in letters written by Gustave Flaubert during the period he was working on Madame Bovary.” Finally, her most moving story also takes up the most real estate: "The Seals" tells a poignant tale about the continental drift between parents and children, brothers and sisters. Another writer would have written a whole novel on the subject; Lydia Davis says it all in a matter of few pages.

The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting
The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting
Price: CDN$ 13.19

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 21 2014
Alfie Kohn currently reigns as America's gadfly on parenting and education discourse, constantly challenging popular views with solid evidence to the contrary. His newest book, "The Myth of the Spoiled Child," refutes the prevailing picture both of modern parents as over-involved and indulgent and of children as narcissistic and ill-prepared for adulthood. But Kohn does not argue for permissive parenting here; rather, he offers a point-by-point response to said baseless social criticism. Though Kohn occasionally presents as peeved and defensive towards the researchers he considers biased, he does meticulously discredit prevalent assumptions about falling school standards, pervasive selfishness, and the too-touted benefits of self-discipline and failure.

Kohn astutely points out a longstanding cultural tendency to decry each generation as worse behaved than the last but reminds us that, "Every generation is Generation Me, at least until they grow up." He shows that permissive parenting does not damage children and he debunks what he terms "BGUTI," the viewpoint that kids "Better Get Used To It," ("it" referring to difficult situations and early hardships). Instead, he argues that experiencing success and joy, feeling supported and respected, receiving unconditional care and having a say about what happens in their lives best prepare children to deal with the challenges of the real world.

"The Myth of the Spoiled Child" ends with clear advice: teach children to care about social issues, support their assertiveness and encourage skepticism. Nobly, Kohn pushes parents to raise independent thinkers and analytical dissenters, ones set on questioning the status quo and motivated enough to work towards positive change.

The Holmes Manual
The Holmes Manual
by Mike Holmes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.94
9 used & new from CDN$ 21.94

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 19 2014
This review is from: The Holmes Manual (Hardcover)
Celebrity handyman Mike Holmes has a point to drill into every homeowner: when your house talks, you need to listen. "The Holmes Manual" breaks from the author's previous emphasis on hiring a professional and offers 308 pages of colour photos, tips, sidebars and advice on home maintenance and DIY projects. Holmes methodically maps out virtually every telltale sign that a home needs attention, from fogged up windows to a squeaky floor to a cold bedroom.

The eight detailed chapters cover exteriors, attics, windows, floors and plumbing to name just a few topics. Apparently, in penning his advice, Holmes drew on common questions he has received from audience members at speaking events across the country. Within each chapter, he offers tips to help homeowners protect themselves such as going beyond minimum code when replacing a roof. He asserts that the more people know about their homes, the more grief and money they will ultimately save.

Though the renovations for which Holmes advocates in this book do not come with the "wow factor" of a new kitchen or shiny hardwood floors, they do keep your house structurally sound. With photos of how a job should look versus a job gone wrong and charts with pros and cons of different building materials, Holmes provides an educational tool that encourages readers to slow down and be "at one" with their houses.

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