Blog-o! Notes from

Sun, 15 Jan 2006

(This is going to be kind of boring for anyone who isn't me. Precisely the kind of thing one shouldn't post on one's website.)

Last year I apparently read around forty-five books -- those were the ones I remembered to log, anyway, and I think I remembered just about all of them last year. I read eight of them from January until May, and the other thirty-nine from June on -- yay, first trimester fatigue. Twenty-two since Cordelia was born -- yay, breastfeeding! I read fifteen fiction and thirty-one non-fiction, and two collections of short stories. I'm really into non-fiction these days; I find non-fiction books to be more rich with ideas than novels are, and I'm very keen on thinking about the world lately. There's a lot to think about...

I'm glad I started reading again -- for a while, starting in high school, I hardly read at all, but I have learned so much in the last few years from reading books written by clever people. I shudder to think how boring and ignorant I would be if I hadn't read the books that I have read.

In short: books, good. News at eleven.

[Posted at 21:29 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 24 Dec 2005

My list of books read but not written about is getting unwieldy:

Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak are Strangling Public Language by Don Watson

I think Don Watson is just a cranky guy. I thought this would be a good book, along the lines of Eats, Shoot and Leaves, but it was mostly just Watson complaining vaguely about the way public figures speak these days.

Don't get me wrong; I hate management speak and blather and bafflegab. I wish marketers and athletes and politicians would use plain language and say what they mean. (Yesterday on TV they were interviewing the super of a building which had had flooding due to a water main break. The interviewer said "What about the possessions of the people with basement apartments, are they destroyed?" The super said "Well, there was extensive flooding in the basement area of the building and that would include the apartment areas, so the residents will experience some property damage." What would be wrong with "I'm afraid so, yes"? Don't want to cut short your fifteen minutes by being concise?

The problem with Watson's book is that he doesn't give enough examples of what he doesn't like, and suggestions for improvement. He also asserts that this kind of imprecise language leads to imprecise or even deceitful behaviour, but he doesn't give any examples or concrete basis of any kind for that assertion.

I would give this book a miss.

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn

I felt a little bad about reading this book. I thought, "I guess it's been long enough since September 2001 that I can read about the destruction of the World Trade Center for my amusement". But this isn't all that sensational; it's a description of how various individuals coped, helped, and escaped (some of them) the attack.

The book also details how the attack and the collapse happened, with a focus on the myriad things which were done incompetently, or not done at all. Do you know when they tested the fireproofing for the steel beams in the Towers? Summer of 2004. Yeah. Although it probably all shook off from the impact of the planes, anyway. Generally it was a collosal fuckup in many ways.

The book is well- and engagingly-written and sheds light on how decent people can be in a crisis.

Who should read this book: I think Morgan might like it; normally her thing is natural disasters but the man-made kind are interesting too.

Making The Cat Laugh: One Woman's Journal of Single Life on the Margins by Lynne Truss

This is like a really well-written blog of a clever, funny, single English woman. There's not much else to say about it, but I liked it very much.

Who should read this book: my brother Dave would probably like it; in fact I tried to send him a copy but my local Indigo didn't have it. Kathryn should definitely read this book; I think she will really enjoy the humour, and the English-ness of it.

Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

This is a book about all the things that happen to human bodies after they die. Roach covers the usual stuff: burial and cremation; but she also goes into some weirder options: being rotted to study how to determine time of death, being smashed into in the name of crash-test research, being dissolved in lye or composted, being used to teach anatomy, being cut up so your organs can be used to extend the lives of others, being plastinated... being dead is almost as interesting as being alive.

Roach is a very funny writer, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Who should read this book: I think Kate from The Usual Suspects might like it; I think she liked corpse, which is a similar sort of thing. Maybe Morgan, too.

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About The Emerging Science of Sex Differences by Leonard Sax

This is a book which refutes the hippy-dippy idea that boys and girls are naturally identical and any difference between their behaviour is socially constructed, a fact which anyone with small children could have told you is nonsense. In fact, it's surprising it took this long to throw that idea out the window, since there's a pretty quick refutation:

See, the hippy idea is that the kid thinks something like this:

I am a boy.
Boys play with trucks and balls.
Therefore I must play with trucks and balls.

The problem is that kids as young as eighteen months show gender differences in play, and eighteen-month-olds don't know if they're a boy or a girl. Delphine is two-and-a-half and she still asserts her boyhood sometimes.

Sax starts out with a description of what we know about the differences between boys and girls, then he gets into how to apply that knowledge when raising or teaching children. The advice seems pretty sound, although he strays pretty far from gender-based advice later in the book.

Who should read this book: Beth (thursday) because it might give her some insight into her (very boyish) boys, Kathryn because she has to deal with boys and girls every day at work, and Ellen because I know she's interested in this stuff.

[Posted at 13:57 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 09 Dec 2005

Potty Training Your Baby: A Practical Guide for Easier Toilet Training by Katie Van Pelt

I didn't actually get all the way through this book. I threw it across the room on the page where she suggests you don't have your child wash their hands every time they go to the toilet because you don't want them to think that peeing and pooing and private parts are dirty. I have news for you, stupid lady: peeing and pooing and private parts are dirty. And if they aren't, your bathroom probably is. If you can't get straight in your head the difference between literal, germy dirtiness and figurative, sexual dirtiness then may I suggest you have a problem? Also, I'm not shaking hands with you.

She also suggests that there is an epidemic of adult constipation caused by parents being negative about their kids' poo in childhood. She provides no evidence, of course, but apparently if you so much as wrinkle your nose at your child's fetid diapers, you will damage them and their bowel health for life.

And last but not least, she says you can't possibly begin potty training until nine months, which directly contradicts the Trickle Treat book, which incidentally comes off as the height of reasonableness compared to this one.

Honestly, I'm almost sorry I read about potty training. I got more value out of a conversation I had with another mum at the library than I have out of these books. I have decided I am just going to switch Delphine to big girl pants in the new year, and clean up messes until she figures it out. What the hell, I launder diapers anyway, and it's not like I have expensive carpets.

Incidentally, both I and a friend with kids the same age have decided we will put our babies on the potty as soon as possible this time around. No more waiting for them to figure it out on their own. In fact, her six-month-old has already peed in the potty more times than her two and a half year old.

Men's Style: The Thinking Man's Guide to Style by Russell Smith

Russell Smith is a men's fashion columnist for the Globe and Mail, and he has written this book about men's fashion. He covers the history of modern men's fashion and gives instructions on such things as how to tie different tie knots, or what "black tie" means, as well as giving his opinion on various style options. As such this is a useful reference book and I might even buy a copy.

It's also very funny, particularly when he says "if you do such and such, you will look like a..." whatever. I already sent the book back to the library so I can't give you any quotes, you'll just have to read it yourself.

I can't agree with all his style opinions, though. I think a man in a sweater can be very attractive, and rust is a fine colour. He's right about three-piece suits, though: SEXY.

[Posted at 15:55 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 18 Nov 2005

Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I wanted to know what happened next, so I read this book despite having heard, on numerous occasions, that the other Anne books aren't as good as Anne of Green Gables. Well, they were right. This is almost comical in it's not-as-goodness. Lousy characterization, telling-not-showing, awkward dialogue. I don't know what came over LMM, but it wasn't good. I wonder if her other stuff is good, or if Anne of Green Gables was a freak occurrence.

Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering by Robert L. Glass

Why am I reading about Software Engineering? Because I have decided when I grow up I would like to be a software manager. Not a librarian or a teacher or an opera singer or a photographer, or any of the other interesting things which have come to mind in the last, oh, ten years. No sir, I am plunging headlong back into software, with ambition, this time. Ambition to become... middle management.

How do I know it will work out for me? Because I am reading books like this. For fun! And it was fun, and interesting and edifying (since it is pretty much the first book I have read on the topic.) Fortunately Glass is not skimpy with his references, so I have a whole list of other books to look up*. Some of which I remember from the shelves of the Computer Science Club. Oh, how far I have come to be back where I started.

* Most of which the Toronto Public Library doesn't own! Argh! Do they care nothing for software engineering? I will have to see how well their "buy this book for me" system works. Also, if anyone has any recommendations on the topic, I would be glad to hear them.

Trickle Treat by Laurie Boucke

This is a book about how to potty train your baby from infancy. The theory is sound and the author gives a pretty good description of how to implement it. However, as with so many other parenting books, it is bogged down the author's sense of superiority and her disdain for those who parent any other way than hers. She even goes so far as to imply (based on a single anecdote from a friend) that diapering your child and subsequently potty training in toddlerhood will emotionally damage your child for life. I am surprised the attachment parenting folks haven't gotten ahold of this method, it's right up their alley.

Also the name makes me gag.

[Posted at 13:09 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 11 Nov 2005

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change , and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century by James Howard Kunstler

I've read Stephen King, I've read Dean Koontz, I've read Clive Barker, Lovecraft, Poe. I have read some scary shit, but this is the scariest book I have ever read. It's about all the bad stuff which is coming down the pipe: the inevitable flu pandemic, climate change, and the end of the fossil fuelled economy. Basically he says, if we get through all this without blowing ourselves up or dying of thirst, we will be back in a pre-industrial-type society (he doesn't think much of the alternative fuel options), along with a vastly curtailed population. He thinks cities are doomed, he hates suburbs with a vigor unrivalled since my office mate Rajko, and he thinks towns and small cities are where it's at. He also thinks you should work on a post-industrial trade. He plans to publish a newsletter.

The guy is deadly serious. I have to find out if he's a kook or not. The book has no bibliography or index, which is certainly a bad sign. On the other hand it's clear to me that our society relies on fossil fuels to an alarming and unneccessary extent. Do we really need mangoes in February? Holidays in Hawai'i? Hot showers every day? Well, maybe that last one.

The fact that the oil reserves and other fossil fuels are running out sheds an interesting light on the issue of global warming. We're going to use all the available fossil fuels sooner or later. Does it make any difference if we use them up in fifty years or two hundred? The process of climate change is so slow and gradual and complex that I don't think it would make a difference, although as always I could be wrong.

Bottom line, this was a thought-provoking and easy (and scary) read. Kunstler is a cranky old man -- he hates the suburbs and he has some rude things to say about Southerners -- and it's always fun to hang out with the cranky, for a little while at least.

Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time by David Prerau

My problem with daylight saving time has always been that I don't understand why people don't just get up early, if they're so keen to have more sunshine. It drives me nuts when they say "you get more daylight". No you don't! There is the same amount of light, idiot! And, despite the fact that people stare at me uncomprehendingly when I say that now, apparently that was one of the main objections to DST when it was first proposed. Apparently the deal is that, sure the individual could just wake up early, but it's really hard to get businesses to open earlier and close earlier, so just fake 'em out by changing the clock. Having read the book I am now a proponent of DST, or double-DST, or whatever it takes to fit clock-time to sun-time.

It was a pretty good read, although I got a little tired of daylight saving time by the end of it. There is only so much you can say about people arguing over the clock, I guess.

The Everything Potty Training Book by Linda Sonna

Everything it certainly is. This book covers plenty of different methods, including a hard-core one-weekend method which requires you to be a drill sergeant, and a potty-train-your-infant method which sounds intriguing.

Every other book mocks the grandmotherly claim that babies were trained before a year of age in the days of yore, but apparently it was done. Which, having read the Long Emergency book, makes sense. No-one is going to put up with handwashing shitty diapers every day for three years if there is any possible alternative. It seems the baby-training method is more like training a puppy, whereas the toddler training methods require more conscious effort on the part of the child. She recommends a couple of books on the infant training method, so I will read further.

The problem with this book is that it covers many different methods and they get all muddled in your head. With some methods, you get the kid to help clean up their accidents, with some you don't. With some methods you reward success on the potty, with some you don't. It's hard to keep track of which is which, let alone which one you are using.

Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy by Candace Havens

As you may guess from the title, this is pretty much a 162-page fellation of Joss Whedon. It's kind of cheap and tacky too, with a large font, lots of pull quotes and pictures, and some fairly bad writing. I think people would take Whedon more seriously if stuff about him and his work wasn't so Tiger Beat-ish.

[Posted at 14:30 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 31 Oct 2005

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano

This book lets the women of the world in on the French secret, how French women manage to stay slim in a culture which loves to eat butter and bread and meat and all those things which are forbidden to erstwhile skinnies here in North America.

Clearly it was the subtitle which appealed to me; I love to eat. I could stand to be slimmer, so I thought this book might give me some good ideas, and indeed it did. Mostly, though, it gave me a heartening impression of sanity. Guiliano loves to eat too; great swaths of the book are dedicated to discussion of her favourite foods and recipes, none of which contain sugar substitutes or applesauce instead of fat. In fact, you would be hard pressed to identify any of them as recipes from a diet book (with the exception of the dubious leek soup recipe which she recommends to kickstart your diet.)

One of the nice things about this book is that the author doesn't talk down from atop a lofty pinnacle of genetic and cultural superiority. She lives in the US and when she first moved here she gained a bunch of weight, which is why she had to consciously rediscover all the French secrets herself.

So what are the secrets? Nothing earth shattering; eat good food with lots of flavours instead of crap -- if you eat crap, she says, you have to eat more of it to satisfy yourself. Prepare your own food -- most packaged food uses salt and fat to conceal the fact that it doesn't really taste good. Have meals with multiple courses -- a salad or soup, the main, and then a sensible dessert -- again to satiate yourself with variety and ceremony rather than quantity. Don't eat standing up, and don't eat while you are doing something else; set the table nicely and sit down with your family and enjoy the ritual of eating. And of course, control your portion sizes, probably the least fun and hardest of all her recommendations.

She also says don't go to the gym. The gym, she says (and I heartily agree) is a waste of time and money. Why pay to sweat on a machine when you can burn calories by walking to the store, biking to work, climbing stairs instead of taking the escalator, kneading your own bread instead of getting a machine to do it for you, and so on. There are countless opportunities to burn calories every day, if you watch out for them.

The bottom line is to put a lot more consideration into what you eat, respect the food and you will derive more value out of less of it.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I got this out of the library because I needed to get the Cordelia quote out of it, and because I hadn't read it for a while. I don't remember Anne being so annoying, although when I was younger I had less qualms about skipping over the annoying bits. The big difference this reading was how I related to Marilla now that I am a mother of girls. (There's an essay by Margaret Atwood at the end of the book which says that the book is really about Marilla's journey from being chilly and distant to being loving.)

It's funny, being a parent. You suddenly find yourself on the other side of a glass wall, seeing the world from a slightly new angle.

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco

This is a book about how being super-efficient -- that is, cutting out all the spare time and spare people -- screws over companies. He argues that if every minute of a worker's day is spent doing "work", tangible, billable, write-it-in-your-weekly-log-for-your-pointy-headed-boss work, you don't have any time left to think about how you could be doing things better, nor do you have enough flexibility to respond when your co-workers need you. It's a pretty compelling book.

Unfortunately it doesn't argue well for my version of "slack", which is really just "screwing around".

Toilet Training without Tears or Trauma by Penny Warner and Paula Kelly, MD and Pee, Poop and Potty Training by Alison Mackonochie

Of these two books, Pee, Poop is the more useful, because it discusses all the issues relating to your child's rear end -- general information on how the digestive system works, diapering, potential problems -- not only potty training. It also details a few different approaches for potty training.

Toilet Training actually mocks books which provide several different approaches, and purports to be less confusing by describing only one method, presumably the definitive method. Anyone who has been parenting long enough to be potty training knows that there is no one method, for anything, which works for all children. So my bullshit detector went off on page 4; never a good sign.

I also like that the other book is colour with lots of pretty photographs.

Cutting Your Family's Hair by Gloria Handel

I got this out because I ballsed up Delphine's last haircut and wondered what I should do differently next time. I learned a few handy techniques from this book, but unfortunately it seems that executing a succesful haircut involves a subject who will sit still for more than, oh, twenty-four seconds. So Delphine is going to have to wait for her first decent haircut.

The haircuts in this book, as shown in the photographs, actually look kind of cheap and amateurish. They look like the kind of haircut you get at a ten dollar place out in the boonies. You would think they would try harder to get the pictures in the book to look good. The book is also badly edited. For example, she starts off by describing how you cut guides -- basically a fringe of hair around the head which you cut to the desired length and then use as a template for the rest of the hair. But the steps given for the first haircut in the book don't include cutting the guides -- are you just supposed to do them automatically? Is this a cut which doesn't require guides, and if so, how many other cuts don't require guides? I don't know -- she doesn't say. It's confusing.

100 Best Books For Children by Anita Silvey

One of the best things about having kids is getting to revisit children's literature. This book is a list of one hundred really good kids' books, sorted by age and type. The fun thing is that Silvey gives you lots of insider information about the authors and illustrators, and what the books go through before and after publishing. For example, did you know that Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day was greeted with controversy? Did you know Ezra Jack Keats wasn't black? I didn't know that.

I think I might buy a copy of this book for reference. The only issue I have with it is that it's American and so the books she recommends tend to be American, but it balances nicely with my favourite meta-book, Dorothy Butler's Babies Need Books which is Australian and is satisfyingly Anglo-centric.

[Posted at 12:18 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 12 Oct 2005

This book should be subtitled "Everything You Thought You Knew Is Wrong", especially if you are or have had any contact with "radicals" or "non-conformists" or "progressives", if you think everyone (else) is walking around in a corporate-induced stupor of materialism, or if you have ever read Adbusters and felt smug and superior to everyone who wasn't reading Adbusters.

Since that describes pretty much everyone I know, including myself, I should say this book was a bit of an eye-opener. I have to admit that when I went around reading Adbusters and all that stuff, it didn't really ring true to me. I went along with it because it seemed like everyone else thought it was true, and I wasn't confident enough in my own good sense to go against the crowd.

This book, however, does ring true; it has the unmistakable stench of common sense about it. Heath and Potter argue that the counter-culture revolutionary types are basically screwing themselves (and the rest of us) because they refuse to accept incremental changes to our society (like, say, minimum wage laws); they think that our society is so profoundly screwed up that nothing short of a complete overhaul, a revolution, will fix it. Accepting incremental changes would imply that society is generally okay and just needs a few tweaks. Heath and Potter call bullshit and explain why in fairly convincing, and amusing, terms. Also they smack down Naomi Klein and Kalle Lasn pretty good, which is fun.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

In this book Diamond attempts to explain why Eurasians have so much cargo (you know, the stuff we're all brainwashed into wanting by evil corporations) and why they (we) basically stomp over every other culture we come into contact with. It's because we have the guns, the germs, and the steel. But why? Diamond knows.

This book ends up being a history of the world, and the most interesting one I have ever read. I am much smarter now that I have read this. You should read it too (except you probably already have; I am kind of behind the curve here.)

[Posted at 12:21 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 27 Sep 2005

Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander MacCall Smith was nice but I am going to have to spread these books far apart, because I seem to get tired of them quickly. I'm not sure why.

Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt was really good. It's nice to read a book set in Canada, and this guy is a hell of a mystery writer. It was kind of gruesome, but I seem to be sensitive to that these days, so it was possibly no more gruesome than most murder mysteries. I will read more by this guy.

[Posted at 09:41 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 23 Sep 2005

I read this in high school as part of a Black culture and racism section. At the time I thought it was weird and stupid that we should study black culture and racism in a school in a town that was forty percent Native and very racist, but now I wonder if they were smart enough to know that studying Native culture and racism would be close enough to home that most kids would just shut down, defensively, and ignore any potential lessons, whereas studying Black culture would be distant enough for comfort but still make the brighter kids think about issues closer to home. I may be giving the school administration too much credit here.

Anyway, I thought it was time for a re-read because the book made a big impact on me when read it the first time, and indeed I am still very moved by it. I feel like I should have something more intelligent and cynical to say about it now, but I don't. I haven't really studied or considered race relations much in the intervening fifteen years so maybe that accounts for my lack of insight, or maybe it's just still a really good book.

[Posted at 09:55 by Amy Brown] link

I think I should have enjoyed this more than I did, but perhaps I am more interested in science itself than in when the processes that make up modern science go wrong. Still, the book is an examination of the current state of science: peer review, refereeing, and so on, and it was good to get an overview of that along with an analysis of how it's not really working, and what is going to change it. (Hint: the Internet is going to change it.) Also I can't be too annoyed with a book which spends a couple of paragraphs talking about TeX and LaTeX.

Judson is an impeccable writer and not afraid to put together really long (grammatically perfect) sentences, which means you can't read this book in a half-assed manner, when you are watching TV or half-asleep. I haven't read a book that required actual concentration and focusing on the words on the page for a while, so it was a bit of a shock. I need to read harder books more often.

[Posted at 09:46 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 14 Sep 2005

I took a break for my brain and read these books:

  • Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs
  • Babes in the Woods by Ruth Rendell
  • The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
[Posted at 09:49 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 07 Sep 2005

This is pretty much a retread of the material in Spurlock's movie Supersize Me and in Fast Food Nation. There is some background information about the filming of the movie -- or rather Spurlock's health during the filming of the movie -- which is pretty interesting.

All in all I enjoyed the book; Spurlock is a funny and natural writer (by which I mean he writes in a conversational, easy style). He is a little hysterical about the subject matter, but I guess that's the point -- this isn't meant to be a science book.

[Posted at 15:13 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 06 Sep 2005

Here are some books I have read lately.

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud To Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox. I did not love this book. Mem Fox is convincing, nay evangelical, on the subject of reading to your children, and I am all for that, but I found some of her recommendations intimidating. For example, she says you must read books with the same intonation every time. Well, sorry, but sometimes I just don't have the energy to do Green Eggs and Ham with full vigour, and sometimes I do. Poor Delphine will have to deal with the horrible ambiguity of it all.

Also Fox wants you to stop and point out rhymes and play "find the letter" games and stuff, which seems kind of tedious and teacherly. Ironically she insists that this stuff isn't teaching; she calls it "enriching the reading experience". You're playing! You're having a good time! To me it seems annoying and forced.

I would heartily recommend Babies Need Books by Dorothy Butler over this book. Butler's book is not only convincingly evangelical and encouraging about reading to babies and little kids, but it also provides pages and pages of actual book recommendations. I found it didn't take me long to be able to pick out a good kid's book after I had read a few of her suggestions.

Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, Coyote Blue, and Practical Demon-Keeping by Christopher Moore. I don't usually gorge myself on multiple books by one author like this, but Blake has been off work and I have been working full-time for the last couple of weeks, and he has been in charge of going to the library, so this is what has been new around the house. The books are good; they are funny and the characters are engaging.

The Time-Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is a science-fiction romance packaged as a ... I don't know, what do they call them. Contemporary fiction? Those books that come in trade paperback size and have the kind of fuzzy matte finish and a picture of feet on the front. It seems like it should be really confusing, because it switches back between one point-of-view and another, and hops back and forth in time, at every chapter. But somehow it's easy to follow. The story is effectively manipulative, so if you like a good cry you will like the book, and if you hate to be handled like an emotional marionette you may find yourself a little annoyed by it.

I feel like I should have read more, but lately I have been sleeping instead of reading. I have a couple of weeks off work with Delphine in daycare, though, so I am hoping to get some reading in before the baby comes.

[Posted at 14:19 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 10 Jul 2005

This is a book about how more choices can make you unhappier with the choice you finally make, and how people are inherently bad at making decisions. It was very interesting and gave me some insight into my own thought processes and their emotional result. I was particularly struck by the discussion about careers; as a middle-class Westerner I can do pretty much anything I want to (provided I don't mind incurring a lot of debt) and that leaves me pretty much paralysed. What if I pick wrong? Aaah!

I would recommend this book to just about everyone, particularly people who feel depressed or dissatisfied with their life. Not only does it include a lot of information about how decision-making happens, and how it can screw you up, the best thing about the book is that the last chapter gives some concrete suggestions for how to deal with all the choices available to us.

(Oh, but it has one of the ugliest covers I've seen in a long time.)

[Posted at 21:18 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 08 Jul 2005

This is a book about how to bike in the city. There are a couple of dogmatic schools of thought about how you're supposed to bike in the city (the Vehicular school and the Invisible school) and Hurst pretty much dismantles them both. He is very pragmatic, about where to bike, when to bike, how to stay safe, and how to relate to other vehicles. He has a very calm, accepting philosophy about how things are and argues that you are better off working within reality rather than spending a great deal of time being angry at it. In that sense this is an excellent guide to how to live, as well as how to bike.

He did piss me off at the end by dissing my bike (I will paraphrase because I don't have the book with me: "Comfort bikes seem to be designed for people who want to bike while maintaining as much of a feeling of sitting on the couch as possible.") Okay, that's kind of why I bought my bike, but it still smarts.

Having said that, though, later he talks about how your bike should fit, and says that your weight should be equally distributed on your hands, your feet and your butt, and it's when beginners don't realize that that they are uncomfortable and decide to stop biking. Well, duh, I bought my bike with the big seat so that I could sit all my weight on my butt, and lo and behold, it's never really comfortable.

So next time I go out I will try and balance my weight better (I think I will have to adjust a bunch of stuff, because right now the handlebars are pretty high and the seat is pretty low.) I think, though, that that means biking is a lot more work than I thought it was. On the other hand, that means that if I bike more it will make me much stronger and fitter than I thought it would.

[Posted at 11:28 by Amy Brown] link

Robert Sullivan thought it would be cool to spend a year or so hanging out in an alley watching some rats, and write a book about it and rats in general. It turned out to be a pretty good book, but with a lot of needless philosophising which didn't seem to result in any great conclusions, that I could tell. I would have been happy with just lots of facts and observations. (The book has them, just mixed in with the other stuff.)

Reading this book I realized that I am missing what seems to be a fundamental human trait -- I'm not afraid of rats. I suppose if you stuck me in a dark alley surrounded by lots of them, I might be, but when I imagine the scenario it doesn't faze me at all. We had rats as pets and I have a great deal of appreciation for them; they are intelligent and resourceful and generally very sensible animals. And unlike cats, they don't vomit.

[Posted at 11:15 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 25 Jun 2005

Efficient Society: Why Canada Is as Close to Utopia as It Gets by Joseph Heath. This is an interesting book about the benefits of efficiency as a social value, and how Canada is so great. I especially like that last part -- who doesn't like to be patted on the back? -- but I also found the book to be an interesting economic and philosophical primer.

A Place Of Hiding by Elizabeth George. This is a good, fairly standard mystery, but it seemed to go on forever. Towards the end I was just reading it to find out what happened. It didn't help that the protagonist is an emotional, slightly idiotic woman. She is contrasted with her analytical husband, and I suppose you are supposed to relate to the woman, but I really didn't.

[Posted at 11:34 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 06 Jun 2005

I have read a few books since I last posted here. I didn't post for ages because for ages I didn't read anything; when Delphine naps, I nap too, because I'm pregnant and if I don't nap in the afternoon I hit a brick wall at 4:30 and fall asleep over Delphine's supper. So in the last couple of months I've clawed myself through two, maybe three books.

Then I threw my back out and got to lie around for two days, and I think I have pretty much made up any book deficit I might have had.

So here's what I've read. I read a collection of long short stories, or short novels, or whatever, edited by Robert Silverberg. Legends, I think. I'm not sure which one. They were pretty good, I guess, but they didn't make me any smarter or more interesting.

Don't Make Me Stop This Car! Adventures in Fatherhood by Al Roker, which is totally a parenting journal/blog, printed out and bound. Cute.

Language Visible: Unravelling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks, which goes through the history and cultural baggage (for want of a better word) of the letters of the alphabet, one by one. Mostly interesting, although a little repetitious. Almost all the letters took the same journey from Egypt to our alphabet; is it really necessary to describe that journey anew for each letter? Also I found the historical sidebars pretty boring, but fortunately the sidebar format made them easy to skip.

McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Michael Chabon. Good stories, although I always feel like short stories are trying too hard. Like any collection of short stories, this would have been better enjoyed in small sips rather than gulped down all at once, but I never manage to do that. Besides, I have to take it back to the library.

Beach Girls, by Luanne Rice. Fluff, but good fluff. Also a story about mothers and daughters, which is always guaranteed to get me all verklempt.

I think there might have been a couple more, but I don't remember what they are.

[Posted at 22:55 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 17 Apr 2005

This is billed as a "deeply satirical and thought-provoking thriller", according to the Sunday Express. I didn't think it was satirical, it seemed pretty realistic to me. Unless there's some definition of satirical I don't understand, which is quite possible. Anyway, it's about this radio DJ who gets into all kinds of trouble. I didn't like the protagonist at first because he seemed like a bit of a selfish prick, but then I got to like him because of his philosophical beliefs, which goes to show you my priorities are perhaps a little messed up.

Pretty exciting book. I recommend it.

[Posted at 09:20 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 16 Mar 2005

I'm not doing so well with the interesting comments tonight. This is a good book, I will probably read the others in the series.

[Posted at 20:20 by Amy Brown] link