Compared to the first half of this year, in the last couple of months I've been reading like a demon!
Dangerous Planet: Natural Disasters That Changed History by Bryn Barnard. This is another book by the Outbreak dude, and I didn't like it as much but probably just because I have more of an affinity for disgusting pustulent diseases than I do for scary natural (and other) disasters. This book has the same basic format; each chapter is dedicated to a different disaster, describing how the disaster happened and how it changed the course of history. Among other things, Barnard discusses the Great Fire of London and its effect on how buildings and cities are constructed; the two (not one but two!) typhoons which devastated the army of Kublai Khan and protected Japan from invasion in the 1200s, leading to a certain sense of invincibility in the Japanese; and of course the classic asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs.
This book is beautifully designed and well-illustrated, clearly written and informative.
Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful by Louise Bates Ames. I had to read this to see what it had to say about four-year-olds, which my mom friends and I have already observed are bossy and braggy as hell. Ames agrees, although she gives it a more positive spin; she says if you can view your four-year-old's noisy, pushy arrogance with as much amused detachment as you can muster the year will go much more smoothly.
As usual the observations in this book are spot on, and very helpful in distinguishing your child's personality from the phases she's going through. It gets a little dated sometimes but that's part of the fun of it.
Thankfully, the next book in the series is subtitled "Sunny and Serene". Hooray!
The Mac is Not A Typewriter by Robin Williams. I only read this because Blake had it out, and a lot of it was stuff my brother taught me back in Grade 11 ("The Amiga is not a typewriter!"); don't use underlines, don't use spaces when you should use tab stops. Williams also gets into fancy stuff like Kerning, and she is very keen — perhaps obsessively so — on curly quotes and em-dashes. She uses some very strong words to describe straight quotes, words which make me think I am dealing with an ill person and should perhaps disregard her advice. Really, they're quotation marks.
I am also leery— born perhaps of having been introduced to computers through Unix in the early nineties — of using non-ASCII characters, really ever, but especially in email and on the web. Williams even suggests using curly quotes in filenames! I'm sorry, I don't even use spaces in filenames. That's craziness. Excuse me, I am going to go and grow a long beard now, and perhaps refrain from bathing for a few weeks. I must dust my green-screen ASCII terminal.
At the cottage last week I read Home Leave by Libby Purves which was fantastic and I loved it; it's about four siblings, the children of a diplomat, who were hauled all around the world when they were young. It's about what home means, and of course I related to the situation of having your sibling as your only constant for your whole childhood. There is a lot of talk of children and babies in the book and Purves writes so realistically and richly about children; they don't disappear or only feature as plot or characterization devices, or worse just as noisy perplexing ciphers, as they so often do in novels. Purves knows how to write about how children change you and affect you for better and for worse. I loved the characters and the stories and the ideas. And the ending; the ending was immensely satisfying.
I also read Pug Hill by Alison Pace which was pretty disappointing after the Purves. This is a book about a thirty-one year old in Manhatten looking for love and sorting herself out. The protagonist annoyed the crap out of me with her whining and self-absorption and judgementalness and immaturity, and she didn't get all that much better through the book, although I think she was supposed to. It was like Bridget Jones in Manhattan, except blessedly free of talk about dieting.