December Books

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.


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