Books I Read Lately: November Edition

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph. D.. Martin Seligman is one of the pioneers of Positive Psychology, the study of the psychology of normal life and happiness, as opposed to psychological pathologies. This book is about optimism, which Seligman claims hinges on how you explain the bad things which happen to you. When something nasty happens to you and you believe the cause was personal—it was your fault, pervasive—it will affect your whole life, and persistent—it will never go away, then you are cooking up a big batch of pessimism, which in big enough doses leads to depression.

This book is touted as a self-help book, but as such it went far too much into the history and theory of learned helplessness, and cognitive behavioural therapy. I enjoyed the backgrounder, but if you just want the advice part you could skip to Part Two or even Part Three.

If you're prone to mild depression, or if you just want to be happier, this is a useful introduction to the new(ish) theory of changing your mood by changing how you think about your life.

The Flu Pandemic and You: A Canadian Guide by Vincent Lam, M.D. and Colin Lee, M.D. (2006) is a guide to the pandemic. It was written with the avian flu pandemic (H5N1) in mind, but since 2006 H1N1 has come to the fore. Fortunately the issues are all but identical. (Thrillingly enough, H5N1 is still out there and could strike at any moment!) The book includes, among other things, the history of flu epidemics and pandemics, an explanation of the WHO pandemic stages, how to prepare for a pandemic, how to limit the spread of flu, and how to care for others with the flu.

The most interesting thing was the degree of preparedness the authors recommend. A while ago I read that Cody Lundin book, When All Hell Breaks Loose, and he advocated some pretty extreme levels of preparedness, including planning alternative places to poo if the water system goes down, and figuring out how to keep your house warm if the power (or natural gas) system fails. Lam and Lee don't go that far, but they do recommend keeping plenty of food, water, and medical supplies on hand, and even a camp stove to cook on.

The Flu Pandemic and You is written clearly and informs without alarming. The chapters on preparedness and caring for sick people make it worth buying to have on the shelf for reference.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis is a novel for children, about Elijah, the first free black child born in his Buxton, Ontario hometown. Elijah is a fragile boy, sensitive and scared of snakes. This story takes him through an adventure which tests his courage and gives him painful insight into his parents lives before they escaped slavery.

The characters in Elijah are complicated and believable, and the story is rich in plot and historical detail. I enjoyed every page of Elijah and can't wait until the girls are old enough to read it too.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson is Bryson's memoir of his childhood in 1950's and 60's Des Moines. Bryson is always gold, and this book is no different. By the time I finished this book, I almost wished I had grown up in 1950's Des Moines. The freedom that the children of the 1950s had, and the lack of external stimulation, are things I wish my children could have (even just for a few months so they appreciate all the bells and whistles of 2009 life more).

I bought a bird feeder a while ago, and I'm trying to find a book which will tell me what I should put in it to attract various specific birds, how to ward off squirrels and deter sparrows and pigeons, and maybe (bonus) provide a reference guide to the birds I'm likely to see in Toronto.

Backyard Birdfeeding by Mathew Tekulsky is not that book. It is about (perhaps unsurprisingly) backyard birdfeeding, but it's a personal account of the author's experience with his birds in his backyard, and his backyard is in California. It was still pretty interesting and gave me some ideas for how and what to feed, but didn't have the specific information I want.

Birds at Your Feeder: A Guide to Feeding Habits, Behavior, Distribution and Abundance by Erica H. Dunn and Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes isn't that book either, but it's cool. It's an analysis of the data collected through Project FeederWatch, a survey of bird feeder birds across North America begun in 1987. It's organized by species, which each bird getting a clear drawing, description, and a map showing geographical distribution and abundance. Even more helpful is a list of what each bird likes to eat best.

Prize for weirdest bird feeder story goes to the woman who dragged two horse carcasses home from the vet and counted the vultures who came to clean up.

This book is much closer to what I want, and is probably worth buying, but I still want some kind of beginner's guide to feeding Toronto birds (and not Toronto squirrels). The search continues.

Writers Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas is a guide to writing all kinds of query letters: queries for magazines, books, agents, columns. There are lots of examples, both good and bad, and several lists of "don'ts" to ensure that your query at least doesn't suck. Which seems good enough to get onto a few editors' short lists.

Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer by Moira Anderson Allen is a catch-all guide to working as a magazine writer. It includes information on finding markets, developing ideas, writing queries, formatting manuscripts, and more.

There's also a compelling chapter on business writing, guest-written by Peter Bowerman. He makes it sound easy to earn money by writing, and I'll definitely check out his book, The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency As A Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less. (Seems like we're veering into snake oil territory again.)


Comments powered by Disqus