Books for the Beginning of 2010

Twelve Books That Changed the World by Melvyn Bragg is a book that introduces itself. I believe it's a tie-in book to a TV series, the kind of TV series that could only be produced in England. The books range from the St James Bible to Mary Woolstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and, curiously, Rules of Association Football. Each book is described, put into context, and Bragg makes his arguments for why it belongs in this list. This is a great introduction to some seminal written works, but also a brisk and effective overview of some high points of our society's history.

Further Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes was recommended to me by someone on Twitter (I think it was FlossieTeacake) after a discussion of villa-itis, or the fear that you are going to run out of bread while staying at a French villa. (I have a chronic case of villa-itis which is villa-independent.) The book is a collection of personal essays and short stories. Keyes is an Irish writer with an extraordinary Cinderella story of going from abject alcoholism to fame and riches as a writer. The story is told in the book, along with essays on various topics including the joy of writing a makeup column (free samples!), air-guitar championships, shopping and plenty of chocolate. Funny and sweet.

Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen is yet another positive/democratic/whatever parenting book. I don't know why I keep reading them, since I more-or-less know what I'm doing by now, but it's good to be reminded, and I do pick up different ideas from the various books. This particular book reminded me of the importance of family meetings, and reassured me that some problems (namely chores) will have to be revisited at regular intervals but are still worth handling democratically. I wouldn't call this my favourite democratic parenting book—it's just not funny enough. But it's worth a look if you need a refresher (or an introduction to positive parenting) or if you want a new angle.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson is our first book club book of the year, and already this year's book club roster is looking better than last year's. The Gargoyle is about a man who gets terribly burned in a car crash, then meets a mysterious woman with a bizarre past while he's recovering. It's about love and redemption and all that good stuff, with a big dose of history. It's beautifully written and I didn't want it to end.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. I have long been a fan of the checklist. I like to-do lists to keep my days focused, I like lists of things to take places, I like to record our daily routines in list form so nothing is forgotten. This book is the validation for my checklist habit: Gawande writes about how checklists can improve the outcome of extremely complex projects, such as construction projects, and surgeries. Checklists are already in use in construction and aviation, and the book centres on Gawande and his team's attempt to create a checklist to reduce the number of fatalities as a result of surgeries. It's not a smooth path, but along the way we learn the kinds of checklists (DO-CONFIRM and READ-DO), what makes a good checklist (not too much information, easy to read), what makes a bad checklist (too long), and the mind-boggling difference that a checklist can make in a process that everyone involved feels is already going pretty well. (Gawande uses his own checklist, and at first he thought it wouldn't make much difference to his outcomes. As it turns out, not a week goes by that the checklist doesn't catch something he would have missed, and it has even saved at least one life on his watch).

As usual, Gawande is engaging and convincing. This was a great read as well as a confirmation (and refinement) of my love for checklists.

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