Tagged: 2014

Basic Ridercourse

Basic Ridercourse by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, 5/5

This handbook has a straightforward, yet appealing layout and presents a lot of basic information about operating a motorcycle.  I appreciated how it focused on safety without being patronizing about it.

Why I read it: Lent to me by friends who ride.

Scary Close

scary close donald miller nelson books 2014Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller, 3/5

Miller is an entertaining writer, but not a very convincing psychologist.  While it is fun to read the story of how he developed a healthier approach to relationships and gradually found love at a relatively late age, I felt like he spent a lot of time answering easy questions I didn’t have while skirting around the most important, mysterious, confusing aspects of the topic.  He claims to want to teach that “love is worth what it costs,” but the focus of the book is much more on how to pay the cost than the worth.  For me, the real question isn’t what caused his previous relationships to fail and his current one to succeed (that is fairly obvious–turns out that authenticity and vulnerability make a better foundation than insecurity and manipulation), the big question is why did he suddenly feel compelled to make it work with someone in particular?  Now that I’m thinking about it, this is the exact issue I had with the previous book on relationships I read.  Perhaps one day, I’ll find a book that focuses on the why, not the how, but until then I guess I’ll just hope they are as entertaining as this one.

Why I read it: a family member recommended it to me.

Good Food, Great Medicine

good food great medicine hassell lithtex 2012Good Food, Great Medicine: A Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle Guide (Third Edition) by Miles Hassell, MD, and Mea Hassell, 4/5

This homey guide to healthy living contains all the information I imagine one could possibly need about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, including medical research, advice on nutrition, sleeping habits and exercise, and a large collection of recipes.  The authors’ approach is good-humored, unpatronizing and realistic–well-suited to the common-sense advice they give and the varying amounts of commitment they can expect from their readers.  I haven’t tried any of the recipes, which is why I give the book four stars instead of five.

Eat more simple, natural food that is close to its original form and eat less prepackaged, processed or sugary junk…thanks in part, I guess, to a relatively healthy upbringing, most of this book fit into the “well, duh!” category for me and it is the duh-factor that I find most convincing about the Mediterranean lifestyle.  This is no silver bullet, no gimmicky fad diet; it can’t be boiled down to “oh, I don’t eat carbs” or “I count calories” or “I fast intermittently” or “I only eat raw food,” etc.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing very sexy about a well-balanced, natural, sustainable approach to eating that requires lots of common sense and self-control.

Self-control–there’s the rub.  From both observation and first-hand experience, I’ve found that lack of self-control and lack of motivation, not lack of information, are at the root of unhealthy, excessive eating habits.  Knowledge may be power but it isn’t will power.  I can read a million studies about how doing x lowers your risk of dying by 35% and not doing y makes you 20% less likely to get cancer, but when I stop reading, it’s often because I need to put Nutella on my toast while it’s still warm.  Still, we all make decisions every day that affect our health, whether positively or negatively; for me, this book’s value is in helping me make a few better, more informed, eating decisions than I might have made before.  In this way, I hope to continue refining my approach to eating from merely counting calories to emphasizing those foods that are both good for me and make me feel good.

Why I read it: my dad had some heart trouble last year and his doctor recommended this book to him.

A picture quote I made:

A picture quote from Good Food, Great Medicine by Miles Hassell, MD, and Mea Hassell.  "Too busy to exercise? We understand. One reasonable approach is to exercise on every day that you do not want to have a heart attack or stroke."

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

terrible and wonderful reasons why i run long distances inman oatmeal andrews mcmeel 2014The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman (aka The Oatmeal), 5/5

Inman’s reasons for running may be much more terrible and wonderful than my own (just as his conception of “long distances” is much longer), but a lot of this hilarious book resonated with me.  On a side note: I’ve never read a collection of comics containing more illustrations of Nutella.

[Why I read it: I enjoy Inman’s webcomic, The Oatmeal, and this book came up in conversation with one of Dad’s coworkers.  I’d actually almost bought it in a store just a few days previous before remembering that 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth was collecting dust on my shelf after being read just once.  I hit the library up instead, which I guess makes me a bad fan.]

The Organized Mind

organized mind levitin dutton 2014The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin, 4/5

I didn’t enjoy reading this book very much; it does not seem well focused, does not flow very well and flip-flops annoyingly between information that is too technical to be useful and organizational ideas that are too simplistic.  In one paragraph, the author explains that the enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase regulates dompamine and noradrenaline in the prefrontal cortex, in another he suggests the not-exactly-earth-shattering idea of writing things down instead of trying to remember everything.

That said, there were still a lot of very interesting concepts in this book and several of the things I learned merited being read aloud to the family or being brought up in conversation over the last few days.  For example, it should be common knowledge by now that multitasking is not a thing, but did you know that watching TV while studying can actually cause the information you learn to be stored in the wrong part of your brain?  That’s powerful stuff.  Or that humans naturally tend toward a bimodal sleeping pattern that includes two four or five hour chunks, separated by an hour or two of wakefulness in the middle of the night and supplemented by an afternoon nap?

In my opinion, this book can’t hold a candle to Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (who, along with his partner Amos Tversky, is referenced quite often in The Organized Mind), but Levitin compensates for a sub-ideal reading experience by the fascinating and varied topics he explores.

[Why I read it: My friend, Joy, recommended it to me.]

One More Thing

one more thing stories and other stories bj novakOne More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak, 4/5

A great sense of comedic timing, a keen eye for observation and a healthy appreciation for the potential absurdity of the ordinary combine to make this collection of short stories, poems and miscellanea an entertaining and thought-provoking (but mostly entertaining) experience.  My favourite story was probably “The Man Who Invented the Calendar” though “The Girl Who Gave Great Advice” was also hilarious.  If Novak writes more, I will definitely read more.

[Why I read it: Book Guy Reviews’ enthusiastic write-up of this book was convincing.]

It’s Not About the Shark

its not about the shark david nivenIt’s Not About the Shark: How to Solve Unsolvable Problems by David Niven, Ph.D., 3/5

Everyone likes a good story and this book is full of them, from Steven Spielberg’s broken mechanical shark to the unintuitive results of a psychological study involving marshmallows and SAT scores.  However, the point of the book is ostensibly to enlighten, not just entertain, and this is where the weaknesses start, in my opinion.  Every couple of anecdotes, Niven stops to draw conclusions and give tips about problem solving which tend to be counter-cultural and surprising, such as “when you are stuck, find a good distraction that takes you away from your problems” (22) or “don’t follow the leader…[who] in many cases is just the person with bad ideas who has been around the longest” (182).  These tips are generally supported by two or three cherry-picked examples or studies and represent a gross oversimplification and overly-broad application of psychological findings.  For example, just because doctors in a study who were given candy made more accurate diagnoses doesn’t necessarily mean “eat a candy bar” is helpful advice (though, in case you needed an excuse to break your diet, this advice can be found on page 40).

[Why I read it: I think my friend Joy mentioned it, but I’m not sure.  I also had a good feeling about the author’s name, which I thought I recognized, but it turns out I was thinking about a different David Niven (the English actor).]