Tagged: 2014

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).]

As You Wish

as you wish cary elwes joe laydenAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden, 2/5

This underwhelming book, written by “Wesley” from the movie The Princess Bride, does contain some entertaining stories but consists mostly of uninteresting prose meant more to beef up the word count than to communicate anything insightful.  Along with intensely boring descriptions of how many chairs were at the first table read and exactly what kind of sandwiches were provided, is a tiresome quantity of trite tributes to the general awesomeness of everyone involved with the film.  And Elwes is not the only one spouting sweet nothings about the rest of the cast: there are also numerous interviews with relevant people who mostly seem to have nothing very meaningful to say and say it in a very generic way.  Even worse, these interviews are set apart from the main text in grey boxes that fragment the reading experience, making it disjointed and annoying.  All in all, I’d say the few really interesting anecdotes it contains make the book worth reading for fans of the movie, but they shouldn’t expect too much.

[Why I read it: I saw the title while ordering The Princess Bride novel at the library.]


What If?

what if randall munroeWhat If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe, 5/5

What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?  Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?  From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?

With his trademark wit, scientific know-how, and ability to draw strangely hilarious stick figures, Randall Munroe answers some of the vital questions that have been asked by readers of his webcomic, xkcd.  I expected this book to be underwhelming and a bit of a chore to read (à la almost all the other books based on webcomics I’ve encountered), but it was hilarious and accessible–my teenaged brother got his hands on it before me and read the whole thing in short order.  The content seems well-suited to book format and, surprisingly, I found it to be even funnier and more readable than the What If? blog that inspired its creation.

[Why I read it: I’ve been a fan of xkcd for several years now.]

Entropy Academy

Entropy Academy Alison BernhoftEntropy Academy: How to Succeed at Homeschooling Even if You Don’t Homeschool by Alison Bernhoft, ♥♥♥♥♥/5

My friend wrote a book!  It is, unsurprisingly, just like her: intelligent, passionate, inspiring and humorous.  Despite possessing an impressive formal education that includes degrees from England’s Royal College of Music, Oxford, and UCLA, Alison wasn’t afraid to embrace unconventionality when it came to successfully homeschooling her large family.  Her decision to work with life’s chaos instead of fighting it resulted in a homeschooling style that is joyful and realistic, integrating learning naturally into every aspect of life.  Hilarious anecdotes and creative educational ideas are woven into a family narrative that provides an antidote to the sort of dry, rigidly-structured homeschooling ideologies that crush children’s natural love of learning and burden their parents with unrealistic demands on time and patience.  This is the sort of book that is written out of love, and, I have no doubt, in response to demand from people who have seen the fruits of Alison’s labour in her loving family and successful children, now grown up.

You can find more information on her website or buy a copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and Books-A-Million.

[Why I read it: No one who has read Alison’s hugely-entertaining Christmas letters, met her talented family or talked to her in person could resist the opportunity of reading an entire book written by her!  Also, I was honored to edit the book, design the cover, convert it to e-book formats, put it up for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google Play, create the website and Facebook page, as well as whatever other things needed doing.  It was a challenging project that took over a year to complete, but provided great fun and satisfaction, as well as invaluable learning experience.]

Update: Since writing this review, Entropy Academy has been further refreshed and published by Propriometrics Press.


Homemade Busy Book

busy book felt monkey coverRecently, my mom sewed a busy book for my brother’s baby (her first grandchild) and I think it turned out amazing!  Since she used a lot of online resources (Pinterest, Google Images) throughout the project, we thought it would be only fair to give back by sharing photos of the finished book in case they can help anyone else with a similar project.