The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle, 5/5
Impeccably organized around three main skills (1. Build Safety, 2. Share Vulnerability, and 3. Establish Purpose), this book examines some of the world’s highest-functioning groups in such varied fields as business, tech, the military, sport, comedy and medicine. Coyle achieves a beautiful balance of well-referenced information, firsthand observations, anecdotes, and suggestions for real-life applications. I was fascinated to see how similar a healthy culture is to a healthy family and recognized many of the ideas and values from my own experiences growing up in a large and loving family.
Experimenting with Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid by Shaun Gallagher, 5/5
This book is very good for what it is–a light-hearted and accessible collection of activities, based on scientific experiments, that highlight the nuances of a baby’s development. The presentation is not at all rigorous and might even uncharitably be considered “dumbed-down,” but does go well beyond the few common reflexes (e.g. rooting, Moro, stepping, etc.) with which parents might already be familiar. Personally, I do not feel motivated to actually perform any of the experiments with my own baby, but it was still fascinating to learn more about his fascinating progression from potato to person.
Why I read it: A friend lent it to me.
Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph, 5/5
I wouldn’t even think about buying a fruit tree without first re-reading this exceptional book, which makes a very convincing case for using aggressive (but surprisingly simple) pruning techniques to keep fruit trees in the 5- to 6-foot height range. These trees may seem ridiculously tiny at first glance, but anyone who has faced the prospect of caring for larger trees while perched atop a ladder, in addition to coping with an overabundant harvest of sub-par fruit, will appreciate the practicality of Ann Ralph’s philosophy.
Since pruning is such a hands-on activity, I had some doubts about how much help a mere book could offer. For this reason, I had already taken a series of virtual Master Pruning classes through PlantAmnesty. Unfortunately, I found that organization’s overall pruning philosophy to be a bit fanatical and somewhat discouraging. They have a very PETA vibe: picture taking a hair styling course to cut your roommate’s hair and being told that your main focus should be on not disturbing the hair’s glorious natural potential and if you still really want to cut it, maybe you should consider just getting a different roommate. To be fair, their fruit tree class was more practical than the others, but I was left a little depressed and stressed out by the whole experience. In contrast, Ann Ralph’s approach to pruning encourages joyful, fearless experimentation and this little book gave me back the enthusiasm that I originally had for the art of pruning.
Not only is Grow a Little Fruit Tree informative and encouraging, its design and illustrations are exceptionally beautiful. I think it’s a shame that designer and hand-letterer, Lana Lê, and artist Allison Langton are not credited on the cover! It took a little research, but I was happy to find that their online portfolios (see links) contain samples from the book that are well worth checking out.
Training for the Uphill Athlete: A Manual for Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers by Steve House, Scott Johnston and Kílian Jornet, 5/5
This bible for uphill endurance athletes accomplishes what most other sports and fitness books promise and fail to do: give readers a solid understanding of the physiological effects that specific training has on their bodies and the ability to use that knowledge flexibly in the pursuit of their own athletic goals. The fact that a book could never fully substitute for a good coach does not seem to discourage the authors from trying, and their approach to the topic is extremely well-conceived. They avoid the common shortcomings of only providing information that is too general (here are some good exercises!) or too specific (here is a complete training plan for a 125lb female athlete with 3 years of experience, coming off an ankle injury!). Additionally, the photographs in this book are abundant and exceptional. If there were such a thing as an armchair athlete, this book would be very satisfying for them.
Every sport deserves to have a training guide like this one but, selfishly, I’m kind of bummed out that it exists for such a niche and not for any of the martial arts or even “normal” running. Mountain running seems so…extra…and I’d never even heard of ski mountaineering (skimo) before. Still, as the authors point out, “Increasing aerobic capacity has major benefits to all athletes regardless of the duration of the event they are training for” (54). Perhaps the most broadly-applicable chapter is the one titled “The Physiology of Endurance,” which debunks the VO2 max as the holy grail of fitness and explains how and why plentiful training at low- to moderate-level intensity, interspersed strategically with short, high intensity workouts, can raise one’s aerobic threshold to within 10% of one’s lactate (anaerobic) threshold. Think about it. Who wouldn’t want the ability to perform at a higher level for longer? I’m not an endurance nerd, but the more of the science I read, the more I coveted the “big aerobic motor” this book describes.
Why I read it: a recommendation from my sister.
Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor by Clinton Romesha, 5/5
This harrowing story gave me a renewed sense of respect and empathy for all U.S. service members who have seen combat. I have several family members in the military, including a couple who have been deployed to the Middle East, but I’ve never asked for any war stories and they’ve never told me any. It’s not that I’m uninterested, it just feels rude (or worse, tacky) to pry. After all, I wouldn’t ask a police officer how many people they’ve shot or a newly single person why they got divorced. Because of this, it felt like a rare privilege to read such a raw account of danger, bravery and sacrifice. I’m thankful the author was willing to relive such a personally traumatic experience and honor the dead’s memory with a permanent, written record.
Why I read it: my brother, Ian, recommended it to me.
Magical Swimming and Flying Adventures by Elsa Fujinaka, 5/5
This little book has as many fairies and mermaids as you could possibly wish for, but my favorite character is the merfairyunicorn with two problems (don’t worry, the delightful duo on the cover are very good at solving problems). I was especially impressed by the detailed artwork, which is impressively consistent for all 16 pages and complements the story perfectly. I hope the author writes more books in the future!
Why I read it: What proud aunt could resist?
What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, 5/5
This ubiquitous book is well-deserving of its reputation as the bible of pregnancy. It contains a ton of helpful information but what makes it truly outstanding, in my opinion, is the comforting and positive tone with which the info is conveyed. Reading it feels more like having a conversation with your mom than referencing a textbook or encyclopedia. Pregnancy can be a scary experience and it’s such a relief to read that whatever bizarre symptom you are dealing with is perfectly normal. I do wish that the book ended on a happier note instead of a chapter on complications and pregnancy loss, though.
I also really like the What to Expect website’s week-to-week feature and forums.
Why I read it: I am pregnant and remember seeing this book on my parents’ shelf as a kid. I was lucky that a friend passed along this copy to me.
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh, 5/5
My advice, do not read this in any place where laughing out loud would be inappropriate. Brosh’s bizarre take on life would be funny no matter the presentation medium, but there is something about her deranged drawings in particular that just becomes more hysterical the longer you look at them. Also, this book is huge! Like really substantial: the pages are thick and it weighs a ton. I still read it in basically one sitting, though.
Why I read it: I’ve been a fan ever since encountering her website years ago, but since she doesn’t update it very often, I found out about this newest book from my brother. I was somewhere around 50th in line at the library when I put it on hold, but it was worth the wait!
Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin, 5/5
This book’s introduction alone provides such an incredibly compelling argument for breastfeeding and against the use of formula that I started to feel quite fanatic about the topic. Then I remembered that, still pregnant with my first child, I should probably keep my opinions to myself until I’ve had some real-life experience. Since that experience is still a few months away, I appreciated all the helpful info in this book, presented with Gaskin’s trademark practicality and tone of encouragement. I now have a more educated optimism that my new baby and I will be able to join the billions of mothers and children who have participated in the tradition of breastfeeding throughout time.
Why I read it: I plan to breastfeed and really liked Gaskin’s other book: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, 5/5
Anecdotal evidence may not be the best kind of evidence, but it is definitely the most entertaining. I enjoyed reading about the natural childbirth experiences of the many women represented in this book and appreciated that, overall, the stories were comforting without sugarcoating the intensity of the birth experience. Entertaining or not, I wouldn’t have been able to take Gaskin very seriously if she did not also have vast practical experience and the approbation of many more traditionally-educated medical experts. Advocates of natural childbirth can seem a bit fanatical, but their passion is understandable in light of the unnecessary and often harmful medical interference that seemed to characterize obstetrics in the 1900s (in addition to the U.S.A.’s frankly appalling maternal mortality ratio). I am cautiously optimistic that medicine has by now advanced to include a more open-minded and respectful view of the female body’s innate capacity for birth.
Why I read it: a friend recommended the author’s book Spiritual Midwifery, which was not available as a hard copy at my library at the time, so I read this one instead.