Monday, March 22, 2010

fully booked

I mentioned in a previous post that I got a lot of book vouchers for my birthday. A LOT.

This allowed me to buy a lot of books. A LOT. Why am I blogging about this now, two months after the fact, you may be wondering? Well, it’s kind of in honour of the fact that I’m leaving books blog Five Minutes Peace at the end of the month in order to have more time to write about other things. (NON-BOOK things, if you can believe that.) And it’s kind of because I just didn’t get around to it sooner and am gormless. Mostly the latter.

Anyway. For my birthday, way back when, two friends bought me identical vouchers, with which I got:

- Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton
This is a graphic novel made to look (brilliantly) like an auction catalogue. Bittersweet and clever, it chronicles the breakdown of a relationship between two hipster-types, one a photographer, the other a New York Times cake columnist. One of those books that make writers sad and jealous that they didn’t think of it first. Not me though. [SHE LIED.]

- Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own by Doreen Orion

I have loved the idea of travelling round the US in an RV for a really long time. (Remember that episode of Frasier when they travelled in one, albeit not entirely successfully? That kind of cemented things, but when I was little we knew a family who had a small camper van that I was fascinated with, too. And the Geek Brief (now thwarted) Big Trip idea really (vicariously) excited me. The trip in this book isn’t in an RV but a custom-made bus with its own dishwasher, internet and satellite TV (who knew?) but the concept is the same. I expected to absolutely love it but it’s taking me a while to wade through. I don’t find the narrator very endearing but I am enjoying the travel stories. (And by enjoying I mean feeling full of rage and envy that it’s not me, obviously.)

- Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University ed. by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call

I chose this mainly because in contains a previously unpublished piece by Nora Ephron (about why more journalists should become screenwriters and vice versa) but there’s loads of good advice that’s  relevant for any writer interested in narrative non-fiction/long-form journalism/American publications.

Then my Dad very kindly, or very Kindle-y (haaaa) gave me some money to buy some e-books. So I got:

- I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed by Kyria Abrahams

The story of a Jehovah’s Witness childhood. Very educational; lots I didn’t know despite having a JW childminder. But it doesn’t really wrap up the author’s story very well (we leave her in a bad place in her life and I wanted to know more – I felt some self-indulgent rambling towards the end  could have been cut in order to achieve this). Of course she may be saving it for a sequel, which I’d definitely read.

- Rockabye by Rebecca Woolf

I’m a big fan of Rebecca’s blog, Girl’s Gone Child and had been meaning to read her memoir for some time. Sweet, funny and raw, it’s the story of her unplanned pregnancy (at a time in her life when she was not at all prepared to have a baby). I loved her wriitng and as someone whose life hasn’t gone to plan (althought for different reasons) I really related.

- The Best Technology Writing 2009 ed. by Steven Johnson

I know, kinda geeky. But there’s some great writing in here. I’m dipping into this one and have already learned about the recent breach in internet security which almost threatened all of our data and the popularity of the cell phone novel in Japan.

- Don’t You Forget About Me by Jancee Dunn

I loved her memoir, But Enough About Me (highly recommended) and this is her first novel, about a woman caught up in ’80s nostalgia after the end of her marriage. This is so well-drawn that some bits were painful to read but I really enjoyed it, especially the main character’s ageing talk show host boss, Vi, who is from another era and so full of life. I really hope she’s based on a real person.

- The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life by Martha Beck

I’ve been a Beck fan for a few years now, but this is the book of hers that really makes the most sense to me. I’m still on practice one but I’m going to keep trying.

- The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I chose this for February’s book club pick. Then I ended up regretting it. It’s REALLY hard work.

- If You Have to Cry, Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone

Anyone who has seen Kelly on The Hills, The City or her new show Kell on Earth (ha) will know how scary she can be. But she’s also pretty amazing. This is her story of moving from a small town to make it in New York and I was surprised to find how compassionate she feels towards other women trying to fight their way up the ladder: she doesn’t want to be friends with her employees, but she does want to help them out.

Then, as my Dad said he didn’t mind if I got a mix of e- and paper books, I decided to get secondhand print versions of books I’d been wanting for a while but which were too expensive to buy new. So I bought:

- Letterati by Paul McCarthy

Which is about the world of competitive Scrabble. I read a couple of chapters then moved on to some other stuff but I’ll go back. It’s interesting stuff.

- I’m Down by Mishna Wolff

I kept seeing reviews of this and it sounded really great and funny… and it WAS. It’s about Woolf’s father and how he wanted to raise her and her sister to be down, to be cool, to fit in, even as white people in an all-black neighbourhood and poor people in an all-white upper-class school. Mishna didn’t seem to belong in either place and her rendering of events is hilarious. But there is a tinge of sadness to the funny, too – she grew up hungry and cold, albeit stoical.

- Get Known Before The Book Deal by Christina Katz

I keep reading articles by Katz (mainly in Writer’s Digest) and was curious to see what I could learn about writers and self-promotion. So far: quite a bit.

I also got a new copy of:

- The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty

If you haven’t heard of Grammar Girl (where have you been?) it’s a massively successful podcast about yes, grammar, and this is the second spin-off book. I haven’t read much of it yet. But I WILL.

In non-birthday book related news, I’ve just finished Julie Klam’s very good Please Excuse My Daughter (she’s Jancee Dunn’s best friend, incidentally – I heard about her from Dunn’s first book) and now I need to race through Vampire Diaries for the March book club. Phew.

Let’s not even talk about all my overdue library books, most of which I haven’t read… Oh, and my mum got me some money to spend at Amazon for my birthday too (people know what I like), but I got DVDs with that. (More on which, later. Probably much later, let’s be realistic here.)


Spitfire Parade

I’ve been reading the book Portrait of a Legend: Spitfire by Leo McKinstry in the last few days. I found it by accident while I was browsing through McNally Robinson, the best book shop in Saskatoon. It is a good read, and has some interesting observations to make about the aircraft, the design and manufacturing process and the pilots who flew the plane. One of the interesting observations is that the RAF could have had many more Spitfires available for the Battle of Britain if the production lines had been better run. That would have been an interesting “what if scenario” – posit an RAF with a dramatically improved capability. How would the Luftwaffe have responded? One suspects that they would have suffered terrible casualties and that would have accelerated aviation research in Germany in an attempt to regain air superiority. It might also have delayed Operation Barbarossa, the attack on the Soviet Union. Another comment is that the command and control organisation of the RAF was perhaps a little too decentralised. If Air Marshal Dowding had retained overall control of operations, instead of devolving it down to the Group level, the RAF effort might well have been better coordinated and able to respond even more effectively. It is quite an interesting counterpoint to the usual view that the RAF was very hard pressed and only won because of German strategic errors in changing targets, from the airfields to London.

Spitfire Mk2a

Spitfire Mk 2a

The book is very well written, in a journalistic style rather than an academic one, which is hardly surprising, as the author is a journalist, albeit with a history degree. As usual with this type of popular history, there are many short comments from eye witnesses included to give the perspective of the “ordinary person”. I did find the content to be a little unbalanced.  There is a lot of detail oof the pre-war design phase , and on production and operation before and during the Battle of Britain, but much less on the rest of the war and postwar service. A highly recommended read, particularly if you are interested in World War Two, or the Spitfire or both.

Spitfire, showing the distinctive elliptical wing shape

Spitfire: the elliptical wings are the distinguishing feature in these early aircraft

I shamelessly borrowed the title of this post from Capt. W. E. Johns 1941 title in the “Biggles” series!


Highland Lady Lowland Marriage...




Read some excerpts and comments on “Here Burns My Candle” by Liz Curtis Higgs.


Lady Elisabeth Kerr is a keeper of secrets. A Highlander by birth and a Lowlander by marriage, she honors the auld ways, even as doubts and fears stir deep within her.
    Her husband, Lord Donald, has secrets of his own, well hidden from the household, yet whispered among the town gossips.
    His mother, the dowager Lady Marjory, hides gold beneath her floor and guilt inside her heart. Though her two abiding passions are maintaining her place in society and coddling her grown sons, Marjory’s many regrets, buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, continue to plague her.
    One by one the Kerr family secrets begin to surface, even as bonny Prince Charlie and his rebel army ride into Edinburgh in September 1745, intent on capturing the crown.
    A timeless story of love and betrayal, loss and redemption, flickering against the vivid backdrop of eighteenth-century Scotland, Here Burns My Candle illumines the dark side of human nature, even as hope, the brightest of tapers, lights the way home.


Praise for
Here Burns My Candle
“Liz Curtis Higgs has an unmatched ability to illuminate the depth of human emotions while taking her readers on a breathtaking journey through the darkness and light of another time and another place. With the deft hand only a master storyteller can apply, Higgs reaches back to the past and weaves a multi-threaded tapestry into a brilliant tale of betrayal and challenge, love and redemption. Her gift continues to shine.”
—BJ Hoff, author of The Emerald Ballad series

“A wonderful retelling of the story of Ruth by one of my favorite authors. Here Burns My Candle is rich with historic detail and living, breathing characters that engaged me from page one right through to the perfect ending.”
—Francine Rivers, author of Redeeming Love
“Prepare to burn your own candle well into the night as Higgs treats us to a verra wonderful Scottish tale of faith, forgiveness, love, loss, and secrets. I couldna put it doon!”
—Deeanne Gist, author of A Bride in the Bargain
“Settle in with Here Burns My Candle, Liz Curtis Higgs’s imaginative reworking of the tale of Naomi and Ruth, and venture back to a dangerous and fascinating time with characters who are as endearing as they are flawed. You can almost hear the drums of war and the swish of kilts and satin.”
—Angela Hunt, author of Let Darkness Come
“Higgs’s pen flows with gold when it turns to Scotland. Enticing from gripping first page to satisfying last, Here Burns My Candle will sweep you away!”
—Tamera Alexander, author of Beyond This Moment
“Once again Liz Curtis Higgs pens an exceptional story of intrigue, romance, and

spiritual faith. Her attention to historical detail gives this story a life all its own, and the characters were so real I found myself thinking about them throughout the day. I simply could not put this book down.” 
—Tracie Peterson, author of Dawn’s Prelude
“Liz Curtis Higgs writes with a cinematic eye—color, texture, emotional depth. Her words give breath to this fresh twist on a beloved Old Testament story. Here Burns My Candle radiates the author’s love of Scotland and its mesmeric history in this story of women bound by obligation yet tethered to devotion. It will keep you up all night until you’ve turned the last dramatic page!”
—Patricia Hickman, author of The Pirate Queen

“I love a story that engages the heart first, the mind second. While reading Higgs’s novel, I became her noble heroine and was convicted by similarities to her antagonist, learning through it all. Come away to an enchanting glimpse of ancient Scotland and beyond. Truly amazing.”
Lisa Tawn Bergren, author of The Begotten

This book was provided by Multnomah Press for review and can be purchased at:     and many other Christian Retailers.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Review of "The Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan

If Wikipedia is good for anything, surely it is this.

I listened to this book. I haven’t much to say on the book other than to note that commuting to work on the DC metro while listening to The Pilgrim’s Progress really hammers home how different modern society is from the society of Bunyan’s day. We are always taught of society’s progress. Listen to Bunyan while riding the subway and see if "progress" is the first word that comes to mind – it certainly wasn’t the first word that came into my mind.


More on the "Age of Bronze"

I tried to make that more clever but nothing was really working for me today. Back at the library I returned the graphic novel adaptation of the Trojan War part 1 and picked up part 2. Which is nice because it means that I might actually be able to get the whole thing…or it did until today’s visit spawned a third trip to the comic section and I realized that part three was not on the shelf. Something tells me that it won’t be in the system either, I guess I’ll figure it out when I go back to return 2.

The second part of the series is called: Sacrifice. Sacrifice was obviously a huge part of the ancient Greek society, being that their polytheism demanded a sacrifice if a person wanted to do anything. The only pantheism that tops the Greeks were the Romans. The Romans had assimilated so many cultures during their expansion that the numbers of gods just kept growing and growing. It didn’t end until Christianity took over, and even then it continued only instead of using the gods they just assimilated holidays, concepts, symbolism, and canonized instead of deified.

The story of the Trojan war is fraught with sacrifice. High king Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter in order make the trip to Troy. The gods were quite demanding in those days, not like the softer gods that seem to populate the earth now. My main issue with the series remains: there are no gods.

The gods play such an important role in the story, given that it was them who got the whole ball of wax rolling in the first place, that taking them out of it completely neuters some of the characters. For instance, Achilles is un-killable in the story until a certain point. His mother is a goddess and he’s been granted immunity from physical harm by being dunked in the river Styx. In the first book his mother, Thetis, is clearly not just a normal person in her demeanor but given the world in which the story is being told she is either delusional or dishonest. The centaur Karon, Achilles’ tutor, is now just some hairy guy who lives in the forest that Thetis sent her only son to live with and be taught by. Sounds like some real bang up parenting there. Why not just drop him entirely?

The book is trying to toe the line between being faithful to the source materials but sticking on the modern interpretation that makes the Greek religions false. However it can’t have it both ways, and in order to be a consistent story it really needs to pick a side and run with it.

For as much as I have objections to the series I do find that it is very difficult for me to not read it. Perhaps it is because this is one of my favorite stories but I don’t think this series would be a gateway into getting people to read the original source material.


Book Review: Steering through Chaos by Scott Wilson

Steering through Chaos Mapping a clear direction for your church in the midst of transition and change.

Steering Through Chaos is not so much a practical manual, but a general book filled with basic leadership principles that can help not only pastors, but anyone heading an organization during transition. Scott hits key points like identifying turning points and transitions, leading with a clear vision, timing your change, being authentic, the importance of prayer, and celebrating as you go.

Scott outlines each principle and then gives examples from his own experience as well as from the experience of other seasoned pastors. The book is easy to read and very engaging. The only difficulty in reading it lies in the fact that even though the reader reads from Scott’s perspective, its easy to disagree with Scott’s decisions. At times the reader may wonder if, as a leader, Scott would sacrifice individuals for the whole of the organization. But maybe that is what Scott means in his introduction when he quotes “Your Church will only grow to the level of your pain threshold.” As a leader of an organization in transition, hard decisions have to be made and not everyone will agree.

Whether or not the reader ends up agreeing with Scott on ever example, the overall principles laid out can be beneficial to any leader. The book is not a step by step manual in leading through transition, but it does force the reader to think and it arms him with principles to use as a foundation of transitional leadership.

I can’t promise that the reader will love every word in this book, but I would recommend it to any leader going through transition if for no other reason than to challenge their thinking.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

They say that for every problem there is a solution which is simple, elegant, and wrong - these titles in science prove the point.

IgNobel prizes : the annals of improbable research    London : Orion, 2002  Marc Abrahams Science , Awards , Miscellanea Hardcover. 319 p. : ill., ports. ; 23 cm. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

For 10 years the august scientists of Harvard University have scoured the world’s research establishments for the most bizarre and weird real-life scientific research.

The Ig Nobel Prize honours individuals whose achievements in science cannot or should not be reproduced. 10 prizes are given to people who have done remarkably bizarre things in science over the previous year. The Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony is held in October. Prizes are awarded by genuine Nobel laureates.

The ‘Igs’ are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative and shine a grubby spotlight onto the weird corners of laboratories around the world.

PAST WINNERS: Peter Fong’s experiment in which he fed Prozac to clams (Ig Nobel Biology Prize, 1998) on the basis that if they chilled out more they’d taste better.

Harold Hillman’s report on ‘The Possible Pain Experienced during Execution by Different Methods’ (Ig Nobel Peace Prize, 1997)

Jerald Bain and Kerry Siminoski’s examination of The Relationship among Height, Penile Length, and Foot Size (Ig Nobel Statistics Prize, 1998).

Masumi Wakita (Ig Nobel Psychology Prize, 1995) and their achievement in training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet

Richard Seed (Ig Nobel Economics Prize, 1997) and his plan to clone himself and other human beings.

Ida Sabelis (Ig Nobel Biology 2000) for Magnetic resonance Imaging of Male and Female Genitals During Coitus and Female Sexual Arousal

The book will look behind the scenes of these landmark researchers and feature the weirdest research from a hundred years of science.

Reading the rocks : the autobiography of the earth    Cambridge, MA : Westview Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, c 2005  Marcia Bjornerud Geology Hardcover. x, 237 p. ; 22 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 213-226) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

To many of us, the Earth’s crust is a relic of ancient, unknowable history. But to a geologist, stones are richly illustrated narratives, telling gothic tales of cataclysm and reincarnation. For more than four billion years, in beach sand, granite, and garnet schists, the planet has kept a rich and idiosyncratic journal of its past.

Fulbright Scholar Marcia Bjornerud takes the reader along on an eye-opening tour of Deep Time, explaining in elegant prose what we see and feel beneath our feet. Both scientist and storyteller, Bjornerud uses anecdotes and metaphors to remind us that our home is a living thing with lessons to teach.

She opines how our planet has long maintained a delicate balance, and how the global give-and-take has sustained life on Earth through numerous upheavals. But with the rapidly escalating effects of human beings on their home planet, that cosmic balance is being threatened—and the consequences may be catastrophic.

Containing a glossary and detailed timescale, as well as vivid descriptions and historic accounts, Reading the Rocks is literally a history of the world, for all friends of the Earth.

Symmetry : a journey into the patterns of nature    New York, NY : Harper, c 2008  Marcus du Sautoy Symmetry (Mathematics) Hardcover. “First published in Great Britain as Finding Moonshine in 2008 by Fourth Estate”, T.p. verso. 1st U.S. ed. and printing. 376 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [355]-359) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Symmetry is all around us. Our eyes and minds are drawn to symmetrical objects, from the pyramid to the pentagon. Of fundamental significance to the way we interpret the world, this unique, pervasive phenomenon indicates a dynamic relationship between objects. In chemistry and physics, the concept of symmetry explains the structure of crystals or the theory of fundamental particles; in evolutionary biology, the natural world exploits symmetry in the fight for survival; and symmetry—and the breaking of it—is central to ideas in art, architecture, and music.

Combining a rich historical narrative with his own personal journey as a mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy takes a unique look into the mathematical mind as he explores deep conjectures about symmetry and brings us face-to-face with the oddball mathematicians, both past and present, who have battled to understand symmetry’s elusive qualities. He explores what is perhaps the most exciting discovery to date—the summit of mathematicians’ mastery in the field—the Monster, a huge snowflake that exists in 196,883-dimensional space with more symmetries than there are atoms in the sun.

What is it like to solve an ancient mathematical problem in a flash of inspiration? What is it like to be shown, ten minutes later, that you’ve made a mistake? What is it like to see the world in mathematical terms, and what can that tell us about life itself? In Symmetry, Marcus du Sautoy investigates these questions and shows mathematical novices what it feels like to grapple with some of the most complex ideas the human mind can comprehend.

Ice : the nature, the history, and the uses of an astonishing substance    New York : Knopf, 2005  Mariana Gosnell Ice Hardcover. 1st ed. x, 560 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 523-535) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Like the adventurer who circled an iceberg to see it on all sides, Mariana Gosnell, former Newsweek reporter and author of Zero Three Bravo, a book about flying a small plane around the United States, explores ice in all its complexity, grandeur, and significance.

More brittle than glass, at times stronger than steel, at other times flowing like molasses, ice covers 10 percent of the earth’s land and 7 percent of its oceans. In nature it is found in myriad forms, from the delicate needle ice that crunches underfoot in a winter meadow to the massive, centuries-old ice that forms the world’s glaciers. Scientists theorize that icy comets delivered to Earth the molecules needed to get life started, and ice ages have shaped much of the land as we know it.

Here is the whole world of ice, from the freezing of Pleasant Lake in New Hampshire to the breakup of a Vermont river at the onset of spring, from the frozen Antarctic landscape that emperor penguins inhabit to the cold, watery route bowhead whales take between Arctic ice floes. Mariana Gosnell writes about frostbite and about the recently discovered 5,000-year-old body of a man preserved in an Alpine glacier. She discusses the work of scientists who extract cylinders of Greenland ice to study the history of the earth’s climate and try to predict its future. She examines ice in plants, icebergs, icicles, and hail; sea ice and permafrost; ice on Mars and in the rings of Saturn; and several new forms of ice developed in labs. She writes of the many uses humans make of ice, including ice-skating, ice fishing, iceboating, and ice climbing; building ice roads and seeding clouds; making ice castles, ice cubes, and iced desserts.

Ice is a sparkling illumination of the natural phenomenon whose ebbs and flows over time have helped form the world we live in. It is a pleasure to read, and important to read—for its natural science and revelations about ice’s influence on our everyday lives, and for what it has to tell us about our environment today and in the future.

Measuring eternity : the search for the beginning of time    New York : Broadway Books, 2001  Martin Gorst Earth Age, Geological time Hardcover. 1st Broadway Books ed. and printing. 338 p. : ill. ; 20 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [311]-313) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining  or  marginalia in text. VG/VG

The untold story of the religious figures, philosophers, astronomers, geologists, physicists, and mathematicians who, for more than four hundred years, have pursued the answer to a fundamental question at the intersection of science and religion: When did the universe begin?

The moment of the universe’s conception is one of science’s Holy Grails, investigated by some of the most brilliant and inquisitive minds across the ages. Few were more committed than Bishop James Ussher, who lost his sight during the fifty years it took him to compose his Annals of all known history, now famous only for one date: 4004 b.c. Ussher’s date for the creation of the world was spectacularly inaccurate, but that didn’t stop it from being so widely accepted that it was printed in early twentieth-century Bibles. As writer and documentary filmmaker Martin Gorst vividly illustrates in this captivating, character-driven narrative, theology let Ussher down just as it had thwarted Theophilus of Antioch and many before him. Geology was next to fail the test of time. In the eighteenth century, naturalist Comte de Buffon, working out the rate at which the earth was supposed to have cooled, came up with an age of 74,832 years, even though he suspected this was far too low. Biology then had a go in the hands of fossil hunter Johann Scheuchzer, who alleged to have found a specimen of a man drowned at the time of Noah’s flood. Regrettably it was only the imprint of a large salamander.

And so science inched forward via Darwinism, thermodynamics, radioactivity, and, most recently, the astronomers at the controls of the Hubble space telescope, who put the beginning of time at 13.4 billion years ago (give or take a billion). Taking the reader into the laboratories and salons of scholars and scientists, visionaries and eccentrics, Measuring Eternity is an engagingly written account of an epic, often quixotic quest, of how individuals who dedicated their lives to solving an enduring mystery advanced our knowledge of the universe.

Civilization and the Limpet    Reading, Mass. : Perseus Books, c 1998  Martin Wells Marine animals Hardcover. First edition and printing. x, 209 p. ; 22 cm. Includes Index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Written during a long sea voyage from England through the Mediterranean, Civilization and the Limpet unveils many fascinating phenomena of undersea life. Wells captures with exquisite detail how limpets, like bees, navigate by the stars; how the brainless sea urchin makes a myriad of critical survival decisions every day; how “deserted islands” teem with an incredible abundance of animal life; and why deep-diving whales never get the bends. Elegant and finely crafted, Civilization and the Limpet will enlighten, amuse, and awe anyone interested in the natural world.