Tag Archives: nonfiction

The Read List: The Mind-Gut Connection, by Emeran Mayer

mind gut connection

Combining cutting-edge neuroscience with the latest discoveries on the human microbiome, a practical guide in the tradition of The Second Brain, and The Good Gut that conclusively demonstrates the inextricable, biological link between mind and the digestive system.

We have all experienced the connection between our mind and our gut—the decision we made because it “felt right”; the butterflies in our stomach before a big meeting; the anxious stomach rumbling we get when we’re stressed out. While the dialogue between the gut and the brain has been recognized by ancient healing traditions, including Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, Western medicine has by and large failed to appreciate the complexity of how the brain, gut, and more recently, the gut microbiota—the microorganisms that live inside our digestive tract—communicate with one another. In The Mind-Gut Connection, Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine and executive director of the UCLA Center for Neurobiology of Stress, offers a revolutionary and provocative look at this developing science, teaching us how to harness the power of the mind-gut connection to take charge of our health and listen to the innate wisdom of our bodies.

My Thoughts on The Mind-Gut Connection:

I know … two posts in one day. What is the world coming to?

(No need to answer. I kind of hate thinking about what the world is coming to these days.)

So I read The Mind-Gut Connection because Trish at TLC Book Tours sent me the description and it looked like something I’d be interested in. And while I’ve been wrong before (and oh, have I ever been wrong before!) I was right about this one.

If you’re interested in that colony of bacteria that resides in your gut and how it affects your life, The Mind-Gut Connection is the read for you.

What colony of bacteria, you ask?

If you put all your gut microbes together and shaped them into an organ, it would weigh between 2 and 6 pounds–on par with the brain, which weighs in at 2.6 pounds.

This “forgotten organ” is quite incredible, and The Mind-Gut Connection goes into detail about exactly why it’s so incredible.

In addition to references to lots of scientific studies that back up how these microbes in our gut affect our brain, this book also has a bit of a holistic feel to it. There’s an entire chapter on intuitive decision-making that makes you want to recognize the next time you’re relying on your intuitions so you can “go with your gut”. And I wished the author had talked a bit more about working with dreams (although that doesn’t have much to do with your gut microbes. But still: interesting!)

Science has shown that chronic stress has a very detrimental effect on the interaction between your gut bacteria and your brain, and I  found myself wishing science would also spend a bit more time on exploring the effect positive emotions have on this interaction as well. I mean, it would be good to have some solid, scientific evidence pointing to what happens when we experience positive emotions.

After reading all about how the microbiome in our gut affects our brain, I was very happy to read the final section on how to optimize your brain-gut health.  I was a little disappointed, though, to learn it’s very difficult to actually change your gut microbial diversity. But still, there’s more than enough reason to continue with the probiotics and fermented foods.

And I’m definitely leaning toward a Mediterranean diet now, big-time. Veggies, here I come!

The Nonfiction Reading List

I seem to have gotten out of the habit of reading nonfiction lately, and I’m trying to change that. Here are the nonfiction reads I currently have waiting for me:


Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin (via Netgalley). I don’t actually remember requesting this from Netgalley, but I must have, because on a whim I logged in after what I thought had been a long time away, and there it was. I’m all for changing my habits, so this is a good book for me. I’m about a quarter of the way through it so far.


10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works, by Dan Harris (via Scribd). I decided I wanted to read this when I came across an article by Dan Harris somewhere—and it was funny and interesting and helpful. I put myself on the long hold list for it at the library, but I’m pleased to say that Scribd has it available in both print and audiobook formats.

feeding a yen

Feeding a Yen by Calvin Trillin (via my library). I came across this book on a number of blogs I follow (unfortunately, I forgot to make a note of which ones when I put the hold on this book) and it looked really interesting. The subtitle is “Savoring Local Specialties, from Kansas City to Cuzco”.


Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story by Michael Rosen (via my library). I came across this title on some of the blogs I follow, too, but again I forgot to make a note of which ones. (I think this must have been back before I was using Trello to keep track of stuff like this. Or it was on a night when I was feeling lazy …). This looks like an interesting read, but its a big book (over 400 pages, which is big for nonfiction, I think) so I might end up buying my own copy, because I’m not sure I’ll have the time to read it all before it has to go back to the library.

art before breakfast

Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are by Danny Gregory (via my library). I bet no-one’s surprised this is on my reading list. Plus I’ve enjoyed each of Danny Gregory’s other books. So I’m really looking forward to diving into that one.

I actually have more nonfiction books hanging around waiting for me, but this is already a pretty long post! And these are also the five that are at the top of my nonfiction to-read list right now—I’m definitely more likely to finish these ones than the other titles on my list.

Have you read any nonfiction lately? Have a nonfiction title to recommend?

‘Flash Boys’ and the Sad Tale of Sergey Aleynikov

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

I read Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys early last month – I absolutely had to get a copy of the book after I read the NY Times article “The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street”, an adaptation from the book..

Despite the sometimes complicated nature of its main subject – high-frequency trading in a Wall Street that’s rigged – it was a fast and compelling read. And of course, I liked that it was a Canadian, Brad Katsuyama, backed by a Canadian bank, the Royal Bank of Canada (employees called the culture there “RBC nice” – not, as you might guess, a usual kind of moniker on Wall Street), who gets the ball rolling.  Katsuyama realizes that every time he’d put in an order to buy shares on the market – shares that were up for sale right up to the point he pushed the button to enter his order – the shares would disappear and the price of the stock would increase.

“Brad’s problem wasn’t just Brad’s problem. What people saw when they looked at the U.S. stock market – the numbers on the screens of the professional traders, the ticker tape running across the bottom of the CNBC screen – was an illusion. ‘That’s when I realized the markets are rigged. And I knew it had to do with the technology. That the answer lay beneath the surface of the technology. I had absolutely no idea where. But that’s when the lightbulb went off that the only way I’m going to find out what’s going on is if I go beneath the surface.'” (from Flash Boys)

Katsuyama faces a somewhat Herculean task: he wants to find out how this is being done, and once he finds out, he wants to let people know. And he wants to find a way to fix things. The culprits, it turns out, are high-frequency traders who have managed to achieve a speed of access to information that gives them the mere nanoseconds advantage they need to beat the market every single time.

Eventually, Katsuyama manages to find other like-minded people and together they put together IEX, a new, fair stock exchange that the high-frequency traders can’t game. Katsuyama’s new exchange opened on October 25, 2013 and two months later, on December 19, got its big break when one of the big Wall Street banks, Goldman Sachs, sent in the exchange’s first big orders.

Since this is non-fiction, there’s no real happy-ever-after ending, which I found a little unsatisfying, although the book isn’t to blame. It’s just real life, that’s all, real life with all its uncertainties. So it’s still an uphill battle for IEX. And while IEX might be one small bright spot of fairness on Wall Street, there will always be more loopholes and more people ready and willing to take advantage of the loopholes to make billions of dollars.

It’s a never-ending story, really.

This main story in Flash Boys is an interesting one, but ultimately it was the story of Sergey Aleynikov that really captured my attention. While Goldman Sachs plays what’s essentially a good-guy role when it comes to IEX, it plays a darker role in its pursuit of criminal charges against Aleynikov, it’s ex-programmer, for theft of its code. In an article at Vanity Fair last year, Michael Lewis wrote about Aleynikov’s plight, and much of what’s in this article also appears in Flash Boys. (I highly recommend it – it’s a great read. Among other things, Lewis “re-tries” Aleynikov before a “jury” of his tech-savvy peers.)

Aleynikov was hired by Goldman Sachs to maintain its high-frequency trading software; the software itself was in the dinosaur stages, but Goldman didn’t want to build a new one from scratch. So Aleynikov spent much of his time patching things up as required.

During his two years at Goldman, Aleynikov often, as programmers do, sent himself snippets of code by uploading to an online repository. He was eventually hired by another firm to design a powerful new trading system from scratch (and in a completely different coding language, no less, which rather puts the charges against him in a whole different kind-of-ridiculous context). In the weeks prior to leaving Goldman, as he helped to bring others up to speed with maintaining Goldman’s outdated system, he continued this practice of sending himself snippets of code:

“The files contained a lot of open-source code he had worked with, and modified, over the past two years, mingled together with code that wasn’t open source but proprietary to Goldman Sachs. As he would later try and fail to explain to an F.B.I. agent, he hoped to disentangle the one from the other, in case he needed to remind himself how he had done what he had done with the open-source code, in the event he might need to do it again. He sent these files the same way he had sent himself files nearly every week, since his first month on the job at Goldman.” (from Vanity Fair)

Now, this makes perfect sense to me, and I’m not even a programmer. Mucking around with the HTML and PHP on this and a few other blogs is the extent of my coding experience. And the thing is, a lot of it wasn’t even Goldman’s original code – it was open source:

“Serge quickly discovered, to his surprise, that Goldman had a one-way relationship with open source. They took huge amounts of free software off the Web, but they did not return it after he had modified it, even when his modifications were very slight and of general, rather than financial, use.” (from Flash Boys)

(It all sounds quite familiar in the wake of the recent Heartbleed virus, doesn’t it? It seems lots of for-profit companies do this when it comes to open source code – they take and they don’t give back.)

So what happened? Aleynikov got charged under two rather ominous sounding pieces of legislation, the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 and the National Stolen Property Act, and after a trial by a non-tech-savvy jury, was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. He won his appeal and was released after a year of imprisonment – the appeals court ruled that the laws under which he was charged didn’t actually apply to his case.

But his story doesn’t end there. After Aleynikov’s release, Goldman Sachs continued its attack against its former programmer. A few months after his release, the state of New York charged Aleynikov with “accessing and duplicating a complex proprietary and highly confidential computer source code owned by Goldman Sachs” – essentially, a new crime for the same actions, so as to avoid double jeopardy.

So there isn’t any real ending to Aleynikov’s story either, at least not yet. The state of New York wants him to plead guilty, in exchange for letting him go on time served – as in, the time he served for a crime that the appeals court had already determined he hadn’t committed. But Aleynikov isn’t willing to do that, and really, can you blame him?

The Reading Stack #2

Here’s my reading stack #2 from the library:

reading stack no 2

All nonfiction in this stack, in keeping with my reading resolution this year to read more nonfiction. Mind you, my intention is to read more nonfiction as research for my writing, so perhaps this reading stack #2 doesn’t really qualify as helping me to fulfill this particular resolution!

1. Freehand: Sketching Tips and Tricks Drawn from Art, by Helen Birch

Because another one of my resolutions is to “make good art”, as Neil Gaiman says. For me, that would be both writing and art – not that my artwork is any good, mind you. But there was a time when making visual art played a larger role in my life, and I’d like to get back into the habit this year.

Make good art.

2. Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do, edited by Meredith Maran

My writer-self loves reading books like this. For some reason, reading about other writers’ creative processes both motivates me and inspires me to keep on writing.

3. Breakthrough!: Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination, edited by Alex Cornell

An assortment of creative types give their solutions to getting through those creative blocks: “a lively compilation of strategies for combating creative block offered by a who’s who of leading graphic designers, typographers, cartoonists, photographers, illustrators, musicians, writers, and other creative professionals.” Sounds good to me.

4. Writers and Their Notebooks, by Diana M. Raab

I have this thing about writers’ notebooks, mainly because I keep trying to make a habit of keeping one. I can’t tell you how many half-finished notebooks I have lying around. I was decluttering earlier this week, and found so many notebooks that are about half-full (better than half-empty, right?) I’m getting much better at it, though. Keeping a writer’s notebook is a habit kind of thing, I’ve discovered.

5. Quotology, by Willis Goth Regier

This one is all about quotes, including how they are collected and organized. Apparently there are fifty-nine types of quotations! One of my creativity resolutions this year involves quotes, so I thought this might be a helpful read.

6. Illustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals, by Sachiko Umoto

This one is just too cute for words. Seriously. I couldn’t resist it. See for yourself:

illustration school lets draw cute animals

7. A Blueprint for Your Castle in the Clouds: Make the Inside of Your Head Your Favorite Place to Be, by Barbara Sophia Tammes

A self-help book … although there’s also Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace, right?

8. The Collage Workbook, by Randel Plowman

Back to my “make good art” resolution. I’ve always found collage challenging, probably because it’s so playful. I get way too serious about things like this sometimes.

9. Garfield’s Sunday Finest: 35 Years of My Best Sunday Funnies , by Jim Davis

garfields sunday finest

It’s Garfield! I simply couldn’t resist this one.

I’m pleased to say I’ve finished Writers and Their Notebooks. So that’s one down, and eight to go (let’s not mention my reading stack #1 …)

Any plans to read nonfiction this year? Writing this post I realized a lot of the books have something to do with the resolutions I’ve made. Are you reading any books that will help you stick with your New Year’s Resolutions?

[The Sunday Salon] Filling the Creative Well with Nonfiction

This year I’m committing to something a little different from previous years’ reading resolutions. I’d like to read a lot more nonfiction as well as keeping up with all the fiction on my to-read list.

I love reading fiction because good fiction transports me into another world and introduces me to interesting characters and thought-provoking situations. I can become immersed in a good book and it’s that immersion that forms the foundation of the pleasure I get from reading fiction.

Fiction can also fuel my creativity; I’ve gotten many ideas for stories and novels as a result of seeing something in another novel I’m reading. This happens to me with television and movies, too.

But it’s nonfiction that really ups my creative output. Maria Popova talks about combinatorial creativity – how all the bits and pieces of information and memories and knowledge you carry inside your head comes together to form ideas, lots and lots of ideas if you let the process happen – and this has always been the way creativity has worked for me.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about "filling the well". She’s referring to the idea of an inner artistic well that informs all of our creativity. It’s an analogy that I think works well with the idea of combinatorial creativity. While Cameron advocates going on "artist’s dates" – actual physical excursions – in order to keep our inner artistic well maintained, for me such excursions are more appropriate for helping me open up to the present moment, something else that’s required when I’m involved in a creative endeavour.

But the best way for me to keep my inner artistic well pumped and primed and well-maintained is by opening myself up to a flotsam of information. Anything and everything I find interesting has a place in my creativity, and the randomness of the information plays a key role. It’s in reading nonfiction that I most often stumble onto such things – interesting-to-me ideas, facts, concepts, often mere scraps of information, sometimes just a sentence or phrase – that ignite the spark that pulls together other completely unrelated pieces of information to form a shiny new idea.

Myths and legends work that way for me, too. I guess such work is really fiction, but I tend to place myths and legends in a category all its own, not quite nonfiction, not quite fiction – but definitely fertile fuel for the imagination.

So this year, along with tackling my fiction to-read list, I’ll be reading stacks and stacks of nonfiction too, with a stack of blank index cards at my side for jotting down the bits and pieces that interest me. I plan on using the index cards as a tactile, visual aid when playing with my creativity, in much the same way I use archetypal oracle cards.

Here are some of the nonfiction titles I’ll be using to fill my creative well over the next few weeks:

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

Finding Arthur by Adam Ardrey

Finding Arthur, by Adam Ardrey

making of middle earth by Christopher Snyder

The Making of Middle Earth, by Christopher Snyder

A London Year by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters,

by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary,

by Caspar Henderson

What about you? Do you read nonfiction, or do you mostly stick with fiction? If you’re a writer, what are some ways you use to fill your creative well?

[TSS] Reading Breaks

I am nearing the end of a very big indexing assignment – it’s been taking up most of my work time for the past two weeks, and I’m scrambling to finish in time for the Tuesday morning deadline.

One thing I’ve been learning about working productively is the value of taking breaks. And since I’ve been missing out on reading, especially this past week, I’ve decided to make all of my breaks today and tomorrow “reading breaks”.

The only thing is, it’s hard to find books that I can easily consume in ten-minute chunks of time!

So I’ve decided on non-fiction and cartoons.

In the line-up:

This is Going to Be Tougher Than We ThoughtNever a Dry Moment, a Baby Blues book by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott. I saw this at the library last week and knew it would come in handy. I also plucked This is Going to Be Tougher Than We Thought from my own shelves – the more Baby Blues the merrier.

I love this comic strip; after I had Dylan, I had a bit of the post partum blues, and the Baby Blues collection really helped me out. if you have kids, trust me, read Baby Blues and you’ll be nodding your head in total agreement, and laughing. Hard. And as I hit the last stretch of work on this assignment, I’m definitely going to need some laughter to keep me going!

Writing Down Your SoulWriting Down Your Soul, by Janet Connor. I have been journaling daily for the past month. Some of you may remember my past struggles with committing to journaling (it appears I’ve asked, “Do you keep a journal” twice so far in this blog!).

It turned out the answer to my journaling dilemma was quite easy: one day I realized journaling required me to open up to myself. It was something I used to be reluctant to do, but on that day, I had reached a turning point in my life. And ever since then, it’s been easy.

I make it even easier by slotting it into my morning ritual. So now it’s a full-fledged habit.

I’ve read the first few chapters of Writing Down Your Soul, and it’s been very interesting so far. So I’m eager to take of my break time to dive a little bit more into the book.

The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 1The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 1. I was passing by one of my bookshelves and saw this, so decided to add it to my reading break pile.

It definitely brings back memories; while not exactly the most politically correct of reads, despite the stereotypes, the Tintin adventures are still rollicking good tales.

And I guess one could say these books were my own first introduction to graphic novels, way before they were actually called graphic novels.

How to Be, Do, or Have AnythingHow to Be, Do or Have Anything: A Practical Guide to Creative Empowerment, by Laurence G. Boldt. I’ve had this book for ages; it’s one of the scores of non-fiction books I keep meaning to get around to.

I began dipping into this book the other day, and found it quite inspiring. It gave me a “why haven’t I already read this” moment, which I then answered with, “well, obviously I wasn’t in the right moment at any time in the past and I am now”.

(This happens to me a lot – asking myself this particular question, and yes, holding this kind of internal dialogue.)

Boldt is also the author of Zen and the Art of Making a Living, another book I actually did read, which I have kicking around here somewhere as well.

Every Day in TuscanyAnd in case I feel like traveling a bit in my ten-minute breaks today and tomorrow, there’s also Every Day in Tuscany, by Frances Mayes, although I’m slightly afraid to dip into this one, because it might have the power of turning those ten minutes of break time into a much longer break than I intend.

I’ve enjoyed Mayes’ previous books, so I’m definitely looking forward to this one. I have to hurry with it, though, because it’s from the library and there’s a wait list for it, so I have no renewals to fall back on.

I’m wishing I had this one in audio, because it’s a book I might actually be able to listen to while working at the same time.

Bird by BirdAnd last but not least, there’s Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which I’m reading for the writer’s reading group I started up a few weeks ago. This coming week we’ll be reading the “Shitty First Draft” chapter, along with two others, and that chapter is one of my favorites from the book.

I’ve been doing well with my 20-minute daily writing goal (adding it to my morning ritual was obviously the right thing to do), and I think this week’s readings from Bird by Bird will be extremely helpful.

So these are my picks for those ten-minute reading breaks I’m promising myself for today and tomorrow.

Have you read any of these books? I know many of you are fiction readers mostly – what nonfiction books do you have up your sleeves, if any?

The Books-Lying-Around-Open Syndrome


I’ve always cheerfully owned up to being one who bookmarks by dog-earring books.

But the other day, I realized something.

I usually only dog-ear novels. It’s a totally different story when it comes to nonfiction.

I was coming downstairs, groggily in search of my morning coffee, when I noticed I’d left a book I was reading on the dining room table. In order to save my place in it, I’d left it open and face down.

Then I turned my head, and saw that I’d left another book, opened and face down to save my place, on the pass-through from the kitchen to the sitting room.

Both books were nonfiction works. (I’ve been on a bit of a nonfiction kick lately).

Eventually, I got my coffee made, and took it with me into the office. And lo and behold! There were another two nonfiction books, both opened and face down on my desk.


Intrigued, I went through the whole house. Yes. I apparently have this habit of leaving nonfiction books lying around opened and face down, so I won’t lose my place in them. This was actually news to me.

Here’s what I found lying around the house:

Dining room table: Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, by Marci Shimoff. I’ve only just started this book (even though it’s on its last renewal from the library) and it’s been a fun read so far. I think a spiritual practice that incorporates a whole lot of happiness is really the way to go, so occasionally I like to dip into books like this one.

Kitchen pass-through: Thinking Write: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind, by Kelly L. Stone. I discovered this book over at Janel’s Jumble, and put it on my next online book shopping list, which happened the other day (it’s Ward’s birthday this weekend, so I had to go online to buy cookbooks. I had to. Right? Yes. It was an absolute must. So, since I happened to be there anyway, you know, buying books …)

Also on the kitchen pass-through: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder. I didn’t see this one the first time around, because I’d put Thinking Write on top of it. And no, I’m not making any plans to become a screenwriter (although I was very tempted to do Script Frenzy this month). But I’d heard this book recommended as a great book for novelists, too, so I bought it a while back.

I’ve been getting a lot out of it – it’s written in a very easy to read style, and there are a lot of writing gems in it that I’ll be applying to my own writing. As for the name, in case you were wondering what exactly is meant by the title, Save the Cat:

I call it the “Save the Cat” scene. They don’t put it into movies anymore. And it’s basic. It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something – like saving a cat – that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.

Ever since I read that, I’ve been watching out for “Save the Cat” moments in every movie I watch!

On my desk (1): Live a Life You Love, by Susan Biali. I received this book from publicist Lisa Roe a while back, and recently took it down from my to-be-read bookshelf to glance over it. I was really glad I did! The steps outlined in the book are very much in tune with my own intentions for my life, and it’s nice to have an occasional refresher.

On my desk (2): What Should I Do with My Life?, by Po Bronson. A while back, my sister Dawn raved about What Should I Do with My Life? She’d lent it to a friend, so rather than wait for its return, I ended up buying my own copy. As is the way in my reading life, that was at least a year ago, and I only just recently saw it on my shelves and decided to read it. I’ve only just started, but it looks like it’s popping into my life with perfect timing.

On my nightstand (1): Admit One: My Life in Film, by Emmett James. Another thank you to Lisa Roe, who also sent me this memoir by actor Emmett James. James uses such a unique framework:

I wrote this book under the guise that the key to experiencing film, without losing relevance and meaning, is context. The environment, mood, personal history and circumstances in which a person sees a film changes that film in a necessary, unique, and exciting way. It creates a whole new story – a living, breathing film. The film of one’s life. That being said, I present to you my story. I hope you will in turn recount your own with similar reverence.

Actually, just reading that paragraph, which is in the introduction to the book, started me thinking about the role movies (as in going-to-the-theatre movies, not now-in-DVD movies) have played in my own life.

On my nightstand (2): An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard. I seem to have a thing for memoirs on my nightstand! Dillard’s beautiful memories of her childhood make for such a wonderful read. This copy came to me courtesy of Bookmooch, where I’ve recently had a nice run of luck in terms of getting titles placed on my wish list.

On the living room coffee table: Life-Changing Weight Loss, by Kent Sasse. Because, you see, it’s April, which means shorts season will be upon us shortly. Some of you might remember I tried, unsuccessfully, to do a fitness challenge last winter (do NOT look over to the sidebar because at this moment, I see I’ve forgotten to take down the little badge and very sad-looking update bar). The lovely Joanne McCall had sent me a review copy of this book a while back, and I’m very pleased to have the inspiration.

Next to the treadmill: And speaking of inspiration, I recently, rather ingenuously, if I do say so myself, set up one of my desktop art easels on my treadmill, so now I have the option to read as well as listen to an audiobook when I do my daily 30 minutes of walking. (It’s been raining here, or I’d be outside doing those 30 minutes). X-treme Parenting: A Baby Blues Treasury, by Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman is now lying open on the shelf next to the treadmill – I discovered I got through the 30 minutes much more easily while reading this (not to mention laughing out loud occasionally).

I’m not sure why it is that I prefer to keep my place in nonfiction books by leaving them face down and open, but there you have it. These books were lying all around the house. And then what happens? Ward cleans up, and he, being a bookmarker, closes them all, marking my place by sticking a scrap of paper between the pages.

How do you keep track of the page you’re on? Do you dog-ear, lay open or bookmark? And have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Photo credit

A Parisian Holiday: French Milk, by Lucy Knisley

French MilkI moved on from reading Eye of the Crow to something completely different: French Milk, by Lucy Knisley is a memoir, written in graphic novel format, of a month-long holiday the author took with her mother in Paris, France.

I came across this novel when I was reading around the blogosphere (when I do this kind of surfing around, it’s extremely dangerous for my TBR list, which grows at an astronomical rate); I immediately put in a hold request for it from the library (I’m not sure whether my librarians actually like me all that much anymore, because I’m always putting things on hold).

This was a lovely, quick read; what I liked most about it were all the descriptions of the food that Knisley and her mother ate, accompanied by Knisley’s charming illustrations.

Interspersed throughout are black and white photographs from the trip; the photos are a nice accompaniment to Knisley’s drawings.

The preface to the book talks about the self-discoveries Knisley made during the trip, as well as similar revelations about her relationship with her mother, but I didn’t feel this to be the book’s strong point; it’s not so much about the author’s fully coming into adulthood while in Paris, as it is about all the wonderful sights and experiences she had while there. Her mother accompanied her, true, but I didn’t get much insight into their relationship. If anything, I got more of a feel for the author’s relationship with her father, who joined them for a few days of the trip.

French Milk is at its heart a wonderful and charming travel memoir – a fun, quick read that will leave you dreaming of leaving regular life behind for a few lovely weeks in Paris.

Want to buy French Milk? Support MsBookish by purchasing through one of these links: Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Chapters Indigo | Amazon.co.uk

Incoming! Books About Words

(Incoming! is a feature at Ms. Bookish that chronicles some of the recent new book arrivals at the Ms. Bookish household.)

I’ve been getting prepared for NaNoWriMo; the novel I’ll be working on in November is a middle-grade fantasy novel that involves words (as words, that is – because of course, the actual writing of it will involve words!).

So I’ve been researching words, and it’s proving to be a lot of fun!

I thought it would be interesting to highlight the books I’m currently looking through as part of my research – along with a few that I picked up along the way simply that won’t be useful for research purposes but are just too fun to pass by.

Phraseology: Thousands of Bizarre Origins, Unexpected Connections, and Fascinating Facts about English’s Best Expressions, by Barbara Kipfer

Phraseology: Thousands of Bizarre Origins, Unexpected Connections, and Fascinating Facts about English's Best ExpressionsSynopsis (from the back cover):

Phraseology is the ultimate collection of everything you never knew about the wonderful phrases found in the English language. It contains information about phrase history and etymology; unusual, lost, or uncommon phrases; how phrases are formed; and more than 7,000 facts about common English phrases.

Practical enough to be used as a reference book but so fun that every book lover will want to read it straight through, Phraseology contains such engrossing tidbits as:

ACROSS THE BOARD is an allusion to the board displaying the odds in a horse race

ARTESIAN WELL gets its name from Artois, where such wells were first made

BEST MAN originated in Scotland, where the groom kidnapped his bride with the aid of friends, including the toughest and bravest – the best man.

First line(s): Phraseology is a collection of really interesting things you probably do not know about thousands and thousands of phrases.

Where I got this book: Rebecca from The Book Lady’s Blog recommended this to me when we were having a Twitter discussion about this recent post of mine. I went straight to Chapters and bought this one that very night!

Format & Pages: Trade paperback, 301 pages


The Word Detective, by Evan Morris

The Word DetectiveSynopsis (from the jacket flap):

Comic, skeptic, cyber-sleuth, syndicated columnist, and inspired wordsmith, Evan Morris is the Word Detective. Morris’s unique approach to language and his distinctive brand of humor account for his loyal following of readers who wonder about everything from soup to nuts – and that means the origins of the phrase soup to nuts, as well as hundreds of other perplexing words and phrases.

The Word Detective is a collection of Morris’s language columns, which appear in newspapers around the world and on his popular Web site. The Q & A format makes for lively and unusual interactions between Morris and his readers: Dan from Brooklyn is perturbed by television newscasts that incorrectly use the word factoid to mean “a piece of trivia.” (Morris agrees and adds that factoid was actually coined by Norman Mailer in 1973 to mean “a rumor disguised as a fact.”) Tim via the Internet asks how the word moxie came to mean “courage.” (Morris replies that Moxie was, and still is, the name of a soft drink with a taste so intense it takes real gumption to swallow the stuff.) Whether the question is from a student hoping to win a word dispute with his professor or a daughter-in-law trying to wow her mother-in-law with an esoteric phrase, the Word Detective snoops around, does the legwork, and uncovers the answers.

First line(s): It all started with sticky dimes.

Where I got this book: I came across this when I was at the library looking for some specific “words” titles. It isn’t really relevant to my research but I just couldn’t resist.

Format & Pages: Hardcover, 228 pages.


Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language, by Richard Lederer

Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our LanguageSynopsis (from Amazon):

Anguished English is the impossibly funny anthology of accidental assaults upon our language. From bloopers and blunders to Signs of the Times to Mixed Up Metaphors…from Two-Headed Headlines to Mangling Modifiers, here is an outrageous treasury of assaults upon our common language that will leave you roaring with delight and laughter.

First line(s): It is truly astounding what havoc students can wreak upon the chronicles of the human race.

Where I got this book: This is another book that’s not really relevant to my research for my NaNoWriMo novel, but I recently mooched this book from Bookmooch and it’s too fun to leave out of this post.

Format & Pages: Mass paperback, 175 pages



You’ve Got Ketchup on Your Muumuu: An A–to–Z Guide to English Words from Around the World, by Eugene Ehrlich

You've Got Ketchup on Your Muumuu: An A--to--Z Guide to English Words from Around the WorldSynopsis (from the jacket flap):

With dry wit and remarkable erudition, Eugene Ehrlich takes us on an eye-opening tour of our ever-changing language, showing us how English has, throughout its history, seamlessly sewn words from other languages into its original fabric. He reveals that the language we call our own has in fact been culled from the languages of ancient invaders, such as the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, and the French.

Ehrlich’s comprehensive research and vast lingual experience bring to light what has until now been hidden from the general audience: the origins of some of our favorite and well-used words. The word graffiti, for example, comes from the Italian word meaning “scratches.” The word for one of our favorite breakfast foods, bagel, originated with the German Beugel, meaning “a ring.” And ketchup comes from the Chinese kéjap, which literally means “fish sauce.” So why do we put it on our burgers and fries?

In the clear style his readers have come to expect, Ehrlich effortlessly illuminates the origins, purposes, and meanings of once-foreign words that have become part of the rich weave of our language.

First line(s): (from the preface)

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” – Polonius, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Old Polonius was talking about prudence in managing one’s finances, not about borrowing and lending words.

But just as English words are increasingly taken into other languages, English throughout its history has continually picked up words from other languages and treated such words as its own, calling them English.

Where I got this book: I picked this one up from the library.

Format & Pages: Hardcover, 285 pages


Scholastic Dictionary Of Idioms, by Marvin Terban

Scholastic Dictionary Of IdiomsSynopsis (from Amazon):

Cat got your tongue? Penny for your thoughts? Come again? Every day, idioms bring color to our speech. Since they don’t really mean what they say, idioms can stump even the native English-speaker. Marvin Terban makes understanding idioms “as easy as pie” with the revised SCHOLASTIC DICTIONARY OF IDIOMS. Explanations for, and origins of, more than 700 everyday American idioms, complete with kid-friendly sample sentences. The entries are amusing as well as educational. Alphabetical listing and cross-referencing index makes finding idioms a “piece of cake.”

First dictionary entry:

Ace up Your Sleeve

“I don’t know how Henry is going to get his mom to buy him a bike, but I’m sure he has an ace up his sleeve.”

Meaning: a surprise or secret advantage, especially something tricky that is kept hidden until needed.

Origin: Back in the 1500s most people didn’t have pockets in their clothes, so they kept things in their sleeves. Later on, magicians hid objects, even small live animals, up their sleeves, and then pulled them out unexpectedly to surprise their audiences. In the 1800s dishonest card players secretly slipped a winning card, often an ace, up their sleeves and pulled it out when nobody was looking to win the game.

Where I got this book: I picked this one up from the library, and it is very relevant to my research! If it comes in as useful as I think it will, I’ll probably end up getting my own copy.

Format & Pages: Trade paperback, 245 pages


Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right , by Bill Bryson

Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right Synopsis (from the jacket flap):

As usual Bill Bryson says it best: “English is a dazzlingly idiosyncratic tongue, full of quirks and irregularities that often seem willfully at odds with logic and common sense. This is a language where ‘cleave’ can mean to cut in half or to hold two halves together; where the simple word ‘set’ has 126 different meanings as a verb, 58 as a noun, and 10 as a participial adjective; where if you can run fast you are moving swiftly, but if you are stuck fast you are not moving at all; [and] where ‘colonel,’ ‘freight,’ ‘once,’ and ‘ache’ are strikingly at odds with their spellings.” As a copy editor for the London Times in the early 1980s, Bill Bryson felt keenly the lack of an easy-to-consult, authoritative guide to avoiding the traps and snares in English, and so he brashly suggested to a publisher that he should write one. Surprisingly, the proposition was accepted, and for “a sum of money carefully gauged not to cause embarrassment or feelings of overworth,” he proceeded to write that book–his first, inaugurating his stellar career.

Now, a decade and a half later, revised, updated, and thoroughly (but not overly) Americanized, it has become Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, more than ever an essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. With some one thousand entries, from “a, an” to “zoom,” that feature real-world examples of questionable usage from an international array of publications, and with a helpful glossary and guide to pronunciation, this precise, prescriptive, and–because it is written by Bill Bryson–often witty book belongs on the desk of every person who cares enough about the language not to maul or misuse or distort it.

First line(s): (from the introduction)

The physicist Richard Feynman once remarked that every time a colleague from the humanities department complained that his students couldn’t spell a common word like seize or accommodate, Feynman wanted to reply, “Then there must be something wrong with the way you spell it.”

Where I got this book: I picked this one up while browsing at the library. As I’m making up a collection of random words, I thought I’d dip randomly into this book and pick out different words to add to my collection. Also, I really enjoy reading Bill Bryson’s writing!

Format & Pages: Hard cover, 241 pages

Review: The Guinea Pig Diaries, by A.J. Jacobs

The Guinea Pig Diaries

Excerpt from the book jacket:

In his role as human guinea pig, Jacobs fearlessly takes on a series of life-altering challenges that provides readers with equal parts insight and humor. (And which drives A.J.’s patient wife, Julie, to the brink of insanity.)

I loved The Guinea Pig Diaries, by A.J. Jacobs. It came into my life just yesterday – I spotted it while out shopping and couldn’t resist the title, especially since Jacobs’ The Know-It-All had been highly recommended by Carrie from Books and Movies (The Know-It-All is currently sitting in my to-be-read pile).

It’s rare that I decide to read a book on the day that I receive it; I’m such a moody reader, and my mood has to coincide with a book’s genre, plot and theme first. But late in the afternoon yesterday, I was feeling a little down, so I decided to read an essay or two from The Guinea Pig Diaries because I just didn’t feel in the mood for a novel.

What a ride those first few essays were! I couldn’t stop at just two essays; I ended up reading the entire book last night.. Did I say “feeling a little bit down”? It’s hard to stay down when you’re laughing out loud, and laugh out loud is exactly what I did while reading this book.

The charm of the book doesn’t stop there, though. Jacobs is very funny, but his words are more than pure comedy. He takes his experiments seriously, and writes about the insights he’s gained during the course of each experiment. Each essay ends with a Coda that talks about how the experience of the experiment itself has altered his life, for good or for bad.

And the experiments run such a wide range. There’s his outsourcing experiment, where he decides to spend a month outsourcing both his work and his personal life to a team out in Bangalore, India:

I had [Asha] call AT&T to ask about my cell phone plan. I’m just guessing, but I bet her call was routed from Bangalore to New Jersey and then back to an AT&T employee in Bangalore, which makes me happy for some reason.

Then there’s the month he decides to give Radical Honesty a try. Radical Honesty isn’t just about not lying; it also requires you to remove that filter from your brain and your mouth, so that you’re always – and that’s always – saying what you think:

One other thing is also becoming apparent: There’s a fine line between Radical Honesty and creepiness. Or actually no line at all. It’s simple logic: Men think about sex every three minutes, as the scientists at Redbook remind us. If you speak whatever’s on your mind, you’ll be talking about sex every three minutes.

There are other experiments, too. There’s the month he decides to live his life according to George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation; the month he gets a taste of what being a beautiful woman is like when he persuades his sons’ nanny to let him handle her online profile at a dating site; there’s the time actress Mary-Louise Parker agrees to write an essay for Esquire about what it feels like to pose naked (with an accompanying photo), provided Jacobs agrees to appear in the magazine naked too; and there’s the time he appeared at the Academy Awards disguised as a celebrity, for his “240 Minutes of Fame”.

My favourite piece, though? It’s a toss-up between “The Rationality Project” and “Whipped”. During Project Rationality, Jacobs decides to eliminate all cognitive biases from his brain for a month:

As one scientist puts it, we’ve got Stone Age minds living in silicon-age bodies. Our brains were formed to deal with Paleolithic problems. When my brain gets scared, it causes a spike in adrenaline, which might have been helpful when facing a mastodon but is highly counterproductive when facing a snippy salesman at the Verizon outlet.

What I liked most about “The Rationality Project” was the aftereffect Jacobs experienced as a result. There’s something that’s so appealing to me about letting go of the assumptions we make all too readily about various situations in life, and Jacobs highlights some real long-term benefits of his experiment.

In “Whipped”, Jacobs decides to go along with readers’ suggestions that he make it up to his wife for all that she has  had to put up with during the course of his quirky quests and experiments:

I need to pay Julie back in a more appropriate fashion. I need to spend a month doing everything my wife says. She will be boss. I will be her devoted servant. It will be a month, they say, of foot massages and talking about feelings and scrubbing dishes and watching Kate Hudson movies (well, if Julie actually liked Kate Hudson movies, which she doesn’t).

How could I not enjoy reading about that? Jacobs was figuring that his wife would get bored of being in charge. Do I even need to say it? That didn’t happen.

I loved The Guinea Pig Diaries. It was funny, yes, but each essay also made me think. And to me, that’s essay writing at its best.

I’m very eager now to read Jacobs’ The Know It All – or at least, I would be, if it weren’t for the fact that he misspelled Wayne Gretzky’s name in that book (and that is an inside joke you’ll only get once you’ve read The Guinea Pig Diaries).

Where to buy The Guinea Pig Diaries:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Simon and Schuster, 2009, Hardcover, 236 pages