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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Book buying spree

I confess that I’ve finally taken advantage of Borders’ misfortune tonight. Only a few days left of the administrator’s sale and they’re taking 90% off. I don’t have the emotional strength to resist 90% off.

I’ve been wanting to try a Manga novel for a while so at a low-risk investment of $5 a pop I bought Free Runners and Vampire Doll. I only realised when I got them home that what I thought was the front cover is in fact the back cover, hence why it had the blurb on it. So I’ll be reading backwards which should be an interesting experience.

And I couldn’t resist Source – Nature’s Healing Role in Art and Writing by Janine Burke. Can’t wait to read it.  

I’ve just started reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Enjoying it so far.

I really just need another life dedicated solely to reading. I need more time. Much more time.

Did you buy a book today? Going to buy one tomorrow? Tell us about it.


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Buddhism For Mothers – A Calm Approach To Caring For Yourself And Your Children by Sarah Naphali

Let me just start by saying that I’m not a Buddhist. And whilst Buddhism For Mothers is about how Buddhist principles can be applied to parenting I think mothers of any spiritual or religious belief can get an awful lot out of this book.

Topics include parenting mindfully; listening well; dealing with anger; and meditating, amongst others.

Writing style: Easy to read. Not preachy.

Best bit: I actually had what Oprah would could call a light bulb moment during the chapter ‘finding happiness and losing our self-image’ where Napthali writes about the Buddhist believe in no-self. She quotes Buddha:

“The buddha which I believed in was a fictional construction! I have a name, a personal history, memories, thoughts, emotions, dreams; but when I look they are quite illusory.”

This book had quite an impact on me. I am a better mother for having read it. I am calmer, more patient and ever mindful of being present with my children.

If you like: Stephanie Dowrick’s books you’ll like Buddhism for Mothers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. Highly recommended.

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I became a fan of Pinky McKay after reading her down-to-earth articles on bellybelly.com.au whilst I was pregnant with my son so I was pleased to see her new book Toddler Tactics: How to make magic from mayhem had been released. Its timing could not have been better as my son had recently celebrated his first birthday and graduated from baby to toddler.

Pinky McKay is a lactation consultant, infant massage iToddler Tactics by Pinky McKay nstructor, author and columnist specialising in parenting and baby care. Her books include Parenting By Heart and Sleeping Like a Baby.

Toddler Tactics is an easy and reasonably quick read; I finished it in a few hours. However, for a small book it’s incredible how much useful information it contains. Topics include toddlers’ physical development, behaviour, play, learning and sleeping, to name but a few.

It’s the kind of book that can also be used as a reference to be consulted later as your child grows and new challenges arise. For example, I’ll be revisiting the chapter on toilet training in a year or two.

McKay has a gentle approach to parenting. Her advice doesn’t come with a ‘Do it this way or your child will be forever ruined’ footnote. She doesn’t aim to add to the pressure already on parents who are often already feeling guilty or inadequate for one reason or another. Rather she provides answers to a lot of the questions many parents will have about their toddlers with a guiding hand and some common sense advice. For instance, tips for encouraging healthy eating include: don’t put too much food on your child’s plate, and let your toddler help prepare food and some things parents can do to support their toddler’s speech include: name everything, listen, exaggerate speech sounds

Toddler Tactics is peppered with first-hand accounts from parents of toddlers sharing their experiences and their own toddler tactics which are often quite touching and very helpful in themselves.

McKay does have some parenting do’s and don’ts however they are do’s and don’ts that I don’t think any conscientious parent could disagree with. For example: don’t label children, use rewards rather than bribery, support don’t criticise. Even though these are all common sense principles, as a parent, it helps to be reminded sometimes.

Whilst there is a lot of useful advice and information in this book I think the most important thing I learnt from it is to always try looking at things from my child’s perspective. For instance, McKay gives parents a reality check with regards sharing:

Do you lend your friend your car, your computer or your brand-new shoes? Isn’t it a bit unrealistic to expect your toddler to willingly part with his favourite toys whenever a strange child visits? (p93)

Point taken. And she reminds parents that very young children are simply not able to understand the concept of sharing, this capacity doesn’t develop until about three years of age. So in other words, ‘Lighten up Mum and Dad!’

And McKay has this advice for playtime:

Give children a few minutes’ warning that it’s nearly time to stop playing, rather than insisting they pack up now! Imagine how you would feel if you were busily working at a task and somebody ordered you to stop immediately! (p119)

Toddler Tactics is a must-read for all parents, and soon-to-be parents, of toddlers.

Publisher: Penguin Australia

RRP: $24.95

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Firstly, let me preface this review with the admission that I am not a gardener. I am guilty of both neglect and incompetence when it comes to caring for plant life. And yet I am reviewing a book about gardens because, in spite of my failings in this domain, I am fascinated by gardening and people who know how to care for gardens. Judyth A McLeod is one such person and she has shared some of her extensive knowledge in her latest book, In a Unicorn’s Garden: Recreating the mystery and magic of medieval gardens.

In a Unicorn's Garden

McLeod was inspired to turn her long-held notion of writing a book about medieval gardens into a reality after walking through the Labyrinthe des Merveilles at the Chateau de Merville in France. Its design is based on the secular labyrinths of the medieval period.

McLeod is also the author of Organic at Home and Lavender Sweet Lavender, amongst other titles on gardening and natural methods of healthcare. And she is co-owner of a nursery in the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney) called Honeysuckle Cottage, which specialises in plant antiques.

The opening chapter, of In a Unicorn’s Garden, ‘Unicorns and Other Magical Beasts’, was a complete eye opener for me. I was intrigued and delighted to learn that, during the medieval period, it was common for one to believe in unicorns, dragons and other fantastical creatures. Animal-plant hybrids such as the incredible, if ill-fated, Vegetable Lamb, were also thought to exist.

The Vegetable Lamb was a creature that grew from a seed and was attached to the ground by a stem. It survived by eating the grass it could reach and when it ran out of grass it died. And then there’s the Barnacle Goose, a strange fish-bird combo that it seems was contrived, before anyone knew about the migration of birds, to explain how geese suddenly appeared from over the seas. If you can’t explain it, imagine it was the medieval motto.

After the first chapter McLeod settles into discussing the various types of medieval gardens such as The Abbess’ Garden, The Knight’s Garden and The Cook’s Garden.

Each chapter contains a history of the garden, the reason for its being, a physical description including layout and the types of plants it would contain, who would use the garden and be responsible for it, and ends with a design and instructions for creating such a garden yourself. For instance a Mary Garden was created to honour the Virgin Mary and is intended as a place of prayer and reflection. Just some of the plants that would feature in a Mary garden, due to their association with the Virgin Mary, are carnations, forget-me-nots and the Madonna Lily.

It is fitting that in discussing beautiful design and things of a practical nature In a Unicorn’s Garden’s design and layout is both beautiful and practical. From the cover to the index it is clear that a designer’s hand has touched every page. The illustrations and photographs are thoughtfully incorporated with the text so as to accompany and enhance it. This book can be read from beginning to end or used as a reference via its comprehensive index. And mention must be made of the garden designs in each chapter that are exquisitely depicted in water colour.

McLeod has an enviable talent for capturing the wonder of the medieval period and its gardens and at the same time conveying so much factual information in an engaging and accessible way. In a Unicorn’s Garden will appeal to anyone with an interest in medieval history, mythology, botany, horticulture, landscape design or simply a desire to be fascinated.

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If, like me, you’ve heard about Darfur on the evening news, know that very bad things are happening there and want to know more then Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond is a book you need to read.

Co-written by actor Don Cheadle and human rights activist John Prendergast, Not on Our Watch paints a comprehensive picture of the history of Sudan, its civil conflicts and the current tragedy unfolding in Darfur, a region of western Sudan.

Not on Our Watch cover

Cheadle became involved in the movement to end genocide after starring in Hotel Rwanda, a film in which he played real-life hero during Rwanda’s genocide, Paul Rusesabagina. Prendergast has worked at the frontline of the human rights movement in Africa for several years and is a director of the ENOUGH project.

The authors avoid getting bogged down in historical detail whilst providing the reader with sufficient background information about present-day Darfur. In sharing both their own experiences whilst visiting Darfur and refugees camps as well as the stories of refugees they have met Cheadle and Prendergast succeed (as much as is possible with the written word) in conveying the true horror of genocide.

In educating readers about this tragedy Not on Our Watch also raises awareness. Knowing what’s happening carries an obligation to do something about it. From a practical standpoint, Cheadle and Prendergast offer strategies for readers to effect change for themselves whether it’s as simple as donating money or in a more hands on way like writing a letter to an elected official or starting an organisation to raise awareness.

What this book really brought home for me is that there is no single organisation that has the mandate, resources or desire to prevent an act as so fundamentally wrong as genocide. I find this both heartbreaking and confounding. Like most people, I imagine, I used to think that writing a letter to a politician or participating in a demonstration rally were well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective methods of instigating change. However, having read Not on Our Watch I now realise that these seemingly minor acts can and do make a difference. In fact, if individuals don’t take it upon themselves to make a difference then nothing will change.

The key messages of the book are that if we, as a community, do nothing to stop genocide then we must bear the responsibility for it; and that one person can and must make a difference.

Not on Our Watch is a highly accessible treatment of a tragedy that, unbelievably, is still taking place. If you want to be informed about what’s happening in Darfur and learn what you can do to help then this book is a must read.

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As a child I was aware that my favourite fictional characters had certain eccentricities; Winnie the Pooh was a bit of a scatterbrain, Pippi Longstocking had a vivid imagination, and Peter Rabbit was a naughty bunny. In contemporary parlance these traits would be referred to as ‘issues’. Now Laura James has gone one step further. In Tigger on the couch: The Neuroses, Psychoses, Maladies and Disorders of Our Favourite Children’s Characters she has identified the psychological disorders of a host of fictional characters. As it turns out my favourite bear suffers from AD/HD, Pippi Longstocking from a personality disorder and Peter Rabbit from oppositional defiant disorder.

Tigger on the couch

 

James profiles almost thirty characters with each case study containing a diagnosis, patient notes, an overview of the disorder, family background and treatment. James concentrates mainly on characters from the well-known lands; Wonderland, Neverland, and Hundred Acre Wood but also includes a number of other characters including Goldilocks, The Beast and The Big Bad Wolf (who, it was no surprise to learn, is a psychopath).

 

A questionnaire at the end of each profile will appeal to amateur psychologists. It will help you identify whether you or anyone you know suffers from the disorder.

In writing about fictional characters in a matter-of-fact, humourous style James has a produced a highly accessible treatment of a serious subject. Yet she maintains a respectful tone throughout never crossing the line into parody.

It’s difficult to say what kind of reader Tigger on the couch is written for but I think it will appeal to anyone with an interest in psychology or a taste for something just a little left of centre. Tigger on the couch is a self-help book (for fictional characters), diagnostic manual, trip down memory lane, and laugh-out-loud read all rolled into one. Recommended reading.

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Having never visited New York, pretty well everything I knew about this city had, until recently, been garnered from novels, the big and small screens and from people who have been there. By reading Through the Children’s Gate by Adam Gopnik I think I’ve doubled my knowledge of this intriguing city.

Through the Children's Gate

Through the Children’s Gate is a collection of personal essays written by Gopnik in the years following his return to New York in 2000 with his young family after living in Paris for five years. A writer for The New Yorker and author of Paris to the Moon, Gopnik writes about his and his family’s experiences settling into life in New York including everyday happenings like apartment hunting, football practice and run-ins with noisy neighbours. A few pieces are written from a journalistic viewpoint; for instance, ‘Power and the Parrot’ is about feral parrots and switch hotels, which, as I learnt, is a hotel for computers. (I’m still trying to work out the connection there). Another, ‘That Sunday’, is about three jazz musicians and a famous 1961 recording.

In ‘The City and the Pillars’ Gopnik addresses the most significant event in New York’s history, the attack on the World Trade Center. It is poignant and insightful and it’s this essay alone that makes the book for me; it gave me a whole new perspective of both the events of that day and of New Yorkers’ response to it:

‘A little while later, a writer who happened to be downtown saw a flock of pigeons rise, high and fast, and thought, Why are the pigeons rising? It was only seconds before he realized that the pigeons had felt the wave of the concussion before he heard the sound. In the same way, the shock wave hit us before the sound, the image before our understanding.’ (p117-8 )

At times Gopnik writes in a stream of consciousness style, jumping from one event to another, one observation to another. I often found it difficult to keep up until finally I stopped trying and just held on for dear life. For taking this leap of faith I was rewarded with Gopnik’s unique perspective not only of New York but society and human nature too.

Gopnik’s skill with language is enviable and he uses it best I think when imparting his philosophies and observations on life. Just one example of this is when he’s writing about communicating with his son, Luke, via instant message:

‘…; to send complete messages from your own computer is to seize control of the means of communication, allowing you to declare both your autonomy and your essential goodwill. He was doing what children have to do: He was making me, his strongest tie, into a weaker tie, and then strengthening the tie again, but on his own terms. He is getting ready to go. He is putting his first shirt in the bottom of his eventual suitcase.’ (p301)

For the most part Gopnik writes with his feet hovering slightly above the ground. He isn’t a truly accessible writer in the ilk of Bill Bryson. And he has a penchant for using incredibly obscure words. I found myself reaching for the dictionary several times to look up words I had never even heard before: ostinato, proscenium, invidious. It soon got frustrating especially when I needed the dictionary every few paragraphs. Gopnik’s use of ‘big’ words is his weakness in Through the Children’s Gate. It takes the shine off what is otherwise beautifully crafted prose. On the flipside, many of the essays didn’t suffer from Gopnik’s proclivity for pretentious language and were perfectly readable. The essays were written over several years so perhaps this inconsistency can be explained by a change in the writer during this time.

Through the Children’s Gate is a varied collection of stories from Gopnik’s life in which New York plays the regular character. Gopnik invites the reader in for a unique glimpse into a New York life that will surprise, inform and amuse. Recommended reading. (But keep your dictionary handy.)

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