Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Growing Up Brave by Donna B Pincus ***

If you have a child suffering from excessive anxiety, Growing Up Brave by Donna B Pincus is the book for you. Whether your child is a toddler or a teen, whether your child can't go to sleep, exhibits OCD behaviors, is afraid of social situations, or has separation anxiety, this book has specific steps to recommend. Partially a handbook and partially an infomercial for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the book offers specific courses of action interspersed with case studies of children with probably more challenges than yours.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a more general overview of the childhood anxiety, perhaps you are a teacher or counselor, this book misses the mark. The suggested interventions are such that they should be restricted to licensed therapists and/or parents. Highly recommended for parents of children with anxieties, but few others.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver ****

In 1959, a patriarchal, abusive Baptist preacher moves his wife and four daughters to a mission in Belgium Congo. As the reader realizes that their previous lives in rural Georgia did not prepare them for the ordeal that follows, the reader understands that this dysfunctional family couldn't even function where they were born and raised.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is at it best when it details the family's experiences and realizations from the straight-forward discoveries, Georgia seeds won't fruit where there are no Georgia pollinators, and adjustments, learning the local languages, to the more personally intense and complex, like their varying appreciation for the dynamics of village life, and each daughter's appreciation of their father's evil - a lesson especially hard for daughters.

 But, the family is only half of this ambitious epic. In addition to chronicling three decades of this family, the book also covers the same thirty years following Africa's worst humanitarian and human failures of its post-colonial era. While this period is full of failures, Africa is a big continent and these failures are balanced with successes and heroes, such as Tanzania and Nelson Mandala. That the Conga was a confluence for greed, violence, and incompetence is without question, and that is the flaw with this book.

The second half of this epic moves from the character driven stories of these four girls to overly long discussions of political theories and alternates histories, reminding me of the worst info dumps  usually written in the worst science fiction.

Spoiler Alert: I recommend reading this book for the exquisite characterization and family dynamics, but as soon as one of the family dies, close the book. The rest is weighed down with politics, heavy-handed irony and smug hand-wringing. You can do this safely, being assured that nothing turns out well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

DNA USA by Bryan Sykes **

My guess it that the publisher felt this was such a hot title, that the book needed to be published regardless of the content. DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America ends with the author Bryan Sykes's apology
the gallery has far too small a number [25!] of individual portraits for me to draw any statistically conclusions.
This is a good start, but there are possibly two more apologies that might be expected by any reader.

So the USA is really 25 people selected for various reasons, but most often convenience and availability, What about DNA? Well, the book discusses DNA in several places, in between a smattering of world history, USA travelogue, and miscellaneous anecdotes. Many of these were genuinely interesting, while others were redundant to an educated reader. Written in the first-person, much comes across like a narcissistic Oxford Professor.

So not really USA, and not really DNA. What is the third apology. The third apology is alluded to throughout the book. This is that the topic itself and the crude analysis is inherently racist. In between explaining why older attempts at such analysis were crude and inaccurate and, therefore, racist, the author seems to miss the irony that the proffered book is just another racist analysis masquerading as the latest science.

My recommendation is that if the title intrigues you, don't read this book, but if you have a voyeuristic interest in up-to-date racism, this is the book for you.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith *****

For the perfect antidote to the divisive and  combative drama of contemporary politics, try Alexander McCall Smith's latest installment of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. In a land far away geographically, socially and morally, Mma Precious Ramotswe and freshly married Mma Grace Makutsi solve mysteries in Botswana. This novel deals with corruption and flexible morality - when is it okay to lie for the greater good?

I want to assure all the loyal readers that all crimes and criminals will be brought to justice without an vindictiveness or judgement.In this Botswana fantasy land, there is no Old Testament "eye for an eye," nor any New Testament "turn the other cheek." Each transgression is rectified with the guideline of minimum pain, or even inconvenience, to all parties. Escape reading at its best for this political season.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil McGregor *****

Neil MacGregor has written the ultimate bathroom reader: A History of the World in 100 Objects. In 100 self-contained little chapters, MacGregor traces the history of the world from stone tools of the Olduvai Gorge to silicon ones manufactured in high-tech factories in Shenzhen.

Each chapter tells in interesting story illustrated with an object from the British Museum and insights from the long perspective of the British Empire.

This historical journey starts with a new definition with what it mean to be human. Gone are the old homilies about tools and language that have been discarded as natural scientists decode these behaviors among many other animals. The new criteria? Is the result more complex than necessary. Over design is what makes use human. Think about it.

Another charming example is the design of the first coins for a illiterate society. The largest denomination coin pictured a lion, and each smaller denomination showed less of the lion, until the smallest coins just had a lion's paw.

Juxtapose this with the archeologist's observation: "When a plate or a vase is whole it is alarmingly fragile; once it is smashed the pieces of pottery are almost indestructible."

Then there are the etymological gems. From the Taino, who first greeted Columbus on the shore of Hispanola, we get hurricane, barbecue, hammock, canoe, and tobacco. From the Nahuatl, who first greeted Cortez in Mexico City, we get tomato, chocolate, and avocado.

A simply wonderful book to be read in a hundred sittings, unless you get caught by the teasers at the end of each chapter taunting you on to the next chapter.