Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day

AuthorFelicia Day
TitleYou’re Never Weird on the Internet
Narrator: Felicia Day
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2015)

Felicia Day’s memoir is funny and inspiring, and especially good narrated in Day’s own voice.  Day describes her unusual childhood where she was homeschooled and first found community through gaming communities on the internet.  Growing up and deciding to go into acting, she finds herself typecast in roles and ends up writing, producing, and starring in one of the earliest successful web series, The Guild. I first learned of Day watching The Guild, and despite knowing next to nothing about gaming culture, I found it hilarious and accessible (and if you haven’t seen it you should watch it now).  While the documents her success as an artist creating her own niche, Day also has lived with anxiety and depression with a particular bad period coinciding with the end of The Guild and honestly described.  Day also includes a chapter about gamergate, the notoriously misogynist and nasty movement which has split the gaming community Day loves so much in recent years.  All in all, a good, honest, and funny celebrity memoir.
Recommended books: Bossypants by Tina Fey, Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg, and American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent
Rating: ***

Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Author :Truman Capote
Title: In Cold Blood
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publication Info: New York, NY : Random House Audio, p2006.
Previously Read by the Same Author:


This is one of those books that’s long been on the list of “Why haven’t I read this yet?”  In Cold Blood is known for being the prototypical non-fiction work written in the novelistic style and a forerunner of the true crime genre. Through Capote’s extensive research he is able to recreate before, during, and after of a brutal quadruple murder in Holcomb, Kansas from the points of view of the victims, perpetrators, investigators, and variety of friends, neighbors, and townsfolk.  Capote’s writing style is impeccable and the story is griping. Yet there’s a nagging doubt in my mind of just how much of this is true to life and how much was designed to make a good story.  Despite being a well-written story, there’s also is a gratuitousness to it that left me feeling a bit dirty afterwards.

Recommended booksMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt  and Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 23: Whispers Into Screams by Robert Kirkman

AuthorRobert Kirkman
Title: The Walking Dead Vol. 23: Whispers Into Screams
Publication Info: Image Comics (2015)

The last volume of The Walking Dead introduced the Whisperers, a group of people who wear skins of the dead so they can walk and live among the undead.  In this volume, a girl from the Whisperers is captured and during her captivity, Carl befriends her.  Meanwhile, Maggie is facing opposition as leader of the Hilltop community.  It’s a nice change of pace to take the focus off of Rick for once. I feel that these issues are kind of dragging their heels for now, but there’s a lot of potential that could be building for the Whisperers’ story.  They could become the next group our heroes have to fight a war against (god, I hope not), or there could be a more nuanced story of how these different types of survivors interact.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: How To Raise a Wild Child by Scott D. Sampson

Author: Scott D. Sampson
TitleHow To Raise a Wild Child
Publication Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

Dr. Scott of Dinosaur Train fame wrote this book about how parents and other concerned adults can inspire children to “Get up, get outside, and get into nature.”  This grew from the concern over the increasing disconnect of children from nature – known as “nature deficit disorder” – that has negative consequences both for children’s development and for the environment.  Sampson writes of his philosophy and gives tips on how parents can share their love of nature, mentor them, and help them tell their own stories.  It’s a great book, probably worth a reread to distill the advice to practical everyday use.
Favorite Passages:

“Our present dysfunctional worldview is founded on an erroneous perception: the existence of humanity outside nature. Despite the fact that nature provides the raw materials for our economy and that we clearly live on a finite planet, economists continue to regard the natural world as a subset of the economy, and speak of limitless growth. Yet the opposite is clearly true: our economy is a part of nature, as evidenced by the dramatic economic effects caused by topping ecological limits. A second, closely related perception is human dominion over the natural world. Seeing ourselves as external and superior to nature, we feel entitled to exploit natural “resources” at will. Adrift in a sea of objects, we’re left without any meaningful home, let alone a desire to protect and nurture the places we live.”


“In this book, my use of the term wild child refers to something entirely different—a child sharing deep connections with nature and people. Both kinds of connections are literally impossible without healthy mentoring from adults. We are social beings and, as we’ll see, connections with the natural world are strongest when a youngster has multiple mentors. Nature connection thrives alongside people connection.”


“Among mammals, only the Norwegian rat even approaches the global range of humans, co-occurring with us on every continent except Antarctica (though, it must be added, rats accomplished this feat by hitching a ride on our ships).”


“When many people think about helping children to connect with nature, they imagine themselves striding purposefully out into the wild, child in tow, to teach the youngster how to chop wood or use a GPS or go fishing or whatever. Certainly some elements of mentoring entail exactly this kind of one-on-one instruction. But the vast majority of the time, it’s best to follow the child’s lead. Kids of every age have innate longings that manifest themselves outdoors. Your job is to determine what those longings are and feed them. So, difficult though it may be, the better option most of the time is to push gently from behind rather than to pull from in front. Take your cue from the original Mentor, guiding from the back of the boat. Your reward will be watching the child’s eyes light up with curiosity, propelling him to the next mystery.”


“In the end, nature mentors take on three distinct roles. First is the Teacher, the person who conveys information. Second is the Questioner, the one always seeking to ask that next query to pique curiosity and engagement. Third is the Trickster, the clever Coyote who hides in plain sight, able to leverage a child’s longings to stretch edges. The most effective mentors limit their role as Teacher, focusing instead on embodying both Questioner and Trickster. The great news here is that you don’t need to be an expert. The bad news is that you’ll often need to stifle the urge to offer answers and think instead about how you can extend the learning experience with a provocative question.”


“But here’s the most important thing. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will spark your child’s passion for nature more than your own embodied passion for the natural world.”


“So if we continually exchange matter with the outside world and if each of us is a walking colony of trillions of largely symbiotic life forms, exactly what is this self that we view as separate? You’re more bipedal colony or superorganism than isolated being. Metaphorically, to follow current bias and think of your body as a machine is not only inaccurate but destructive. Each of us is far more akin to a whirlpool, a brief, ever-shifting concentration of energy in a vast river that’s been flowing for billions of years. You’re not merely connected to nature through the web of life. You’re interwoven with it, living in constant exchange with the natural world through your skin, your breath, your food, and the countless microbes on and in your body.”


“Consider this thought experiment. If you were tasked with designing the ideal learning environment for children, do you think you would ultimately opt for four-walled rooms where students are required to sit quietly for long periods, ingest streams of facts in one-hour gulps, and endure incessant testing in hopes of receiving good grades? Whatever your answer, I’m quite certain that few kids would vote for such a system.”


“In contrast to the careerism (“learn to earn”) model of schooling currently dominant, place-based education is grounded in values such as community, sustainability, and beauty—promoting exactly the kind of radical shift required if we are to renew the human-nature bond and preserve a viable planetary ecology and economy. Innovative educators have shown again and again that local surroundings provide an engaging context to communicate virtually any topic, from history and math to reading and science.”


“One of Sobel’s mantras is “No tragedies before fourth grade.” Too often we teach young children about climate change, species extinctions, and vanishing habitats before they’ve even had a chance to connect with the natural world. Rather than engagement, the result is often alienation, with children feeling a great sense of loss and pessimism about the future. So, before we burden kids with the crises of our time, let them establish a bond with nature. Once they care, protection will follow.”


“Seek out stories from the lore of indigenous peoples native to where you live. These tales are frequently grounded in local nature: plants, animals, and landforms. They often convey memorable narratives of how particular animals got their names, of plants used for medicinal purposes, and of places held sacred. And they typically embody a spirit of deep nature connection, with humans fully embedded in the web of life. One example is North American Indian Tales, by W. T. Larned. Think about using stories like these as an entry point to understanding the native peoples that lived in your region prior to the arrival of Europeans.”


“Several years ago, I received a phone call from an executive at the Hollywood-based Jim Henson Company. She told me that they were creating a new educational television series aimed at preschoolers, with dinosaurs as the main hook, and she asked if I’d like to get involved. The ensuing conversation went something like this: “What’s it going to be called?” I asked. “Dinosaur Train,” she replied. “What?” I stammered. “You can’t call it that.” “Why not?” she asked calmly. “Because dinosaur paleontologists like me have to remind people regularly that humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. Sticking them together on a train just perpetuates the myth.” “No problem,” she said. “We’re only going to put dinosaurs on the train.” I paused, took a deep breath, and blurted out, “Well, that’s just brilliant.”


Recommended booksFifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids by Rebecca Cohen, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv,  Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn

Author: Alfie Kohn
TitleThe Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting
NarratorAlfie Kohn
Publication Info:Tantor Audio (2014)
Summary/Review: The current generation of children are often described by the media, politicians, and even parents as entitled and narcissistic.  Alfie Kohn shows through his research that 1. similar statements have been applied to children for centuries, 2. there’s no evidence to show that these statements are true for any generation, and 3. strategies and policies for parenting and education formed by a belief that children are particularly “spoiled” today are actually harmful to children.  This is a fascinating book that offers a lot of research that shows that parents and teachers are actually too controlling.  There’s an idea that life is all about competition and the kids “better get used to it now” which forces children to experience everything as a competition rather than a learning experience.  As Kohn succinctly states “Competition undermines achievement,” which is something our leaders and policy makers fail to understand especially when it comes to children.  Definitely a must-read book!
Recommended booksReign of Error by Diane Ravitch,  Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood by Steven Mintz, and Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

Author: John Irving
TitleLast Night in Twisted River
Narrator: Arthur Morey
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2009)
Previously read by the same author:

Another sprawling, epic novel by John Irving.  I haven’t read one in a long time.  This one tells the story of Dominic, the cook at a logging camp, and his son Daniel, who grows up to be an author.  Irving frequently refers to them as the Cook and the Writer.  After an accidental murder at the camp, the father and son are forced to flee and the novel follows them throughout their lives from Boston’s North End to Iowa City to Brattleboro, VT and finally to Toronto.  All through this time they keep in touch with the gruff logger Ketchum, who looks out for their pursuer. Along the way there are common Irving themes of coming of age, sexuality, unhappy relationships, and unpleasant people. Daniel’s life as an author strongly parallels Irvings, and Irving seems to be trolling his readers to make one think that this is autobiographical.  But there’s also a lot of insight into creativity and the writing process as well.  Despite being the putative central character, Daniel isn’t particularly interesting or well-defined (perhaps purposefully).  Dominic and Ketchum and various minor characters  provide a number of entertaining scenes and tangents.  Overall this is an enjoyable novel, but like many of Irving’s works could deal with some heavy pruning and more of a sense of purpose.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Out on the wire by Jessica Abel

Author: Jessica Abel
Title: Out on the wire : the storytelling secrets of the new masters of radio 
Publication Info: New York : Broadway Books, 2015.

I received this as a free book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Out on the Wire is a comic book about the production of NPR radio shows and podcasts, or perhaps the nerdiest thing I’ve ever read.  Through the graphic art medium, Abel details her interviews, observations, and storytelling processes of the creators of This American Life, The Moth, Radiolab, Planet Money, and Snap JudgmentFor lack of a better term, these programs are called “narrative journalism” and storytelling is central to all of these shows.  I’m a big fan of all of these podcasts and it is fun to see comic representations of the faces behind the voices (not to mention learning how to spell Chana Joffe-Walt). Abel’s approach is an effective way of using art to create a documentary.

Recommended booksFeynman by Jim Ottaviani, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.
Rating: *** 1/2


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