Thursday, November 8, 2018

I, Death

My brother gave me his copy of Mark Leslie's I, Death.  It sounded interesting enough, so I decided to give it a read after finishing Rhubarb.

I, Death is the story of Peter O'Mallick.  O'Mallick is a teen who has been surrounded by death his entire life.  His guidance counselor suggested Peter write about his experiences as a way to get through them all, so Peter starts a blog (which is the majority of the book).  Peter documents his daily life and his attempts to get over his girlfriend Sarah cutting him out of her life.  And slowly the bodies pile up around him.  Peter becomes increasingly convinced that there's a death curse around him.  And what's more, he's right.

The first part of the book is written in blog posts, complete with people commenting.  People on the internet find Peter's story (pretty much right away too, which is rather impressive for a blog) and try to cheer Peter on and give him advice.  Unfortunately Peter scorns a lot of the advice, especially when people disapprove of his stalking of Sarah (he literally sits in his uncle's car down the street from her house at one point). When one of those commenters, who Peter takes exception to, winds up dead, Peter starts believing more and more that he is killing the people in his life that he gets angry with. The first part of the book ends with him realizing that people die when they look into his eyes (which doesn't explain how the internet guy dies, but I digress) and, after accidentally killing his aunt and uncle, Peter attempts to kill himself by staring into a mirror.

Parts two and three are written as a traditional narrative, rather than a series of blog posts.  Part two details the life of a gang leader who discovered Peter and plots to use Peter's powers to his own advantage.  He just needs to figure out a way to use Peter without getting killed by Peter's powers.  Then part three has Peter under his control, killing people while thinking that his mentor is benevolent.  But it all falls apart when he discovers Sarah is still alive.

I found part three really, really abrupt in its telling.  This was especially true when it came to Sarah: I wanted to get more of Sarah's side of the story, but that was pretty much all told in the epilogue.  But even besides that, Peter's adventures with his new mentor still felt like they were being narrated through the blog posts, rather than actually being shown.  This part of the book was rather disappointing.

I also had a really hard time caring about Peter.  For the first half of the book, I did kind of feel for him: he was hurting because the love of his life broke up with him.  But then he became a stalker (and was getting mad at anyone who tried to talk him out of his stalking behaviour) and I really started to dislike him.  What's more, the fact that he ended up with Sarah after all that really didn't sit well with me.

I also wasn't at all prepared for the tone shift in parts two and three.  Where part one was an angsty teenager talking about his life, parts two and three suddenly dealt with gangs and a whole lot of rather graphic violence.  Needless to say, I, Death really wasn't my kind of book.

Friday, November 2, 2018


A friend of mine found H. Allen Smith's Rhubarb and gave it to me (I have a few friends who give me hilarious looking and sounding cat books).  I wasn't really sure what to make of Rhubarb, but it sounded hilarious (especially when it had an endorsement by Prof. Elmer Roessner from the first review that stated "This book betokens the death of the novel form in America").

Rhubarb is the story of a cat named Rhubarb that inherits a fortune and a baseball team.  Just before his owner passed away, the man decided to bequeath everything to the cat rather than his daughter; he also named Eric Yaeger as Rhubarb's guardian.  So his daughter challenges the will.  Yaeger has his hands full trying to protect the cat while also bringing him out into society because of course once the press gets wind of what happened Rhubarb becomes an instant celebrity.  On his side, Yaeger has Doom, an ex-bookie who has dreams of being a detective, Miss Polly Pinckley, the strong, beautiful, and wealthy neighbour to Rhubarb, Miss Clarissa Wood, a self-proclaimed expert on cats, Willy Bodfish, the cook, and Len Sickles, the manager of the baseball team.  Along with defending the will, the team also has to convince Rhubarb's baseball team that it's okay to be working for a cat!

The premise is quite funny (I loved how everyone got so excited about Rhubarb being so wealthy - like hotels would try to turn Eric and crew away because he had a cat with them until he told them it was Rhubarb, then suddenly everything was fine!) but the book gets bogged down in quite a few places by things that really don't matter.  For example, there was a whole chapter talking about Lester's wife, who has no actual bearing on the book.  At times like these, I found it really hard to keep reading the book because I was bored and wanted to get back to the actual plot (but I've never read a book by Smith before so I wasn't sure if I could get away with skipping chapters). 

I was also a bit annoyed with what happened with Miss Polly Pinckley.  She was a really interesting character - she was absurdly strong and was very conscious of her health.  But then she invited Eric Yaeger over to wrestle....and suddenly "he was being the masterful male" and her character toned down.  She became obsessed with sex with him (and he later had to ration sex out to her because she was wanting it too often).  He also had to find something to do with her (but why?  Surely she was getting along just fine before he showed up into her life?) so made her basically a secretary.  Now I know this is most likely thanks to Rhubarb being a product of its time (it was originally published in 1946), but I didn't really like reading this sort of thing.

So all in all, I think Rhubarb had some potential, but the execution of the book as a whole just didn't really work.  If some of the extraneous stuff had been cut in favour of strengthening the actual plot, it would have been a much better book.  Of course, you may think differently than me: looking at all the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I appear to be in the minority; most people who have read it think quite highly of it.  So you'll have to read it and judge for yourself.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Cocktail Time

I was complaining to my mom about all the depressing books I've been reading lately, so she recommended I borrow some P.G. Wodehouse from my brother.  So that's how I ended up reading Cocktail Time.

Cocktail Time is about the adventures of Lord Ickenham and all the chaos he spreads around him.  It starts with him knocking Sir Raymond Bastable's top hat off with a Brazil nut.  Sir Raymond thinks it is some young hooligans who did the deed; Lord Ickenham does nothing to correct his assumptions and makes a remark that Sir Raymond should write a book about it except that he is not a writer.  Sir Raymond is never one to fail a challenge, and so he writes a fiction novel called Cocktail Time.  He publishes it under a pseudonym because he doesn't want such a book marring his political aspirations.  But the book becomes famous and Sir Raymond becomes worried that reporters will find him out.  So at Lord Ickenham's suggestion, he gets his nephew, Cosmo, to claim he wrote the book.

All should have been finished there, but Cosmo owes some money to Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle.  The Carlisles talk Cosmo into writing a letter to extort more money out of his uncle.  Lord Ickenham gets a hold of the letter just as the movie rights to the book are coming up for sale.  And this leads to a ridiculous comedy of errors helped along by Lord Ickenham.

I will admit, I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story at first.  But after the first few chapters, things get moving and Cocktail Time ends up quite the hilarious read!  I'll definitely have to keep Wodehouse in mind the next time I need a break from all the serious and rather depressing reading I seem to be doing lately.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City

I wanted to read Seven Fallen Feathers before Tanya Talaga's first Massey Lecture, which was happening in Thunder Bay.  I've heard good things about the book, that it is a must read for people living in Northern Ontario. 

Seven Fallen Feathers is the story of seven Indigenous youth who came to Thunder Bay for school and died there.  Most of them passed away in one of the rivers.  Talaga looks at what happened to each of the Seven, humanizing their stories.  She also looks at the circumstances surrounding when the youth went missing (and the lack of response and courtesy the local police department afforded the families).  

I had a hard time rating it on Goodreads because a 5 star review means "I loved it;" I think Seven Fallen Feathers is an important read, but it is depressing (and in no ways a book I would say that I loved).  So in the end I went with 4 stars on Goodreads, saying that "I really liked it" because I thought that was fair.

I think Seven Fallen Feathers is an important read, both for people living in Thunder Bay and for Canada as a whole.  There are some major problems with the way things are and all Canadians need to work towards a more fair and better future for everyone.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall is another book from Bustle's list of books that will inspire you to live a more sustainable life that I wanted to read.  My local library didn't have a copy, but they were able to bring it in for me through interlibrary loan, so yay!

Marshall is an expert in climate change communications.  Over the years he has seen scientists struggle to get their message out while climate change skeptics have increasingly banded together.  He also knows that many people agree that climate change is real, but do nothing to stop it.  So he decided to investigate why all of this is.  He met with psychologists, environmental activists, skeptics, people who work for the oil industry, evangelicals, and pretty much everyone else he possibly could to examine the issue.  What he found is that humans look at climate change as a simple problem, even though it is in reality a very complex problem.  Because of its complexity it can be framed in a variety of ways, such as as an environmental issue. Some people will support a particular frame while others will oppose it, and so this divides people on the issue.  He also found that the skeptics are having more success at building their narrative than people who support climate change are.  Humans are hard-wired for stories and narrative, so this means supporters are having a harder time convincing people. 

I found Don't Even Think About It fascinating (full disclosure: I have a background in psychology).  It's rather amazing how climate change happens to work against our brains in a lot of ways.  Most of the book is a bit depressing, but the end is rather hopeful: even though we are wired to ignore climate change, in some ways we're also wired to take action, as long as we can change the narrative from one of competition to one of cooperation.   

I will warn you though: Don't Even Think About It is in many ways a dense read.  I found myself only able to read about 20-40 pages in a sitting before having to take a bit of a break.  Thankfully the book is about half the size of This Changes Everything though, so I was able to get through it a bit faster.

Oh and one really nice touch that Marshall added to the book was a periodic summary of what he has examined thus far.  I don't think I've ever seen that in a book before, but it was great to kind of take a deep breath and have a chance to look at everything a little more in context within the larger narrative of the book.

All in all, I am really glad I read Don't Even Think About It; I'll have to keep an eye out for some of Marshall's other books (Carbon Detox, I'm looking at you!)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School

The top book recommended by Barry Choi on his list, The Top Personal Finance Books for Canadians, is Andrew Hallam's Millionaire Teacher: the Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School. Choi called it an "almost [. . .] modern day version of The Wealthy Barber," so after reading The Wealthy Barber I was intrigued. So on payday I bought it for myself on Kindle (it's not available at the local library).

Millionaire Teacher is Hallam's explanation of nine rules he believes everyone should have learned in school about personal finances.  Hallam is a teacher who taught personal finance.  He laments that high schools teach advanced geometry but not basic personal finance, so Millionaire Teacher is really his attempt to spread his knowledge.  Most of what he says is pretty similar to what other people have been saying in the personal finance books (spend less than you make, invest as early as you can, invest in low-cost index funds).  But then he really gets into the nitty-gritty, looking at how you can build your own portfolio, or find good help in building your portfolio no matter where you live (he specifically focuses on the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Singapore).  He has loads of data that he shares, all backed up by studies.  And the studies overwhelmingly support low-cost index funds.

I learned a lot from reading Millionaire Teacher.  So much so that my head was left spinning during a few chapters and I definitely feel like I need to eventually reread the book to better take everything in (and also once I have a slightly better understanding of some things he talks about).  But don't let my need to reread Millionaire Teacher scare you off: it's a fantastic book on personal finance that I really think every Canadian should read.

Oh wow: as a side note, I have now read Choi's top three personal finance books for Canadians: Millionaire Teacher, Wealthing Like Rabbits, and Stop Over-Thinking Your Money!  I don't think I'll be getting through the other two honourable mentions any time soon though because there are a few other finance books I'm interested in reading first.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Wealthy Barber: The Common Sense Guide to Successful Financial Planning

I've been reading some disappointing fiction lately, so I turned back to nonfiction (and specifically back to personal finance books).  I think it was Preet Banerjee who spoke really highly of David Chilton's The Wealthy Barber: The Common Sense Guide to Successful Financial Planning, so I thought I'd give it a read whenever I got a chance.  Barry Choi noted on his list that it's a bit dated, so I wasn't really sure what I'd be getting.

The Wealthy Barber is told as a conversation between three young adults and the title's wealthy barber. When one of the young adults, Dave, asks his father for financial advice, his dad directs him to his barber friend, Roy; it was Roy who taught Dave's father all he knows.  Dave, his sister, and his best friend end up going to Roy's barber shop every month for seven months; while the two boys get their hair trimmed, Roy imparts his wisdom on them.  The topics include saving 10% of what you earn for future wealth, insurance, saving for retirement, home ownership, general savings, investments, and a few other miscellaneous items like savings for your children's education. 

This being the sixth book on personal finance that I've read, some of Chilton's advice was familiar to me.  But I still got a few new tidbits for which I am quite grateful for.

The major issue I had while reading The Wealthy Barber was that I got really annoyed with Chilton's three younger adults at the beginning of the book.  They kept interrupting Roy as he was explaining things with random questions (yes the questions were generally on topic, but there were a number of times when I thought "shut up and let the man speak!!!")  Once you get through the first few chapters this sort of disappeared though - the three young adults were learning and answering more on point questions (or maybe I was just used to it?) 

While The Wealthy Barber is a bit dated now (there's no talk of TFSAs, and from what I've gathered his talk of mutual funds is out of date), with its unique conversational structure, I think it's still a great book to read if you're new to personal finances and need some help getting started.