Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Never Cry Wolf

Along with giving me some books, my brother has also lent me a few.  I decided that I should really get to reading them since I've got six right now that he'd like back at some point.  I started with Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf because my brother insisted that I read it.

Never Cry Wolf tells of Mowat's first year studying wolves in the Canadian North.  Everyone believes that wolves are killer monsters that need to be exterminated.  Mowat is sent to study them as a scientist and find out the truth, specifically of their connection to caribou (trappers are claiming wolves are destroying the herds). 

Over the course of about six months, he observes one family of wolves with the help of an Inuit friend, Ootek.  Between his observations of George, Angeline, Uncle Albert and their pups, and the insights of Ootek, Mowat quickly discovers that wolves are not remotely the monsters he has been led to believe. 

Whether fact, fiction, or somewhere in between, Never Cry Wolf is a fantastic read. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered

I happened to notice Austin Kleon's Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered at work a few weeks ago at the last minute.  The book looked interesting enough so I decided to check it out.  I was going to start reading it last weekend, but was too sleepy and couldn't concentrate.  I then considered sending it back and getting it out another time, but since it's so short I powered through it mostly today.

Show Your Work! has a simple enough premise - you need to share what you're working on so people can discover you. This is especially true for people with creative pursuits, such as writing, painting, or photography; if people don't know what you're making (and have no way of discovering it), you probably won't be discovered. Kleon has ten main points to get you started:
  1. You don't have to be a genius (most people spend decades getting good at their art).
  2. Think process, not product.
  3. Share something small every day (very easy now thanks to the internet!)
  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities (sharing your stuff will help you develop new stuff).
  5. Tell good stories (people like to hear the stories behind how things came to be).
  6. Teach what you know.
  7. Don't turn into human spam (you need to listen to others as well as share your work).
  8. Learn to take a punch (rejection and critique are true of all creative pursuits).
  9. Sell out (we all need somewhere to live and something to eat).
  10. Stick around.
As with any advice, he tells you that it's okay to use what you like and discard the rest - we're all individuals after all and what works for one person may not be useful for someone else.

All in all I enjoyed reading Show Your Work! Kleon gave me some ideas of stuff to try (and the encouragement to keep trying and not abandon projects!) :)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety

I had the opportunity to interview Ann Y.K. Choi for work, so I decided to give her debut novel, Kay's Lucky Coin Variety, a read.  The book was out from the library though, so I wasn't able to read it until after doing the interview, which is a bit of a shame because there are some questions about Kay's Lucky Coin Variety that I would have loved to ask.

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety is the story of Mary, a Korean immigrant to Canada who is named Yu-Rhee (but was forced to change her first name to attend Canadian school).  Mary's family came to Canada to pursue a better life and Mary now feels trapped beneath the weight of her parents' (particularly her mother's) expectations.  Set in the 1980's in Toronto, Kay's Lucky Coin Variety follows Mary through her teen years and into young adulthood, through first love, tragedy, and through her struggle to be her own Canadian woman when her mother wants her to be a good Korean woman. 

I found Kay's Lucky Coin Variety got off to a rather slow start.  I'd say it wasn't really until about half way through the book that it seemed to pick up steam.  The beginning seems like a bunch of almost unrelated incidents that Mary talks about (which eventually lead to her being sexually assaulted in her family's store).  From there her grandmother in Korea passes away, so she goes with her mother to attend the funeral.  Her mother typically doesn't talk about the past or her feelings, but she ends up opening up a few times while in Korea (the last time more to a stranger from Canada who later becomes her best friend).  I guess as a result, Mary is kind of left in her own world looking at things rather selfishly because she honestly doesn't know what her mom is thinking in most cases (besides that her mom wants to maintain reputation, particularly of her store).

In Korea, Mary meets Joon-Ho, who is asked to show her around.  Joon-Ho was educated in England and so speaks English with an English accent.  He later comes to Canada to attend university, taking a master's degree in engineering.  Mary's family is asked to help him out because he has no family of his own there.  He spends a lot of time with Mary (she ends up asking him to her high school prom because one of her girlfriends, who was supposed to be going dateless, ended up asking her boyfriend along); Joon-Ho is the one she eventually loses her virginity to.  She doesn't realize it at the time, but Joon-Ho intends to marry her one day; Mary hates the idea because he is Korean and she is trying to escape her Korean roots.

Everything is complicated because Mary is also in love with her grade nine English teacher.  She harbours a crush for him through high school.  Once she has graduated, one of her friends gets her his phone number and she ends up calling him.  They meet, and slowly end up secretly involved with each other.

Things start to come to a head when Joon-Ho's parents come to town, which brings their potential marriage front and centre.  Mary walks out on the engagement dinner and tells Joon-Ho to leave her alone.  She finds evidence of him stalking her, and when he goes to confront it, he confides that he is being charged with plagiarizing his papers in school.  He begs for her help, telling her how his dad got him into the school with falsified information.  Mary agrees to help and to keep his secret from her family and the larger Korean community, a decision that she will come to regret.

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety is, all in all, a coming of age story told through the lens of an immigrant family.  While it took a long time to really get into the story, I found that I enjoyed it in the end (and I liked learning about Korean-Canadian culture in the 1980's).  I did find myself wishing there was a glossary of Korean words included in the book - I had a bit of a hard time remembering which word went with which aunt.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Golden Boy: A Doctor's Journey with Addiction

The Golden Boy: A Doctor's Journey with Addiction was a second book I got from my brother a few nights ago along with I've Been Meaning to Tell You. The Golden Boy is the memoir of Dr. Grant Matheson who became addicted to opioids while practicing medicine in Prince Edward Island.  The first part of the book tells Matheson's spiral into addiction. Opioids at first helped him function when he was overwhelmed by his practice and his divorce.  But as time went on, they helped to destroy his life.  Being a doctor, and also feeling like he had no where to turn, Matheson was determined to beat his addiction on his own.  But eventually he was found out by the Physician's College and sent to rehab.

The second part of the book is his journal from when he is in rehab at Homewood in Guelph.  The first part of the book was a bit tough to read, in major part because the writing isn't very good (which is a real shame because I think his story of how his addiction spiraled out of control is well worth reading).  But this second part is much easier to read.  At the beginning of his stay in Homewood, Matheson was given a journal.  He started writing in it because he was told to, but in the end it seemed to help quite a bit with his recovery.  He talks about the people he meets in Homewood and what he is going through.  I liked how very optimistic he always seemed in this section of the book.

After that, he writes a few parts that take place afterwards, detailing his recovery.  Matheson stumbles along the way, ending up addicted to alcohol and back at Homewood again to help his detox.  He was able to practice medicine for awhile after being initially released, but came up against some charges of fraud from when he was deep in the throes of his opioid addiction, so as of the publishing of The Golden Boy, he was no longer practicing. 

While the writing isn't always great, I think this is a very valuable book to read if you've never thought about addictions from the perspective of someone suffering an addiction.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I've Been Meaning to Tell You

So I was hanging out with my brother last night; we wandered into his office and I started looking at things on his bookshelf.  One of the books that randomly caught my eye was David Chariandy's I've Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter.  My brother said he was done with the book, so I took it.  And since it's such a short read, I read it in a night (while also taking a few breaks to get dinner and play video games for a few hours).

A decade previously, Chariandy struggled to explain to his then three-year-old daughter a moment of bigotry she witnessed.  He ended up penning her this letter in the aftermath of the 2017 American Presidential election, where Donald Trump was elected in a very divided country.  He strives to explain to his daughter her racial heritage, particularly the heritage of his parents who are South Asian and African migrants from Trinidad (and who overcame much hardship to get themselves to Canada).

I enjoyed reading about the family dynamics between the various generations of Chariandy's family, and even about Chariandy's past growing up in Scarborough as a visible minority.  Unfortunately I've Been Meaning to Tell You never seems to go much beyond just a surface description of the discrimination visible minorities face, which is a real shame; this book could have been much deeper than it is.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide

Geeze, where to begin? 

I remember seeing Michelle Goodman's The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube at the library many years ago.  I picked up a copy of it (as well as Goodman's My So-Called Freelance Life) because it seemed like the type of book I should read but I wasn't interested in reading it right then and there.  And so it has languished on my bookshelf for YEARS (I would bet around ten at this point). I don't even know why exactly I decided to read it now; I guess I just had a vague sense that I really should just read the thing already.

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide is a book full of career advice for women who want to forge their own path, whether through self-employment, flex time or telecommuting at their current job, or working at a traditionally male job.  Each chapter tackles a different avenue to explore, and ends with a list of actionable items you can do right now and in the future to get you on your way towards making a career change.

As I was reading The Anti 9 to 5 Guide over the last few days, I had this sense that I really should have read the book much sooner.  For one thing, I would guess that it was much more ground breaking when it was first published, but it feels rather dated now (there were a number of references to having a Rolodex. Plus Goodman talks about the internet like it's a new thing, probably because using it for finding jobs WAS a new thing back in 2006 when the book was published).  But not only that, I found that the advice itself just wasn't new to me; it pretty much all seemed like obvious stuff I've read many times before (possibly in Pushback, The Art of Selling Yourself, or even all the way back to Networking for People who Hate Networking). I almost stopped reading the book halfway through because I felt like I was kind of wasting my time; I got stubborn and finished it because I've held onto this book for so long.  I did glean a few interesting tidbits (and enjoyed the discussion on negotiating as well as the chapter on working abroad, even though I'm not really interested in living abroad at this point in my life).  But overall I kind of felt like this was a slog to get through.

But that doesn't mean that it is.  If you're fresh out of college and considering starting a career, or you want to change careers but haven't a clue where to start, The Anti 9 to 5 Guide is full of great advice for you.  It just wasn't the book for me.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Librarian's Guide to Homelessness: An Empathy-Driven Approach to Solving Problems, Preventing Conflict, and Serving Everyone

Alright, I have a confession to make: I've had The Librarian's Guide to Homelessness by Ryan Dowd out from my library for a few months now.  I attended a webinar by Dowd that was very informative and learned that we were also getting his book.  I put my name on the list (I was the only one!) and got it when it came in.  Then it sat on my shelf.  I'd renew it to the maximum.  Bring it back and check it out again.  Repeat.  So a few weeks ago, I finally started reading the darn thing.  Being a text book, even though it is interesting (and at times entertaining), it still took a bit to read through (and I put it aside once or twice to read other things like How to Walk Away).

As the sub-title suggests, The Librarian's Guide to Homelessness looks at how to solve problems and prevent conflict with homeless patrons in a library.  Libraries across North America are finding that they are serving more and more homeless patrons.  Dowd is the executive director of Hesed House, Dowd's local homeless shelter; he has spent his life volunteering and later working at the shelter, so he has a lot of insight into and experience dealing with homeless individuals.  While homeless individuals are similar to people of a middle-class background (we are all human, after all), there are some distinct ways homeless individuals are culturally different from middle class individuals (in a similar way upper class individuals are different from middle class individuals, etc).  Dowd gives a break down of the differences (in brief, homeless individuals tend to have a smaller vocabulary, so they are more attuned to nonverbal cues and also use voice a raising voice volume to show whether they are mildly angry or spitting mad), shows you how to use your head, body, and words to speak with homeless individuals, and later goes into some more advanced problem solving tools.  Dowd also makes it plain the difference between "fire tools" (tools that use punishment as an incentive) and "water tools" (which are tools which use empathy rather than punishment).  In his experience, the water tools generally work best (but there are some instances where you will have to resort to fire tools; Dowd just wants you to exhaust your water tools first before escalating to fire tools).  The beauty of the empathy driven approach is that it will work with pretty much all people, not specifically homeless individuals.

I do need to note: the majority of this book is a list of various tools you can use for dealing with different people and different situations.  For that reason, the book is a bit of a slower read; there were only so many tools I was able to read one after the other before I felt myself nodding off.

A lot of the things Dowd talks about in The Librarian's Guide to Homelessness were actually covered in the webinar I attended (he just goes into a bit more detail here in the book), so that made the book seem oddly familiar (I ended up treating it kind of like a refresher at times).  If you haven't attended one of Dowd's training or webinar sessions though, you won't feel like this while reading the book.

Oh, and I want to say that I loved reading Dowd's anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter.  They were always entertaining (while still informative for the chapter).  Dowd definitely has a natural gift for storytelling. :)

Overall I think this book is a good read for people working in libraries and other industries where they deal with a lot of homeless individuals (although the book is specifically geared for libraries, so keep that in mind if you work in another industry).  It's also a good read for people who are interested in hearing about the differences in culture between middle class individuals and homeless individuals.

Monday, August 6, 2018

How to Walk Away

I honestly don't remember why I put Katherine Center's How to Walk Away on hold at the library.  But when the book came in, I decided I might as well give it a shot (especially since I was heading out to camp and wanted to bring a fiction book out rather than the nonfiction one I'm reading).

How to Walk Away starts out when Margaret, who is terrified of flying, is convinced by her boyfriend, Chip, to come flying with him. Chip proposes to her in the air, but then crash lands the plane.  Chip escapes without a scratch, while Margaret suffers burns and a spinal cord injury.  She wakes up in the hospital with a couple of skin grafts and unable to move her legs below the knee.  Her family is by her side (including her estranged sister Kitty, who hasn't spoken to Margaret in three years), but Chip is nowhere to be found (or as Margaret's father says, he's suffering "a touch of the Irish flu"). 

And so begins Margaret's journey back to health.  With injuries like her's, doctors consider there to be an approximately six week window where the spinal cord can heal; after those six weeks, the damage will not be reversible.  Margaret finds herself working with Ian, a Scottish Physical Therapist (PT) who is not very personable (her nurse even tries to get Margaret moved to a different PT who will be a better fit with Margaret, but no luck). 

Meanwhile, Kitty keeps trying to get Margaret to let her back into Margaret's life.  Kitty left unexpectedly three years ago after a fight with their mother and has only stayed in contact with their father.  Margaret was bewildered by the whole thing; she tried to contact her sister repeatedly, but after receiving no response, she gave up.  So Kitty coming back is hard for Margaret at first; but in the end she forgives her sister and they get closer.

As they get closer, they start conspiring to get Ian to open up.  Ian is dour where the other PTs are friendly and cheering for their clients.  Margaret resents it at first, until making him laugh or smile becomes a game to her.  And while he may not be cheerful, he definitely has her back; when Chip makes an appearance to tell Margaret that he has slept with his ex-girlfriend, it is Ian who hears her screaming at him to leave (and actually gets Chip to leave).  Eventually, Margaret's parents hire Ian as a tutor to give her more physical therapy in the hopes that her spine will recover; they grow closer and closer the more they are working together.

In many ways, How to Walk Away was a bit predictable: yes, Margaret falls in love with Ian.  Ian believes that she has a version of Stockholm Syndrome and rejects her.  But eventually they end up together (with him chasing after and jumping onto the boat she happens to be on).  But in other ways, it wasn't: I was expecting Margaret to walk again, but she does not.  I also wasn't expecting the drama between Margaret's parents to happen (although in some ways I should have seen that coming).

How to Walk Away is ultimately a very light and fast read.  I finished it in one day (I actually couldn't put it down - I chose to keep reading rather than go to sleep for most of the night).  I enjoyed the antics of the characters (Margaret's family in particular were quite fun). Overall, I just really enjoyed reading How to Walk Away - it was exactly the kind of story I needed as a break from all the nonfiction I've been reading lately!