Hodge Podge: Fiction For the Armchair Traveler

IMG_6466The kids recently entered a contest by building a multi-featured island clubhouse out of Legos. Grand prize? A trip to Legoland in Denmark. Although I knew in my heart of hearts that the chances of winning were nil, I still experienced a moment of panic when I realized that if they DID win, we would have a hard time traveling on expired or non-existent passports. What a relief when some British child won, cutting short my panicked research into the hazards of procuring expedited passports from Chicago.

Although a trip to the hygge-ligt peninsula is out for the forseeable future for a variety of reasons including-but-not-limited-to my aforementioned expired passport, I do still enjoy the sensation of traveling vicariously. Hence this week’s hodge-podge, which is dedicated to international settings.

For Grown-ups:

A Gentleman in Moscow – This delightful book about a Russian aristocrat consigned to life under house arrest in a hotel touches on so many fascinating themes–from how little events can change the trajectory of a life to being gracious with your fate to the importance of respect for people as persons–the constrained setting actually opens up a world of thought and inquiry. I found myself thinking quite a bit about the main character’s approach to change, his past, and his shifting circumstances. “For as it turns out, one can revisit the past quite pleasantly, as long as one does so expecting nearly every aspect of it to have changed.” I highly recommend this novel, and think it would be a great choice for a book club.

And Then There Were None – This fun, romping mystery set on a British island is a fast read with surprising twists. If you’re a mystery fan, or looking for something fairly light and quick, this would be a great choice.

Einstein’s Dreams – I bought this book thinking I was going to a book signing with the author, but the fates conspired to change my plans (which is an elegant way of saying we double booked and I was too tired anyway). Given my investment, I read it anyway. Fortunately, it was short, because I thought it was so-so. While there are some intriguing topics as to time and purpose and how we live our lives, it wasn’t a stand-out overall.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven – I read a lot of World War II fiction, and this was one of the better selections in that genre. The author struck an excellent tone, with a perfect balance of humor, cleverness, and respect. If you’re a fan of the genre, definitely read this one. Even if WWII novels aren’t generally your thing, I suggest it as a particularly worthwhile choice.

Salt to the Sea – In need of still more World War II? This book highlights a lesser-known event–the sinking of the Gustloff–which I found interesting.

For Kids:

Around the World in 80 Days – Having grown up watching the excellent mini-series starring Pierce Brosnan, it was a delight to read this book with my kids. The book, as is so often the case, is far more detailed than the series, and I so enjoyed getting even more of the adventures of the stuffy English gentleman and his hapless French manservant.

Have Space Suit, Will Travel – Out of nowhere, this sci-fi classic became a favorite. I’m not certain it’s a kids book per se, but the main characters are kids, and it’s good, clean fun so I can recommend it. We listened to the book on audio and thought the dramatized (but unabridged) version was excellent.

If you were to suddenly win a trip overseas, is your passport at the ready? And where would you hope to go?

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On Vietnam

MatterhornI should tell you up front that Matterhorn is not a novel for the faint of heart, but I still think it should be required reading. The novel covers a company of US Marines on a brief series of maneuvers during the Vietnam War and delivers a blistering glimpse of how the war was conducted, while also offering a deeply moving account of the bravery and humanity of the soldiers involved.

The book’s author, Karl Marlantes, was himself a young Marine lieutenant in Vietnam, so the detail included is first-person recollection. That’s a good thing, because otherwise I would not have believed it. As I read, I kept thinking there was no way anyone could have survived the conditions. It astounds me that any of these guys lived and that any of them returned able to function in their former lives. How do people recover from living through situations like this? How could these men possibly get over the trauma? Marlantes offers some clues–a very compelling character with deep faith, men who keep their focus on others rather than the futility of the situation, even the author’s act of telling the story.

One technique Marlantes used brilliantly was referring to the Marines as kids. It’s easy to read history and forget that most of the players in wars are teenagers. Through direct reference, comments about high school, and imagery like the kids on patrol drinking kool-aid from their canteens, Marlantes never lets readers forget that the people being put into such unbelievable peril were not that much older than the little boy sitting across from you at the dinner table. This device could easily have slipped into an anti-war morality judgment, but Marlantes has too much respect for the military to do that. Instead, the reminders served to underscore the amazing fortitude and bravery of the kids, while also emphasizing how much was being put on such young shoulders and raising both the tension and the stakes in the story.

Another narrative strength of the book is Marlantes’ description of decision-making on the ground. He shows how the older officers often made decisions based on their experiences in prior wars–on the situations they faced when they were lieutenants in Korea or World War II. They were, in many (not all) cases, fighting the last war–often with disastrous results. At the same time, the worst choices the older officers made came when they forgot what it was like to be on the front lines and started chasing promotions and stats rather than what was good for their men. The best leaders were those who both understood history and stayed close to the human costs of victory. I think this is important to understand even for citizens who are not affiliated with the military–we have a responsibility to understand our history, and also to seek out truth and perspective on current circumstances.

“Intense” is really too light a word to describe Matterhorn–it’s wound so tight that I could only read short sections at a time and couldn’t help exclaiming aloud as thing after thing happened to these guys. I even cried several times–not because the book is a tear-jerker, but because I’m a mother. In an odd way, I was crying for the characters’ moms. I hated the idea that these things were happening to their little boys and they couldn’t be there–of course we can’t protect our sons forever, but I hated the thought of the boys suffering without comfort.

So you might wonder, why did I continue reading this book, when it was so intense and full of tough subject matter? Honestly, I read it because I felt like I needed to–like I owed it to the people who fought and died in the Vietnam War (on both sides) to at least try to understand what they went through. I felt like it would be horrible of me to sit in my comfortable home and refuse to read a book that only described the actual circumstances people experienced.

Although Matterhorn is exhausting and certainly not something you want to pack along for a beach vacation, I highly recommend it. It’s an important book, and it’s important that we add this sort of depth to our usually superficial historical understanding of events.

sympathizer

Also set in Vietnam, The Sympathizer is a more literary novel focused on a half-Vietnamese boy who largely navigates the country post-war–trying to find a place for his allegiance when the Communists, the Nationalists, and the Americans all want to use him and never accept him (being half-Vietnamese is simultaneously too much and not enough, depending on the company he’s in), eventually all turning on him in various ways.

I could have lived without some of the grittier details in the book that didn’t add to the story and seemed placed to check a box for “literary value” or something (I hate that about modern literary fiction, though I prefer the genre on the whole). If you read the book, feel free to skim/skip when you get to those scenes–you don’t need them and won’t miss them.

That said, I think the story was helpful to my understanding of the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and worthwhile for its exploration of themes like culture, belonging, and loyalty.

If you’re reading up on Vietnam, you might also be interested in Thanha Lai’s books – they are for younger audiences, but could prove valuable to adult readers as well.

 

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A basically revolutionary tool for work/parenting/educating/adulting in general

Have you ever tried something that other people swear by, only to find out that it doesn’t work like that for you? Or tried to handle a conflict at work or home and can’t figure out why the other person is responding so oddly?

Personality. People are alike in a lot of ways, but we’re not wired exactly the same. I think the biggest lesson of adulthood, for me anyway, is that I have to be careful not to blindly accept other people’s prescriptions as universally applicable, nor blithely assume that what works for me will work for everyone/anyone else.

ppp-coverThis is why I really like Mystie Winckler’s personality posts and was intrigued by her Practical Personality Portfolio. To be honest, I hesitated over it at first, because I own and have read several books on personality typing and I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the money to spring for a digital resource on the topic.

Friends, it was so worth it. In fact, if I had to do it over again, I would gladly pay twice as much, because it’s an incredible resource. A few reasons why:

  • It’s not organized around a test. I’ve been testing ENTJ ever since college, but I always felt that the description was a little off. For a while I thought maybe I was an ENTP, but that didn’t exactly fit either (I’m way too much of a list-maker/planner to be a P). After reading the portfolio, with it’s organization around functions and struggles and motivations, I was floored to see that I actually fit the INTJ profile much better than anything else. I hadn’t ever considered that since I tend to be a verbal person and am not our culture’s stereotypical introvert. But because the portfolio broke away from the test mode, I could see the difference more clearly and consider a different angle.
  • It focuses on functions. Why does it matter what type you are? Because different types of people work, learn, struggle, stress, and cope differently. Once I started looking at the INTJ materials, I was floored by the fact that many of the ways I was trying to deal with stress were actually causing me stress. I also noticed that some of the things that really discourage me are common discouragements for INTJs–and that was the first time I allowed myself to wonder what would happen if I just…stopped doing things that discourage me? What if I work to my strengths and relax in ways that are truly relaxing to me? Game changer.
  • It illuminates relationship issues. Josh and I were both surprised at how helpful the portfolio is for understanding our children. We were able to easily type even the three-year-old (which we hadn’t been able to do previously, even with Nurture by Nature) and were shocked by how helpful it is to know things like what makes each child stressed, what a stress reaction might look like for that child, and how to mitigate it. I can’t tell you how helpful this has been, especially with school work and with several ongoing sibling conflicts. The portfolio is worth it for the parenting/educating insights alone.
  • It takes a hopeful, positive tone. If you’ve read many personality references, you know they can get a little terrifying. You’re reading about your own type, or how your type interacts with your spouse’s type, or the dire prospects of your child’s type, and you feel tempted to panic. In contrast, the portfolio takes a really helpful, upbeat tone. Yes, every type has conflicts and weaknesses, but you can work through those and work with your strengths rather than kicking against the goads all the time. I really appreciated that aspect of the work.

The Practical Personality Portfolio comes with a handbook, workbooks on learning styles and teaching, typing kids, and functions, and, most critically, a comprehensive reference on each type (mind-blowing–simple, but super effective). I’d get it just for the type reference, but the rest of the pieces were helpful, too. Also, if you get the portfolio, you get access to a members page that has additional resources, FAQ, a discussion forum, and audio and video about personality typing–including one personality chat Mystie did with me!

I’d highly recommend the Portfolio, even if you’re not someone who’s normally into MBTI personality typing. More insight never hurts! And if you don’t love it for some reason, there is a money-back guarantee.

The whole INTJ epiphany is making a difference. Just this morning, when things were nuts and I was getting wound up, what I learned from this resource popped into my head and I could see the situation for what it was–me getting stressed–as well as what I could do to work through it. In the past, I might have eventually realized the stress, but my coping mechanisms were not that effective. The situations didn’t magically disappear, but my ability to handle them gracefully certainly improved.

If you go through the portfolio, I’d love to hear what you learn!

 

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Hodge Podge: Memoirs, middle age, and making the most of it

It’s a smallish snack this week, with only two selections. However, they go together in several ways that got me thinking.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – If you haven’t read 84, Charing Cross Road yet, you absolutely should, and then circle back to The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. In the forward, the book is described as “a charming story of a midlife dream realized.” I loved the tone and writing, and the fantastic (and not generally written about) living the dream in middle age angle. In fact, I got so caught up in the book that I began to forget it was a memoir. Thus, when the ending crashed in and was emphatically NOT what you’d do in a novel, I felt bereft. I still kind of can’t stand that it ended the way it did, although I know it’s a memoir and had to end as the facts dictated. However, I think if I had been writing this memoir having lived it, I would not have been able to handle finishing the manuscript. I would have had to go rectify the situation at once. Then I have to wonder how much agency we really have in changing our stories, and if I only think about things like shifting narratives because I read and write?

If you read this one, please come back and let me know–I’m interested to hear other takes.

Also, if I’m ever planning a trip to London (and I am always planning a trip to London), I will consult this book. I found the author’s itinerary matched many of the things I would want to do.

The Guynd – Thank you, Heather, for the recommendation! I was utterly captivated and fascinated by this account of an American woman who married a down-at-the-heels Scottish laird and how they managed Scottish country house life. Hint: it was not much like Downton Abbey, and rather more like things falling down ’round their ears. The outsider-married-to-an-insider perspective was exceptionally well-suited to the book, and I found I learned a lot, although it was another melancholy ending. As with Hanff’s book above, this whole edifice (or edifices, since the theme is both the marriage and the house restoration) is attempted when the wife and husband are in mid-life, and I do think the middle age perspective is kind of interesting. It’s a whole different thing than the usual 20/30-something-trying-something-for-a-year genre. The late 40s to early 60s viewpoint lends a different flavor and I’m kind of interested in that.

Although I still think that middle age doesn’t begin until 50, which gives me a good 12 years before I hit it (my decision to scrap Proust notwithstanding), I can see that a different era is up ahead, so I’m kind of skirting around poking at it to see what it’s like. Maybe that’s just me.

What are you reading this week?

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Hodge Podge: Life, Work, and Getting Your Point Across

In the mix this week: some thoughts on how we work (not just in jobs), form habits, and communicate.

Deep Work – In this fantastic book, Cal Newport describes how our culture is shifting toward shallow thinking, and the opportunities this opens for people who cultivate the ability to do deep work–that is, who know how to work with innovation, depth, and concentration. Newport discusses how to work deeply and develop focus and also exposes fallacies about what does and does not foster this ability. For example, he describes the idea that kids using iPads in school to prepare them for the high-tech economy is like giving them matchbox cars so they can learn to service a Porsche. Of particular strength are insightful sections on how to reframe the way we think about tasks and how we could approach tools and platforms with a craftsman approach (“Does this help me meet my core priorities?”) versus an any-benefit approach (“Shiny! New! I’ll take it!”). I took six dense pages of notes and was challenged in my thinking on many points, putting several of my take-aways into practice, such as the Roosevelt Dash. “A deep life is a good life.” Read this book. You will not regret it.

When Breath Becomes Air – This startling book is an end-of-life memoir written by a neurosurgeon struck in his mid-30s with terminal cancer. It sounds grim, but instead is hopeful and incredibly thought-provoking. One thing that stuck with me in particular was how Kalanithi’s pre-med background in literature and the humanities made him a better surgeon and more able to deal with the complexities and tragedies of own his life and those of his patients. Highly, highly recommended (both the book and the study of humanities!).

Reclaiming Conversation – This high impact book discusses how modern life is eroding our ability to communicate and relate to others, and offers suggestions for how to repair the walls. I’ve made a note to require my kids to read this book in high school, and would highly recommend it to anyone. Many things in our current culture are stacked against community and relationships, and it behooves us to pay attention and make stronger decisions about connection, empathy, attention, and imagination. This is not an anti-technology book, but rather a framework for how to prevent it from narrowing your world. An excellent read.

The Sweet Spot – In the habits and happiness genre, this book stands out for concrete, workable, high impact suggestions written in a personable, inspiring tone. I put a lot of things from this book into practice, including this year’s motto (Love is the horse) and defining the MDR (minimum daily requirement) for things like exercise to help me break the “well I don’t have two hours so I guess it’s nothing” mindset. Another strength of the book is the emphasis on how to build or repair relationships in small, manageable ways. I really liked this book, and would recommend it.

Smartcuts – The fact is, most of us have to work and get stuff done in life in one or more arenas. So, the author of Smartcuts posits, we should do these things in a smart way. Whether you have a traditional 9-5 or not, many of the tips in this highly readable and entertaining book will help you. Smartcuts demonstrates how the maxims many of us take for granted, like “put in your time” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “10,000 hours of practice makes you good at something” just aren’t true, and replaces those ideas with research-based alternatives.

Average is Over – There are a couple of fascinating points made in Average is Over, although I think they would have been made stronger in an article rather than a book. To sum up, the author argues that in recent decades a lot of people have been “overemployed relative to their skills” (that is, the cost of providing insurance and benefits is more than the value they provide) and that in the near future loads of people are going to fall out of the middle class. Some of the conclusions are fairly obvious but others are interestingly unique, such as the assertion that a key determinant in future success will be self-control. It’s not a bad book, but now you know the gist and you could probably skip it unless you’re just really interested in this sort of forecasting.

What have you been reading this week?

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Hodge Podge: Science Fiction in Translation

I never got into science fiction much until I read Wired For War and realized that good science fiction is where a lot of the thinking about philosophy and response to technology and science happens. And it’s even more interesting when it comes from another cultural perspective. So this week’s hodge podge is, for a bit of a twist, flavored Science Fiction in Translation.

Roadside Picnic – Translated from Russian, this novel had a very different feel from most American works of similar kinds. It was not like the older Russian novels I’m more familiar with, but it did have a distinctive difference…I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe the difference was that Roadside Picnic looks at alien technology in in a more pedestrian and less hero-driven way than an American author might have approached the same premise? The story itself struck me as inconclusive and low on hope, but it was interesting.

The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death’s End  – This fascinating and compelling trilogy was translated from Chinese by two different translators. I loved the way the author wove insights about the history and development of math and physics into the narrative, especially related to what went on in China during the Cultural Revolution. I think what really struck me about the trilogy was the reminder of how often we think of defense and technology in a Western-centric way, whereas there is an equally valid Sino-centric view that results in some completely different conclusions. The books deal with ethical conundrums like what actually underpins our standards and ethics on in the face of unforeseen circumstances, and how and why humanity often defaults to totalitarianism and what can be done about it. In many ways, these books reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, albeit with a different guiding hermeneutic.

On China – Unrelated to science fiction, but concurrent to the Cixin Liu books, I was also reading Kissinger’s On China, and found that it dovetailed well, especially in providing context to historical Chinese perspectives and cultural and academic changes of the more recent past.

What are your favorite sci-fi titles?

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Hodge Podge: Fiction that doesn’t chew its cabbage twice edition

How about a mix of grown-up fiction and read-alouds that are otherwise unrelated? These include some literary peanuts, raisins, and a few indeterminate chocolate-like blobs. Your mileage may vary.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d – Flavia fans will welcome another installment from our witty post-war, British, pre-teen, heroine/detective, and they will not be disappointed. I confess that I was flat out surprised by the ending to this book. I also loved the odd-but-apt aphorism, “Fate doesn’t chew its cabbage twice.” Words to live by.

Commonwealth – This book was…fine. It’s a little odd to say so, since I have loved Patchett’s books heretofore. If you’ve only got time for one by this author, definitely go for Bel Canto (review) or State of Wonder (review) instead.

Lila – I’ve not been a huge fan of Marilynne Robinson up to this point, but Lila grew on me. It became quite interesting to observe how Robinson was constructing the narrative and building the character, but I sort of felt like I was dissecting the book rather than reading it. However, I might try Home next and see if I like the series backwards better than forward.

Crosstalk – Connie Willis is such a fun writer, and manages somehow to balance light and witty writing with deeper subjects and issues. In Crosstalk, she looks at technology and relationships in the not-too-distant future through a story that will keep you reading while also giving you a lot to think about. I feel like you can’t go wrong with any of her books.

Read-Alouds

The Indian in the Cupboard – This is a short, funny read especially good for boys (or girls) who like adventure and girls (or boys) who are fascinated by the tiny-people-versus-big-people genre. We listened to it on audio while driving to and fro. There is a whole series, which the kids own and have read, and which I believe I read as a kid, but I can’t recall enough to know if I should recommend them or not.

Watership Down – So, technically this is not a kids book, but we listened to it as a family on our epic roadtrip-in-which-nearly-everyone-threw-up-for-11-hours. So let’s just say we all remember the story vividly. It’s a good story, if rather long. And since the author originally made it up as bedtime stories for his daughters, I think it’s fine for kids. Plus, you’ll learn a lot of really fascinating things about rabbits. When literature and zoology collide.

The Secret Keepers – We actually all read this separately not aloud, and I read it so I could talk to the kids about it. While we liked the book, it was so disappointingly NOT a Mysterious Benedict book. Of course we knew that going in, but one still hopes. I do like this author and will read anything else he publishes, but we like MBS best.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – The big kids and I have read the Harry Potter books individually (well, actually Sarah has only read the first three) at least once, but Eliza was feeling left out so we decided to listen to one for her sake. The audio versions of the series are just terrific. It was such an enjoyable listen, even though I had already read the book. And the big kids liked it even though Hannah has probably read the book 17 times. I’m not sure if we would tackle the later books with a small kid, but the first and second would probably be fine for younger kids especially if they have older siblings that already discuss the series as if it’s part of their lived experience.

Around the World in 80 Days – I grew up watching the movie of this book, so it’s fun to hear the actual story. We’ll watch the movie for family movie night to contrast and compare. If you’re reading aloud, you might want to skim ahead for terms to change as you go. If you’re listening to audio, it’s a good idea to pause and mention when a book uses descriptions that you don’t want your kids to internalize. It’s not too much, just here and there an old-fashioned parlance or attitude that we don’t hold.

How about you and your family? Have you read any great fiction lately?

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Hodge Podge: The Danish Thing

This week’s literary trail mix flavor is That Whole Danish Thing. It’s everywhere. One of the book clubs I’m in did a Danish theme this month (it was very hyggelig), so I read a couple of things.

  • The Year of Living Danishly – This is the book club selection, and it made for a lively discussion. The author did a great job of discussing various aspects of Danish culture that impact overall happiness. Although her attempts at application were not very helpful, it was easy to think of individual ways you might want (or not) to put the ideas into place in your own life. I will say that the things that struck me most are things that would require cultural overhaul and are thus not likely to ever be present in my life. But I’m still thinking about several things:
    • Danish society has a strong framework of shared traditions and rules. You’d think this would be stifling, but it really gives them freedom in their lane, versus American individualism, which leads to a lot of ambiguity and stress as we’re spoiled for choice on every front.
    • The taxes are high, but shockingly not THAT much higher than what I pay as a self-employed person (in the US if you are self-employed you pay an additional 15% on top of your regular tax bracket). And because Danish taxes and benefits are straightforward, there is a lot less stress and uncertainty involved.
    • Danish people trust each other. They leave babies in strollers outside of restaurants and shops. That sort of thing would send you to jail here. But I think trust also diminishes stress.
  • The Danish Way of Parenting – This book is a little gimmicky and heavily geared toward raising younger kids. I didn’t find much about older elementary or teenaged kids, but that’s ok. One of the premises of the book is that parenting is an ethnotheory–that is, we parent very differently based on our culture, and it’s hard to see our own bias objectively. Again, the take-away is that Danish people are not as individualistic as Americans. “They don’t enjoy drama, negativity, and divisiveness.” And that really sums up the difference, doesn’t it? Although I don’t think this book is a must-read, if you’re interested in the topic it did have some interesting insights, and perhaps more that you could implement in your own family even if you are unable to change your culture single-handedly.
  • Overwhelmed – Linked to my longer review, this book has a great section on Denmark and what makes it’s work-life balance so much easier. It would be a great companion read for the topic, plus it’s an excellent book on its own.

A few other links a ran across recently:

Have you read/thought much about the Danish trend? What do you think?

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Underground Airlines

underground airlinesThis week I read a book that smacked me in the face unexpectedly.

The premise of Underground Airlines is incredibly strong: imagine the present day, complete with modern technology, industry, and trade, but if the American Civil War never happened and slavery was never outlawed in the South. And then imagine an intricately plotted, deeply felt, tautly designed novel about that world.

Of course I wanted to read Underground Airlines for the story, and I know you’d like it for that, too. But I was not prepared for how well Ben Winters, the author, brought the issues home in a way that caused me to think carefully, and perhaps uncomfortably, about my own world.

The book is set in Indianapolis, which happens to be the city in which I live, so that already felt personal. So many things are right on and familiar about the world Winters imagines, and then Winters drops in a grim and startling facet of slavery that jars you in its incongruity. It’s not just the slavery (made infinitely more sickening by it’s modern setting–truly, this is an important narrative to read–history makes slavery feel remote and like maybe there were fringes that weren’t that bad but truly, really, evil is evil all the way down) of the “Hard Four” Southern states that still allow slavery, but the soft racism of the North (this is definitely a thing in our own world–and something that surprised me about living in the North), the deliberate, callous ignorance of people who’d rather save a few dollars on a t-shirt than buy one that was ethically sourced, the smug superiority of freedom activists who still don’t actually care enough about people as people, even as they spout platitudes about injustice.

Underground Airlines would make an excellent book club selection. It’s a fantastic story–fast-paced, full of action and nuanced characters, and a complex mystery that only unravels at the very end. But it’s also a tremendously challenging book from an ethical perspective. We still have slavery in our world (Cheap t-shirts? Cheap coffee? Cheap chocolate? Yes, we’re implicated.), and we still have people who are convinced they are more of a person than someone a different color, nation, or gestational age than they are. And those of us who do care almost certainly aren’t doing enough about it. I don’t even pray about it very often. A riveting, thought-provoking, convicting story. I think you should read this one.

“I don’t know,” he said. “How can we let him live? A man like this?”

“A man like this?” I said softly. “What’re you? What’re you?”

Note: If you’re interested in the topic of modern day slavery, I highly recommend Gary Haugen’s book, The Locust EffectIt’s a difficult read, but a crucial topic.

 

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Hodge Podge: Health & Fitness

This week’s literary trail mix of book reviews features health and fitness.

The Case Against Sugar – I probably shouldn’t lead with this one, because people get their hackles up when you suggest they give up their sugar. Take that as a clue, or not, as you please. I listened to this book on audio and found it compelling, although not as good as Why We Get Fat. I really enjoyed the deep dive on history and research–if you’re not into that, this is not the book for you. But if you’re trying to cut sugar, you’ll feel bolstered.

The Microbiome Solution – Microbiome is a big concept in health circles now, so I was interested to read this book by a top gastroenterologist who is in private practice but also is a researcher and professor. This goes way beyond taking a probiotic or eating some yogurt. The book was interesting, although it did highlight the contradictions in various health prescriptions. I’m finding that really the only things people agree on are: eat more dark leafy greens and cut out sugar. Beyond that it’s a lot of: eat more meat! eat less meat! eat bananas! never eat bananas! legumes are good! legumes are bad! Sheesh. Basically, you’re going to have to filter this stuff, and biohack until you find something that works for you.

Lose Weight Here – One great idea I got from this book was to monitor your HEC (hunger, energy, cravings) to figure out when your diet/exercise plan isn’t working for you. Beyond that, this book is a pretty complex system of alternating between eat-less-exercise-less and eat-more-exercise-more. Sounds simple. Isn’t simple. I’ll just say that “exercise LESS” includes TWO HOUR WALKS. I can see how that is ideal, but not how that is feasible. The book has some great tips and action items, but if you’re easily overwhelmed or don’t want to spend all of your brain space on your diet and fitness plan, this is not for you.

Micronutrient Miracle – To be honest, I didn’t get a ton from this book. I’m not sure if that’s because it was information I already knew from other sources, or just not my jam. I’m not going to do a plan that requires two protein shakes a day instead of real food meals, but I did like the clear explanation of sprint timing and the reminder to take your iron at a different time of day than your other vitamins.

The Thyroid Connection – I heard the author on a podcast and thought her story was interesting, but in truth I do not have a thyroid problem. I do feel tired and brain-fogged a lot, but that comes down to the fact that I am a bad sleeper, have five children, and essentially work two jobs. So in that sense, the book was reassuring because I feel secure in my thyroid situation. However, if you’re not sure about your thyroid or have problems with it, this would be a really helpful book to read. The author is a physician and has definite opinions about the treatment options, so it’s certainly worth skimming before you take drastic measures with your thyroid. Although I don’t personally need the information right now, I’m not sorry I read this book, if only to know what to turn to if this is ever an issue in my family.

Podcasts – A lot of my fitness information intake is happening via podcasts right now. I find it inspiring to listen to something fitness related while I’m exercising. In case you feel the same way, I thought I’d give a shout-out to a few of my favorites:

  • The SANE Show – A simple, doable, no nonsense approach to health. Jonathan Baylor wrote The Calorie Myth (reviewed here) and his co-host is a relatable working mom.
  • The Model Health Show – Shawn Smith, who wrote Sleep Smarter (reviewed here) and his co-host Jade are really funny and always interesting.
  • Better Everyday – Sarah Fragoso, author of Everyday Paleo (reviewed here), and Dr. Brooke give a great perspective on health as it relates to women and female hormones and systems. So much health information is written for men, and it’s incredibly helpful to hear how certain advice applies (or not) to women in various life stages.

 

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