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A Nation Worth Ranting About

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OK, embarrassing confession to begin with: I didn't really know who Rick Mercer was before I read this book. I'd heard his name, for sure, but I'm not much of a TV watcher (how d'you think I read so many books?!) so I don't think I've ever actually seen him or any of his shows.Having said that, I now feel I know the guy quite well. He's passionate about Canada, really really anti Stephen Harper's Conservative government and strongly supportive of youngsters who are struggling with bullying, particularly those who are gay. He's also pretty funny.I enjoyed his book. It's amusing, with several lines I had to read out loud to whoever happened to be in the room with me. Occasionally it's a bit repetitive, but that's because it's a compilation of rants from his TV program written over a couple of years, and I dare say that if you compiled any set of blog posts or newspaper columns you'd get a similar issue. As a relatively new Canadian, I found it a useful backgrounder to recent events in Canadian politics which I probably didn't pay sufficient attention to at the time. Hm, maybe I should start watching his show...
Silent Spring

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This is one of those books I've been meaning to read for a while. It's written in an accessible, yet authoritative style and sets out the stark truths about the dangers of putting human-made chemicals which deal out death into the environment. It's obvious why this was such an influential work when it came out.I got a bit tired around the mid-way mark of reading about chemically-induced disasters and found myself skimming over some of those middle chapters, but I'm glad to have finally got around to reading the book.
Hostage

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An interesting interweaving of stories around the experiences of a Jewish storyteller who is kidnapped by a Palestinian and an Italian. Shaltiel Feigenberg's father had brought him to America to escape a Europe marred by the Holocaust, but the repercussions of the establishment of Israel brought about the situation of Shaltiel's kidnap.During the Second World War Shaltiel survived by being able to win or lose games of chess in the basement of his German protector. In the Brooklyn basement of his kidnappers, he has to use his ability to speak or remain silent to persuade his captors not to kill him.His tales have some effect on one of his captors, but it's on the European one, not the Palestinian man with whom he really needs to connect the most. I enjoyed the story very much, but it still leaves me feeling fairly hopeless about the prospects of peace in the Middle East.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Search for a Perfect Meal in a Fast-Food World

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Having already read Joel Salatin's book and Pollan's own [book:Second Nature: A Gardener's Education57536] and [book:Food Rules: An Eater's Manual7015635], I didn't feel I learnt a lot from this one. It was interesting, but nothing startling, whereas if I'd read this one first I might have found it more arresting.
Harriet the Spy

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Found this on one of those 'books every child should read' lists and then immediately downloaded it as an ebook from the library. I enjoyed it, although I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more when I was a child. The same list had 'Peter Pan' and 'Wind in the Willows' on it, neither of which I've enjoyed as an adult, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at being underwhelmed by this one.
Life After Life

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Would possibly be better named Death after Death! It took me a while to get hooked by the story, as the first quarter of the book felt unrelentingly grim. But eventually I was completely sucked in and mostly enjoyed the various permutations of Ursula's life (if not their endings).In many ways it reminds me of other books and films: Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, which I only read a few weeks ago, Stephen Fry's Making History, Connie Willis's Blackout and, of course, Groundhog Day. It's clear that a lot of research went into the World War II aspects of the story, especially the work of the ARP volunteers. It's certainly not a cheering read, but it's a very clever one and I think it will haunt me in a way that a more straightforward, linear tale would not.As a measure of how good it is, I went back and re-read it immediately after finishing it. And added another star to my rating to reflect that. I rarely re-read anything.
The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations

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The subject matter was intriguing, but the tone of the book was highly defensive. I got the impression that the author has had to spend a lot of his professional life justifying his interest in psychic phenomena to his academic colleagues, often without success.The book was a strange mixture of things: case studies, both contemporary and historical; a philosophical discursion on the nature of synchronicity; and a rather odd chapter promoting the author's wife's skills in astrological predictions.It had me scratching my head at times, but overall it was interesting enough to keep me reading and it raised some questions in my (admittedly highly cynical) mind about my previous assumptions in relation to paranormal affairs.
Looking For Alaska

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I loved this book. Funny, moving and thoughtful.
Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing

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A bit of a mixed bag. The FLAG chapter was far too technical to be interesting, although there were parts of it that I enjoyed. I liked the characterisation of life in a MACT and thought the essay on being a bad correspondent might just have effectively been titled 'Why I'm a good writer'. But there was an awful lot of geekiness.
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

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When you've been told for years that eating fat is what makes you fat, it takes quite an effort to undo all that conditioning. Gary Taubes's book is a good introduction to the physiology of weight gain and the history of scientific thought on the subject. It's also an important work in that he makes it clear that having a lot of fat makes people sedentary and makes people eat more, not the other way around.It's easy to blame overweight people for their condition: what this book does is move the blame firmly back on to the types of food we are eating. Cheap, refined carbohydrates (particularly sugar) are the bad guys, not the humans who eat them. And it's the poorest people who are the most vulnerable. I had never thought of obesity as being a sign of malnourishment before, but this book spells out the reasons for it.Taubes's writing style is clear (if a little humourless) and he has a firm grasp of a broad swathe of research on the subject. I thought he was rather dismissive of vegetarian and vegetable-rich diets, which troubled me a little. I'm not sure encouraging everyone to eat lots of meat is a sustainable way forward. And although I agree with him that exercise isn't much use as a weight-loss mechanism without dietary change, I think he could have made it clearer that it's still a good thing to do for other reasons. I can imagine a lot of people reading this book and taking it as permission not to do any exercise at all.
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