The Thinking Person’s Double-Dip Review: Therapeutic Felines and The Mysterious Brain…

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Welcome to a brainy edition of the Double-Dip Review! Today I have two low-fat, high-firbre options for those interested in the workings of the mind and its more tangible cousin, the brain.  Engage your central nervous system and let’s scoop up the dish on these two informative reads!

Purr Therapy: What Timmy and Marina Taught Me About Love, Life and Loss by psychotherapist Kathy McCoy delves into the little known and not-often-encountered practice of cat-assisted psychotherapy.  While most people have seen or heard about dogs assisting in various therapeutic enterprises (such as in the nursing home, which you can find out more about here), McCoy, to her surprise, accidentally discovered two cats perfectly suited to assisting her clients and so her foray into animal-assisted therapy began.  Throughout the book, McCoy relates the story of how Timmy and Marina came to live with her family and how each cat took on the mantle of therapy-feline in unique ways.  McCoy features some specific clients (names changed to protect the innocently guilty, of course) and outlines how the cats’ individual natures changed the course of the therapy journey for clients dealing with a range of issues such as anxiety, grief, marital difficulties and parenting troubles.  The book concludes with a round-up of the important lessons that McCoy has learned through working with animals in her personal practice.

21817417Dip into it for…

…a well-documented recollection of how cats (yes, cats!) can cut the mustard against their canine counterparts in deeply emotional situations.  Being more than mildly interested in psychotherapy and other forms of treatment for mental illness and emotional trauma, I was clearly going to be positively disposed to this book from the start, and it does provide a good insight into the benefits of using an animal to assist people in emotional distress. Because McCoy came upon the idea of using cats in her practice due to serendipitous circumstance, she provides a good overview of the issues she ran into initially, such as how to manage when and where the cats would work, how to deal with clients with allergies and fear of cats, and how to ensure that every client who wanted to, was able to engage with the cats.

The book is broken up into parts, the first of which focuses on Timmy – the first cat McCoy took into her therapy room – and his journey into McCoy’s family and practice.  The second part of the book focuses on Marina, McCoy’s second therapy cat, the differences between Marina’s approach and Timmy’s and how each cat was suited to particular client needs.  Each part is wrapped up with a handy summary of the most important learnings that McCoy took from her experiences working with the cats and how she applied these to her own life.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like books in which animals die. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say, because McCoy mentions it very early on in the book, but BOTH CATS DIE UNTIMELY DEATHS.  You’ve been warned.  The deaths of Timmy and Marina, and McCoy’s and her clients’ emotional reactions to the deaths are dealt with in surprising detail.  I actually found the recount of Timmy’s unexpected illness and death quite distressing – which was no doubt a reaction to the distressing nature of the actual event as experienced by McCoy and her husband – so if you don’t like to read about animals suffering and/or dying, this might not be the book for you.  Or perhaps you could skip those bits, although they do take up quite a significant portion of each cat’s story.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a very accessible and, for the most part, interesting read that really opens up the conversation as to the benefits of using cats in therapeutic situations.  It’s going to be a hit with cat-lovers and fans of real-life animal stories and would be good to keep on the bedside table and dip into at leisure.  I was hoping for a bit more focus on the therapy part of the deal, but while McCoy does feature a number of clients’ stories per cat, I felt that the therapy part was glossed over a little in favour of the cats’ antics.  This was bearable for most of the book, but by the time I got about halfway through Marina’s story I was beginning to doubt the veracity of McCoy’s recollections – surely no cat could have such astute timing and such perfectly anthropomorphic reactions as these two! Nevertheless, apart from that slight irritation, I’m glad I delved into this book, for the novelty value of cats bucking the stereotype of indifference to human suffering if nothing else.

Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole: A Renowned Neurologist Explains the Mystery and Drama of Brain Disease by Dr. Allan H. Ropper and Brian David Burrell comprehensively explains, through the lived experiences of a number of patients, the complex and sometimes utterly bizarre nature of the brain and the things that can go wrong with it.  In a completely accessible way, Ropper recounts stories of the strange and heart-breaking, from the salesman who is found driving round and round a traffic roundabout, seemingly unable to get off, to the young mother diagnosed with ALS forced to make profound decisions about continuing on despite being unable to move anything but her eyes, or breathe on her own.  With a liberal dose of humour, Ropper delves into the challenges and triumphs experienced with and by these patients, and relates the difficulties inherent in diagnosing diseases of an organ that can play tricks on itself. 

19286537Dip into it for…

…the most accessible and gripping book about neurology that you will ever read.  I know that’s a big claim, but I’m assuming that only a tiny percentage of those of you following this blog are qualified neurologists or neurosurgeons, so I feel quite justified in making it.  I was initially quite reluctant about requesting this for review because I thought it may be quite dry and technical and not turn out to be very readable at all. Thankfully, I was completely wrong, and I found myself glued to the book, reading at least a chapter every night before retiring.

Together, Ropper and Burrell have hit on a fantastic and engaging narrative style that is matter-of-fact, personal and touches on all the existential fears floating around in the human psyche relating to the potential for death or permanent disability and how one might reasonably (or unreasonably) face these fears.  Another interesting point in the book is Ropper’s up-front acknowledgement that doctors and medical professionals are not infallible and are subject to the same pressures, doubts and muck-ups that plague the rest of us.  In one memorable story, Ropper recounts how, in a spectacular stroke of cumulative bad luck, one mistake by a clinician incorrectly reading a scan, followed by a number of unlikely follow-up mistakes by subsequent medical staff assigned to the case, caused a patient to be initially misdiagnosed and delayed the discovery of the actual cause of his illness until it was too late to administer any really effective treatment.

This story is in the minority however, as most of the situations recounted demonstrate the commitment of medical staff working in a difficult field and the resilience or othewise of their patients as they come to terms with the scary possibility that there might be something wrong with their brain.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not into recollections of medical procedures, potentially life-threatening illnesses and more than one patient death.  Really, I suspect this book is going to have a niche audience of people interested in either particular neurological disorders, or neurology in a general sense, and if that’s not you, you should probalby move right on by.

Overall Dip Factor

I was really surprised at how deeply I got into this book, and how much of its content has popped up in my thoughts since I finished reading it.  Coincidentally, the ALS/Motor Neurone Ice Bucket Challenge started hitting the internet while I was making my way through this book and while I already knew a small amount about the disease, it was nicely topical to be able to read into the topic more deeply just at that time.  If you’re a fan of Michael J. Fox (and who isn’t, really?), it turns out that Ropper has been involved in treating and advising Mr Fox through his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, so there’s a bit of bonus celebrity-related material in here too. While I was engaged and challenged by the more emotional and worrying patient stories, I also very much enjoyed the initial chapters of the book which aptly described the range of bizarre cases that can pop up in the neurology department and the interesting and unexpected ways in which medical staff go about trying to figure out what’s wrong.

All up, if you’re interested in the brain in all its mysterious glory you should probably keep this book on your radar.

So there you have it – from mind science to brain science, I hope you’ve found something to fire some neurons in this double-dip!  I received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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What’s In a Name Challenge: Creepy and Maud…

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Obstacle Number 4+ in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge: Creepy and Maud by Dianne Touchell…

Taken from: the Non-Christie Listie as a late replacement

Category: Five – a book with an emotion in the title

Once again, I’m making a bit of a tenuous link for this category, but I figure if it’s possible to “feel creepy”, then creepy must be an emotion.

Creepy and Maud is told from the alternating viewpoints of Creepy (not his real name…obviously) and Maud (not her real name….less obviously); teenage neighbours who conduct most of their interactions through the use of binoculars and messages flashed through their respective windows.  The story explores how the friendship – if you can call it that – develops amidst the daily dramas of life in the teens’ less than idyllic family settings.

 

 

creepy and maud

This Book’s Point of Difference:

Well. I suppose this one differs from most YA stories in that while it focuses on the relationship between teenagers of the opposite sex, there is no reference to romance. Not even a hint of it.  It’s not really that kind of book.

Pros:

– Once again, this book has that lovely familiar feeling common to many Australian stories. Well, familiar if you are an Australian anyway.

– There’s a lot to keep you interested in the content here – intriguing relationship dynamics abound.  Creepy’s parents communicate almost solely through the medium of shouting (and on occasion, acts of irate dog), Maud resorts to speaking only in French with particular irksome people in her life and the mothers of the two teens are engaged in a titanic struggle over the etiquette involved in borrowing and loaning casserole dishes. 

– The book doesn’t pull any punches. If you like your YA fiction gritty and realist, then you’ll probably take to this one like a duck to duck-friendly wetland environments.

Cons:

– Along with the lovely sense of familiarity common to Australian stories, Creepy and Maud delivers a standard dose of that depressing sense of realism and un-sugar-coated discomfort also common to many Australian stories. There is a bit of humour to lighten the load, but for some I fear this book may come off too dreary to really enjoy.

– I’m not sure whether it was just me and my cold, stoney heart, but I didn’t really feel overly sympathetic towards the two main characters.  I’m not sure whether I was supposed to. But this was a bit of a con for me, if only for the fact that it would prevent me bothering to re-read this title.

Overall, I found this a slightly uncomfortable reading experience, although I can see why it was shortlisted for a Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Older Readers (a high accolade indeed!).  I felt there was something missing in the connection between the characters that stopped it from really reaching the “must-buy/must-re-read” category for me.  On the other hand, Touchell’s debut is a solid read if you enjoy YA books that explore themes of unconventional friendship and the ugly repercussions for those who insist on being a square peg in a round hole (or indeed, vice versa) in certain environments.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

From the Bookshelf of the Damned: A Haiku of Frustration…

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I’m in the middle of a good-book drought.

For those lucky individuals who have never experienced such a thing, a good-book drought consists of a reasonably prolonged period of time in which one is seemingly unable to produce warm, accepting and genuinely affectionate feelings towards any book one attempts to read. 

Whilst mired in a good-book drought one may engage in such anti-bookish behaviours as repeatedly abandoning books without finishing them, reacting with excessive nit-picking or criticism to writing styles, plot devices and dialogue sequences that previously caused only mild discomfort, and nervous hand-wringing brought on by a gradual diminishing of hope that one will ever again be blessed with a fantastic and instantly loved read.

I suspect that the good-book drought is a temporary form of mild karmic imbalance brought on by past book-related misdeeds, such as dog-earing library books, using paperbacks as coasters and allowing food crumbs to be smushed between pages while reading.  Whatever the cause, it is a spectacularly frustrating experience.

Rather than continue to spend my time half-heartedly thumbing through, and then discarding, any more potentially great but currently not-cutting-it books, I have decided to create a frustration-based haiku in the hope that my reading karma will take a more positive turn.

evil flatpack 

 

Bookish kara-te

Oh! To feel the sweet caress

of new-loved pages

 

So, fellow travellers in the blogosphere, I hope that your book-droughts grow ever shorter or are at least broken by regular monsoonal activity that produces refreshing reading.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

What’s In A Name Challenge: A Murder is Announced…

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Well, here it is: the first obstacle in the What’s In A Name Reading Challenge (hereafter to be known as the WIAN? RC)!

As previously mentioned, I have decided to complete this challenge in two parts – the Christie-listie, which is comprised entirely of books by or about Agatha Christie, and the Un-Christie-listie, which is comprised of books that are not in any way related to the Dame herself….Clearly, this first title is from the Christie-listie, and specifically relates to Category 3 – a book with a party or celebration mentioned in the title.

murder is announcedSo where is the party/celebration in A Murder is Announced?   Well, according to our good friend Professor Wikipedia, “a party is a gathering of people who have been invited by a host for the purposes of socializing, conversation, or recreation“…..and a subcategory of this, the suprise party, is “a party that is not made known beforehand to the person in whose honor it is being held”.  It is therefore abundantly clear that the murder in the title, which has been announced, will involve a gathering of people (who necessarily, on seeing each other, will socialise, converse or engage in some form of recreation).  Further to this, the person to be murdered will, most likely, not have prior knowledge of their status as the guest in whose honour the event is being held.  Clearly then, a murder is a sort of surprise party. I rest my case Your Honour.

Given that the Christie-listie is a very specific sub-category of the crime genre, I have devised a special rating system for use in reviewing these works.  It consists of 5 criteria against which a star rating (of which 5 stars is the highest) will be applied.  The book will then be summarised in a rhyming couplet.

The criteria are as follows:

Rate of Moustache-Twiddlage (for Poirot novels) or Stitch-Droppage (for Marple novels): This refers to the expected level of engagement with the plot as measured by the extent to which anxious body language emerges in the reader…

Red Herring Haul: relating to the level of mis-clues present…

Butler-osity: which refers to the complexity of the revelation at the end (based on the foundation level of non-complexity in which the Butler is identified as the one who did it)…..

Common-or-Garden-ness: the formulaity of the plot set-up, cast of characters and reveal. Otherwise known as the Retired-Colonel-Ometer…

Rate of Contextual Controversy: or the extent to which racist, sexist or other generally a-bit-off-by-today’s-standards references are casually scattered about the text

marple kitteh

A Murder is Announced – WIAN? RC REVIEW

Plot summaryThe residents of Chipping Cleghorn are aghast/delighted/upset by an announcement in the local paper stating that a murder will take place at the big house at a given time.  Said nosey residents turn up to see what goes down, only to be shocked/dazzled/terrified when the lights go out at said given time.  Shots are fired, a body is discovered….enter Miss Marple (in a casual and nondescript fashion) for the usual highjinks after local constabulary assess that the situation is a bit iffy.

Stitch Droppage:  2stars   While the premise looked promising, I would be lying if I said I was totally gripped from beginning to end.

Red Herring Haul: 2stars A few tricksy traps were left out to trip up the unwary, but I didn’t feel these were of the calibre of red herrings in other Christie offerings.

Butler-osity: 3_stars_svg Quite a complex ending – worthy of both eyebrows being raised and the uttering of an appreciative “Mmmm!”

Common-or-Garden-ness: 5-Stars  Retired Colonel who served in the colonies? Check.  Quiet rural village with a spectacularly silly name? Yesiree!  Oodles of live-in hangers-on with shady backgrounds? You bet your sweet bippy!! It’s a veritable feast for all those Christie-capers we know and love.

Contextual Controversy: 5-StarsRacial stereotypes abound! It’s almost a Blyton-esque parade of casually related remarks about the general unsavoury nature of “foreigners”.

Plot in a Poem:

If you’re game to earn a shilling,

the stage is set to make a killing!

Overall Rating: Meh.  Not her best work, but a reasonable enough read for a rainy day.

So, that’s one down, many to go….

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Ah, I see you’ve arrived! Come in, make yourself comfortable. Tea?

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I have begun this web log, or “blog” as the young folk call it, in order to give voice to the oft-overlooked expert opinion inherent to my kind – the bookshelf gargoyle. I will use this (cyber) space to present to you my musings on all things related to books and their ilk. In doing so, I hope to achieve a certain immortality beyond the kind that I already possess as a piece of (handsomely) chiselled stone.

As a bookshelf gargoyle, much of my work involves being in close proximity to the printed word. In fact, one might say that my livelihood depends upon it. Thus, it was with great dismay that I happened upon a recent technological advancement that has the potential to render my kind obsolete. I refer of course, to that most subversive of contraptions: the e-reader.

In reflecting on the potentially lethal ramifications this device may pose to my kind, I present to you a list of 4 reasons why the e-reader will never replace the humble book.

1. Books provide an invaluable contribution to the world of medicine that is unmatched by their electronic cousins. It is impossible, for example, to burst a cyst by whacking it with the online edition of the King James Bible.

2. Printed books provide balance and stability in a way that e-books can’t. I have yet to spy an e-reader propping up the errant leg of a lopsided table.

3. In contrast to an e-book, the printed word is imbued with a sense of passion and gravity that reflects its lofty position in human culture. Therefore, one would not think twice about tossing a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Volume 10: Garrison to Halibut) from a high place onto the unsuspecting head of an objectionable suitor standing below. This would be unthinkable with an e-reader. One might damage the screen.

4. Books provide important social clues to the keen-eyed observer that would be otherwise inaccessible were the subject reading an e-book.  For instance, consider  a highly attractive individual of the opposite sex, casually scrolling through their e-book in a public setting.  Before approaching said individual, it would be handy to know whether they were perusing “Pride and Prejudice” or “Cooking with Kittens: From Pet Shop to Plate in Under 30 Minutes”.

I hope it is obvious from these considered reflections that the printed word has an inviolable place in the world of reading.  Long may it prosper!

And on that note, it appears I have chosen an auspicious day for the beginning of my intellectual toil – a copy of The Corpse Rat King by one Lee Battersby has appeared on the shelf. I look forward to discovering whether Mr. Battersby’s skills extend beyond the selection of intriguing titles.

Until next time,

Bruce