An Exotic, Memoirish Double-Dip Review…with a side order of Alphabet Soup

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imageIt’s time to settle back with a fond-memory-inducing snack and enjoy today’s Double-Dip review that also features a side order of the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas.  We received both of today’s books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Both are memoirs of sorts, one featuring multiple road-trips in pursuit of knitting utopia, the other featuring the wacky world of one Pakistani-Canadian Muslim film-maker.  And on that appetising note, let’s get stuck in, shall we?

First up we have Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Zarqa Nawaz has always straddled two cultures. She’s just as likely to be agonizing over which sparkly earrings will “pimp out” her hijab as to be flirting with the Walmart meat manager in a futile attempt to secure halal chicken the day before Eid. Little Mosque on the Prairie brought Zarqa’s own laugh-out-loud take on her everyday culture clash to viewers around the world. And now, in Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, she tells the sometimes absurd, sometimes challenging, always funny stories of being Zarqa in a western society. From explaining to the plumber why the toilet must be within sitting arm’s reach of the water tap (hint: it involves a watering can and a Muslim obsession with cleanliness “down there”) to urging the electrician to place an eye-height electrical socket for her father-in-law’s epilepsy-inducing light-up picture of the Kaaba, Zarqa paints a hilarious portrait of growing up in a household where, according to her father, the Quran says it’s okay to eat at McDonald’s-but only if you order the McFish.  

laughing all the way to the mosqueDip into it for…

…a two-parts funny, one-part serious and one-part bizarre foray into the unfamiliar (to me!) world of Islam in the context of a Pakistani-Bengali-Canadian family.  I’m in two minds about this book because I assumed that, sitting, as I do, on the shelf of a pair of Catholics, there would be plenty of situations here that would feel like the familiar frustrations and giggle-worthy moments of those of us raised and immersed in institutionalised religion…but for most of the book I felt like I was reading something completely outside my experience.  Apart from the many humorous situations described, including the “cleanliness” section described in the blurb – who knew about THAT?! Muslims, I suppose – and Nawaz nonchalantly taking on the role of hostess for over one hundred family, friends and neighbours for a major religious holiday, there are also some quite serious issues discussed as well – such as how the author’s family dealt with a neighbour reporting her father-in-law to the authorities soon after 9/11 for having a “suspicious” shipping container in his front yard.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not prepared to embrace a story that flips from funny to unexpected to thought-provoking within a few pages.  If you are not a Muslim, and don’t know much about Islam, don’t dip if you aren’t prepared to discover rituals, theological points of contention and aspects of daily life that you never suspected existed.

Overall Dip Factor

While I did enjoy this book, I will admit to feeling an ever-present sense of slight discomfort while reading – mainly because it was during reading this book that I realised that while I thought I knew lots of “stuff” about Islam, I actually know VERY little about it.  I would certainly recommend this book as a fun, yet important, eye-opening reading experience about an ordinary family’s experience of their faith.   If there’s one thing I would have liked to hear more about though, it would be the TV series developed by Nawaz – Little Mosque on the Prairie.  How could this have gone for six seasons without me ever hearing about it? Bizarre.

Next, let us move on to Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Knitting aficionado and notable artisan Clara Parkes delves into her storied travels with this inspiring and witty memoir on a creative life enriched by her adventures around the world.

Building on the success of The Yarn Whisperer, Parkes’s rich personal essays invite readers and devoted crafters on excursions to be savored, from a guide who quickly comes to feel like a trusted confidante. In Knitlandia, she takes readers along on 17 of her most memorable journeys across the globe over the last 15 years, with stories spanning from the fjords of Iceland to a cozy yarn shop in Paris’s 13th arrondissement.

Also known for her PBS television appearances and hugely popular line of small-batch handcrafted yarns, Parkes weaves her personal blend of wisdom and humor into this eloquently down-to-earth guide that is part personal travel narrative and part cultural history, touching the heart of what it means to live creatively. Join Parkes as she ventures to locales both foreign and familiar in chapters like:

Chasing a Legend in Taos
Glass, Grass, and the Power of Place: Tacoma, Washington
A Thing for Socks and a Very Big Plan: Portland, Oregon
Autumn on the Hudson: The New York Sheep & Wool Festival
Cashmere Dreams and British Breeds: A Last-Minute Visit to Edinburgh, Scotland

Fans of travel writing, as well as knitters, crocheters, designers, and fiber artists alike, will enjoy the masterful narrative in these intimate tales from a life well crafted. Whether you’ve committed to exploring your own wanderlust or are an armchair traveler curled up in your coziest slippers, Knitlandia is sure to inspire laughter, tears, and maybe some travel plans of your own.

I1342768.pdfDip into it for…

…a fairly self-indulgent lark around various knitting hotspots aimed at those who are deeply embedded in the US and International “Knitting Scene”.  The book is replete with vignettes of Parkes’ time in various places around the world, for reasons related to knitting conferences, teaching and general knitting-based travel.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a hardcore knitter.  Or if you cringe at name-dropping.  Or if you don’t want to read excessively wordy descriptions of various hotel foyers.  Or if you don’t particularly care about “famous” people in the knitting scene and Parkes’ deep and abiding friendships with them.

Overall Dip Factor

I was really hoping that this was going to be the perfect contender for a Utopirama post.  Knitting and travel – what else could one want in life? Well, plenty, if you don’t enjoy any of the factors I’ve just mentioned above.  While there were plenty of chapter headings to draw me in here, I found the writing overall to be such that it seemed to specifically aim to alienate readers who are not knowledgeable about the movers and shakers in the knitting and design world.  As a friend of a crocheter, I had very little knowledge, or indeed, interest, in Parkes’ name-dropping.  The first story relates how Parkes came to know a particularly well-known (to everyone but me apparently) hand-spinner and dyer, which I would have found interesting if Parkes hadn’t insisted on ramming home HOW famous and HOW selective this lady was with her friendships.  There was a section on a trip to Iceland that was reasonably interesting, but I suspect this is because Iceland is an interesting place, not because Parkes’ writing made it so.  **On a side note, in this section, Parkes mentions two Australian co-travellers who she reckons say “Perth” like “Pith”.  This nearly had me throwing my kindle at the wall.  Australians would not say “Pith”. Ever.  The vowel sound in “Perth” is a diphthong and therefore it would be ridiculous for anyone to use a short vowel in the word.  I could have handled it if she said they pronounced it “Peer-th”, even though that would be closer to a Kiwi pronunciation, but not “Pith”.  Being a linguist, I feel like I’ve got the knowledge to pull Parkes up on this oneAnd if you have been slightly irritated by my digression into minutesubject-specific analysis and assertions that I know more stuff than you about linguistics, then you’ve probably just developed a good sense of what I was feeling while reading this book.** Despite my early misgivings, I soldiered on and was unimpressed to discover that the name-dropping and self-indulgent “I’m more into the knitting scene than you” tone continued.  Shame really.  Approach with caution.

As I mentioned before, I am submitting both of these books for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

If you want to see my progress so far in this challenge, click here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

2015 Australia Day Book Giveaway Hop!

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2015-ausdayWelcome to my stop on the 2015 Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by Book’d Out and running from the 24th to the 27th of January.  This hop is all about promoting Australian authors and Aussie books, so I thought I couldn’t do that without highlighting works about or by our First Nations mob.

indig flag ti flag

So to that end I am offering one winner a choice – they can take the prize of a print copy of Riding the Black Cockatoo by John Danalis, an engaging, funny and moving memoir about John’s journey set right a wrong in his family history…click on the cover to find out more:

riding the black cockatoo

OR

the winner’s choice of ANY book BY AN AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS AUTHOR.

You see, there are so many out there that I couldn’t choose just one or two to feature.  There are picture books, memoirs, socio-political works, YA novels, comedic works, chick lit….so I thought I’d let the winner’s personal taste dictate their prize, if that is their desire.

My giveaway is open internationally provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link.  Ts and Cs are in the rafflecopter form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now this is a hop, so don’t forget to hop along to all the other participating blogs and booksellers and try and win some goodies:

https://bookdout.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/its-the-2015-australia-day-book-giveaway-blog-hop/

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

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

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image

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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Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review: The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix…

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Cheerio lads and lasses! Today I’ve got a very different reading experience to share with you – a sort of fictional/memoir/murder mystery/magical realism mash-up.  It’s The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix by Paul Sussman.  I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

In this book we are introduced to the reasonably unlikeable Raphael Ignatius Phoenix (he of the initials R.I.P.), as begins a suicide note of truly monumental proportions.  You see, Raphael, at the age of almost-100 years, has decided that he has lived enough of this crazy journey called life, but before he goes, he wishes to regale us with the story of his life.  And quite a life it is too, for Raphael is a murderer, many times over.  He has bumped off irritating people from all walks of life and from all areas of his acquaintance.  And it is by this dubious achievement that he wishes to be remembered.  Alongside the stories of Raphael’s multiple murders is the story of his repeated, yet fleeting, interactions with his best friend (and only love) from childhood, Emily.   So let us join Raphael as he recounts his life’s adventures and attempts to take the gold medal for longest/largest/most elaborate suicide note ever written…provided he doesn’t run out of pens, of course.

final testimony raphaelRead it if:

* you can easily alight upon one or more person of your acquaintance that you could have happily bumped off, for each decade of your life so far

* you believe the penalty for being an irritating git should be death

* you could think of nothing more wickedly delightful than an attempt to turn twins, who are devoted to each other, against one other

* you are a fan of the tall tale

Let me be honest.  I found this book hard going.  The blurb held such promise.  I was intrigued to find out about multiple murders of the title character and was all set to enjoy the light-hearted manner in which they were recounted.  Unfortunately, the title character is a bit of an irritating git himself, so while I did enjoy the light-hearted tone and dry wit of the first few chapters, my interest started to wane after a bit.

Essentially, this book is divided into chapters with one murder (and usually one decade of Raphael’s life) explained in each chapter.  As I mentioned the early chapters – and particularly the recount of the first murder, the unfortunate Mrs Bunshop (if that is her real name) grabbed my attention and had me eagerly flipping pages.  But after repeated chapters of the same sort of format, it started to seem more difficult than it needed to be to wade through Raphael’s memoirs.  The very first line of the novel is this:

“This is going to be the longest suicide note in history.”

Well, he wasn’t lying there, so I suppose I can’t really complain that I hadn’t been warned about what lay ahead…but this book really felt looooooooong.  In between the murders, wherein many of the interesting bits lay, are long soliloquays about the actual writing of the note – the wheres, the hows, the difficulties, the successes.  To be perfectly honest, there’s only so many pages one can read about the anxiety that arises regarding the liklihood of running out of pens.

Despite my whinging, I didn’t completely hate this book.  It was just okay.  The chapter describing Raphael’s murder of the Albino Twins (yes, you read that correctly) had me compelled to find out how it would end.  I can honestly say it was the best chapter featuring Albino Twins and their cuddly toys that I have ever read.  And I mean that in a genuine, complimentary way.  The ending was also, if not a high point, something completely unexpected and had me considering what light it might throw on the preceding events.  (For interest’s sake, I decided that the ending came too far out of left field to really add much to the book.  Pessimistic, I know).

When all is said and done, I just think I was expecting something different from what this book turned out to be.  I suspect that there will be people that really love the book for its original premise and the cheeky nonchalance of Raphael, but it ended up being too much like hard work for me to really say I enjoyed it.

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix is due for release on May 22nd.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Read it if: The Examined Life…

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Evenin’ all.  Today’s “Read-it-if” falls into one of my favourite sub-genres: psychiatric tales.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the sort of books produced by such lauded psychotherapists as Irvin D. Yalom and Susie Orbach, which involve therapists spilling their guts (and the guts of their patients) with identities changed to protect the innocent.  Based on this enjoyment, I figured The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by psychotherapist Stephen Grosz would be just the ticket.

The book is divided into short collections of patient-therapist interaction based around a particular theme such as grief and loss or romantic relationships.  I found the interactions in the first half of the book to be missing the all-important therapist’s perspective, and without this, the anecdotes had the feel of random, slightly amusing (or disturbing) stories chucked in for…..well, I’m not sure what for. Thankfully, this was rectified in the second half of the book and I felt at the conclusion of this tome that it had been a satisfying reading experience.

examined life

Read it if:

* you just can’t resist a good old eavesdrop when the opportunity arises

* you are of the belief that shoes should be removed before availing oneself of the therapist’s couch

* you’ve always wondered what that therapist was really thinking when you related the emotional turmoil you experienced that time you accidentally got yourself caught in your zipper

* you suspect that your therapist may actually be snoozing/texting/fantasizing about their next yacht purchase on the quiet while you blab away on the couch

This is a fascinating and light read for anyone who has any kind of voyeuristic tendency.  If you’re looking for something that delves more deeply into the psychotherapist’s methods and approach, I would probably lean more towards Yalom’s work (specifically Love’s Executioner) or Susie Orbach’s creatively named The Impossibility of Sex (pictured below).  However Grosz’s little tome is a nice introduction to the topic and an engaging and relatively quick read.

loves executionerimpossibility of sex

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time,

Bruce