Tag: non-fiction


Review – Delete This At Your Peril

Posted 28 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Delete This At Your PerilDelete This At Your Peril, Neil Forsyth

I picked this up at the library because I needed something light, and the humour reminded me of my dad a bit. I can imagine him stringing along a scammer in this way, though I think he’d be more subtle and clever about it. It’s amusing enough at first, in this case, but after a couple of exchanges I was skimming them all and shaking my head at the reductio ad absurdum of some of it.

I wouldn’t buy this, but it might be worth a flick through if you’re looking for something funny.

Rating: 2/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 26 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 42 Comments

Time for Stacking the Shelves! I have not bought books this week! I have been to the library three times, though… Still, this is a much smaller haul than it could be, knowing me. (If you don’t believe me, go back and check last week’s.)

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Unthink by Chris Paley Cover of Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans Cover of The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero Cover of Tales from the Palace of the Fairy King by Daniel Lieberman

I’ve already read Unthink; I’m being pretty good at keeping on top of my books from bookbridgr. The next two are from Netgalley, and the last one direct from the author. Thank you to everyone involved in giving out ARCs and review copies!

Library (fiction)

Cover of Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey Cover of Windhaven by Lisa Tuttle and G.R.R. Martin Cover of This Is The Way The World Ends by James Morrow Cover of The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The first two I actually own; Guardian of the Dead I own in Kindle format, though, and I only really use my Kobo lately, and Windhaven is… I think I’ve owned it in ebook for about five years, probably longer, and the site I bought it from has shut down leaving me with no access. So. Libraries! Then This is the Way the World Ends (I’ve checked the title and it should have the is in it; why the SF Masterworks cover omits it is anyone’s guess, though the physical copy I actually got has it right) doubles up for two of my challenges, one to read ten new-to-me SF Masterworks, and one to read all the books recced in Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010, which you’ll see below.

Library (non-fiction)

Cover of The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker Cover of Delete This At Your Peril Cover of Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Fillippo Cover of The Search for Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones

I’ve been meaning to read The Better Angels of Our Nature since I did the Everyday Moralities class on Coursera. The humour of Delete This At Your Peril reminds me of my dad (look it up, Mum — you’ll agree). I’m planning to read all the 101 SF novels recced in the third book here; not because I think it’s particularly better than any other book of recs, but because it spans twenty-five years and contains a lot I haven’t read yet/need to reread.

As for Philippa Langley, well, I’ve heard that she’s a bit… over-enthusiastic about Richard III and that she came across slightly batty on the documentary. So far the book isn’t contradicting that impression. Still, apparently Michael Jones’ chapters are worth it.

Comics (library)

Cover of the comic Mara by Brian Wood et al

Random choice from the library’s graphic novel section!

So, what’s everyone else been up to? Have y’all been good or bad this week with your buying habits?

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Review – The Language Instinct

Posted 25 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The language Instinct by Steven PinkerThe Language Instinct, Steven Pinker

When it comes to something I don’t know much about, I’m pretty easily swayed by other people’s arguments. Like, I finished this book feeling it was pretty intelligent and interesting, and then I read some criticisms and reviews and heck, I don’t know what to think. Still, I did find it interesting, and while the book looks deceptively slim for how long it took me to get through it, Pinker expresses his arguments clearly, with examples and sourcing, etc.

His basic argument is that we’re hardwired for language. That, as with our sight, hearing, etc, we have a ‘language sense’; if properly stimulated during the critical period, our brains quickly figure out how to parse language (at least, the language spoken around us when we are at that age, even if that language is sign language). We don’t need to hear every word or possible sentence structure (couldn’t possibly) to pick up on the rules of grammar and apply them, when speaking and when listening. This only refers to the critical period; a child will learn grammar instinctively on being exposed to a language, but an adult must learn it by rote, in the same way as you have to learn to process visual input during the critical period for that, or you’ll never have the same visual acuity as someone who did.

Thus far, I think I’m going along with him. I do have questions of a sort of chicken and the egg nature: which came first, the brain’s Universal Grammar module, or language that necessitated it? I’m inclined to think that the structures that we now use to understand language were used for something else earlier in our evolution, and became co-opted into our communications array (so to speak) over time. Our brains formed language, and then the language formed our brains…

All in all, I don’t know whether Pinker’s right, but I found his work convincing. Having read a couple of other books on language, including Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass, and applying what I know from those too, I find it hard to disagree with Pinker even where I want to, for example about relativism.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stroke of Insight

Posted 22 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte TaylorMy Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor

Someone gave this as their example of what to expect from this book, and, well, it’s pretty instructive all on its own:

“I unconditionally love my cells with an open heart and grateful mind. Spontaneously throughout the day, I acknowledge their existence and enthusiastically cheer them on. I am a wonderful living being capable of beaming my energy into the world, only because of them. When my bowels move, I cheer my cells for clearing that waste out of my body. When my urine flows, I admire the volume my bladder cells are capable of storing. When I’m having hunger pangs and can’t get to food, I remind my cells that I have fuel (fat) stored on my hips. When I feel threatened, I thank my cells for their ability to fight, flee, or play dead.”

Plus a lot of being one with the universe, etc.

The book actually starts off with a good introduction to what having a stroke is like, albeit I felt that the science was aimed ridiculously low: I felt like even someone who didn’t know anything about the brain would get impatient with the tone. It was overly simplistic, maybe even a touch condescending. Still, that’s the best part of the book: whatever else you may say about her, Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist and can explain very clearly what happens to the brain during a stroke. For that aspect alone, I’m glad I followed up on the rec from the Coursera neurobiology MOOC.

But once we get onto oneness with the universe, I’m getting antsy, and once we’re thanking our cells for our bowel movements, I’m out the room.

Oh, and this review is a good critique of it from the point of view of a clinician.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Serpent’s Promise

Posted 21 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Serpent's Promise by Steve JonesThe Serpent’s Promise, Steve Jones

I’m quite enjoying Steve Jones’ other book done in this sort of style, taking the work of Charles Darwin and revising, updating and adding to it. Unfortunately, this one fell flat for me. Using some of the central stories of a religion as a gimmick while making it clear how much you look down on people who profess religious belief… ugh. Just, ugh..

Some parts of the science here were interesting, but overall it’s nothing I haven’t read elsewhere. Mostly it feels like Steve Jones riding his hobby horse, over and over. I’ve got several more of his books to read, but I’m starting to think he’s a one-trick pony.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Unthink

Posted 20 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Unthink by Chris PaleyUnthink, Chris Paley

I received an ARC of this via Bookbridgr. I wasn’t sure what level it would be pitched at, but as a general rule, all things to do with psychology and the weird ways our brains work interest me. It turned out that this book was probably below the level I’m reading at when it comes to psychology, which is more Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, Paul Bloom, etc: because I rate my personal enjoyment of a book, that’s definitely knocked down my rating. But that’s no real comment on the content, which is interesting; just a lot of it, I happened to know already.

However, if you’re looking for a book with a lot of interesting facts, explained in an accessible manner, then Unthink may well be for you. It’s presented in a very easy to read format, with little chunks rarely more than two or three pages long, each with a descriptive chapter title. Despite the simple presentation, there is also a wealth of notes in the back which go into more detail, point to sources, etc.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – 21st Century Dodos

Posted 16 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of 21st Century Dodos by Steve Stack21st Century Dodos, Steve Stack

Received to review. I might be a bit below the target age for this one — I remember some of these things, like cassettes and candy cigarettes and Jif, but other stuff was on its way out before I got there. I’m about to turn twenty-five, so I’d guess I’m about ten years behind some of this nostalgia stuff.

It’s not a very substantial book, but if you feel like a bit of nostalgia and an opportunity to go ‘I thought I was the only one who remembered that!’, then this might be for you.

Some of it hasn’t yet gone the way of the dodo for me: my parents get milk delivered, and I remember watching the milk float arrive on those illicit late nights I stayed up reading, sometimes. Okay, the first time it actually really freaked me out. But still. Milk float.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Black and Brown Planets

Posted 11 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Black and Brown PlanetsBlack and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction, ed. Isiah Lavender III

The only stuff like this I’ve read before was during my degree, when I read books on postcolonial fiction as part of my Welsh Fiction in English class. The whole topic fascinated me, particularly because of the parallels between Welsh fiction and that of other non-dominant identities, so I have kept an eye on fandom discussions, and become involved in some (on both the right and the wrong sides, sometimes simultaneously). That’s not quite the same as reading a book like this one, with references, formal language, bibliographies, etc.

So I was interested to see how I got on with academic language again, since it’s been a while. Fortunately for me, this one is on ‘read now’ on Netgalley. And unfortunately for me, as well as being an interesting exploration of race in SF, it’s also generated a list of books I want to read/reread. For example, Malisa Kurtz’s piece on Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I remember not enjoying that, but picking apart the complexities of it has made me interested all over again.

I was also a big fan of De Witt Douglas Kilgore’s essay discussing DS9, and Gerry Canavan’s referencing it as well. I remember being quite a fan of DS9 as a kid, and never realising that Ben Sisko was that revolutionary a character. I just took him for granted. The possible link Kilgore draws between Sisko and Obama becoming present seems to me like a big jump because of that, but I’ll keep my mouth shut on that one since that’s very much a US politics thing.

Oh, and I loved Isiah Lavender III’s own essay on Octavia Butler’s work; I haven’t read enough Butler yet, but she’s excellent and well worth the analysis.

I don’t know when, but I will be picking up some of the books — both fiction and non-fiction — mentioned in this collection, in future. It’s an area of literature about which I know I’ve got tons to learn, and I hate having to admit ignorance. This makes a good start.

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday Thoughts: Book Tastes

Posted 10 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

This week’s topic from Ok, Let’s Read for Thursday Thoughts is “book tastes”. I’ve already kind of covered this here, but it never hurts to talk it over again. My rating systems post (or rather, the comments I received) convinced me to start putting quick ratings on my reviews, proving it’s always interesting to discuss stuff with other bloggers. Here’s the prompt paragraph:

Currently, do you feel like you have a set genre or type of book that is your go-to and people know as “your genre?” Is there a genre that you’ve always loved or been drawn to in particular? Have you noticed your taste in books changing over time? Is there a genre or type of book that you used to love, but no longer read/enjoy? If so, what genre and why do you think that is?

The answer to the first question is no. I think at one point people would’ve definitely pegged me for an SF/F person, but I read too much of everything else I come across for that now. Still, I’d say that’s the genre I’ve always loved and been drawn to, and that’s the section I make a bee-line for in the library or bookshop. My first bee-line, anyway, heh.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed more of an interest in non-fiction. I think that really kicked off around the time I read an article about the fact that curiosity is the antidote to anxiety. I can’t find it again now, which is annoying because I’m sure it linked a study and stuff, but it made me curious(!) about whether reading non-fiction engaged my brain and got me interested in helpful ways. Spoiler: it does. I was even able to read a book about deadly epidemic diseases, Spillover, by treating it with curiosity.

I also got more into romance books, via Mary Stewart’s non-Arthurian work. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it at first, but turns out, I prefer it to her Arthurian work, and I got really invested in getting all her books and reading them. I’ve finished them now, which is sad, but it encouraged me to branch out into other stuff like Georgette Heyer (brilliance!).

I don’t think there’s any particular genre I’ve abandoned. Not even a subgenre; I still read steampunk or military SF or whatever if it has interesting elements, even if there’s maybe too much of it in the market.

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Review – The Planets

Posted 10 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Planets by Dava SobelThe Planets, Dava Sobel

I think I expected this to be more scientific than it turned out to be, which may be a common problem judging from other reviews. It’s actually more of a historical glance at the way humanity has envisioned the galaxy, and the way our knowledge has grown over the millennia. It’s a lot literary, with bits of science and mythology thrown in. Some parts of it were lovely for that, though I wasn’t sure about the emphasis on linking the Old Testament Genesis story with the scientific facts of creation. It seems likely to alienate a lot of readers, even if it sounds pretty.

Of course, we mustn’t forget that this is also quite behind the times now: published in 2007ish, shortly after the demotion of Pluto, it has nothing to say about more recent discoveries about the moons of the outer planets, or Curiosity, or anything like that. It’s quite accessible, but not up to date, which is a pity.

Sometimes the literary interludes really got on my nerves, with Sobel putting words into people’s mouths and anthropomorphizing inanimate objects. I like literary tricks like that as much as the next person, but it just seems ridiculous when they’re giving words and complex thought to a meteorite…

Rating: 3/5

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