August 29, 2014

Non-Fiction Friday - The Village Effect

The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Is Good for Our Health, Happiness, Learning, and Longevity (Susan Pinker)
August 26th 2014, Spiegel & Grau

In her surprising, entertaining, and persuasive new book, award-winning author and psychologist Susan Pinker shows how face-to-face contact is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience, and longevity.
From birth to death, human beings are hardwired to connect to other human beings. Face-to-face contact matters: tight bonds of friendship and love heal us, help children learn, extend our lives, and make us happy. Looser in-person bonds matter, too, combining with our close relationships to form a personal “village” around us, one that exerts unique effects. Not just any social networks will do: we need the real, in-the-flesh encounters that tie human families, groups of friends, and communities together.
Marrying the findings of the new field of social neuroscience with gripping human stories, Susan Pinker explores the impact of face-to-face contact from cradle to grave, from city to Sardinian mountain village, from classroom to workplace, from love to marriage to divorce. Her results are enlightening and enlivening, and they challenge many of our assumptions. Most of us have left the literal village behind and don’t want to give up our new technologies to go back there. But, as Pinker writes so compellingly, we need close social bonds and uninterrupted face-time with our friends and families in order to thrive—even to survive. Creating our own “village effect” makes us happier. It can also save our lives.

August 25, 2014

Monday Five's - Embark on a non-fiction adventure!

Soft spot for non-fiction? That would be me. Time and again I've been asked about reading recommendations in general, but as it turns out one of the most prevalent questions seems to be about the best way to approach the (for some folks) unfamiliar territory of non-fiction in the first place. Not to worry, I'm here to help you slowly ease yourself into reading books that put a non in front of the fiction. Being willing to dip your toes into non-fiction waters is certainly a good start, but sometimes it's not that easy to make those first steps. So I figured it was high time I offered a few suggestions that might wet your appetite for some un-fictitious fare.

Stay on familiar turf aka in the realm of your preferred genre(s).
Like science fiction? Go where you haven't gone before.*
Like historical romance? Read up on the good ol' times then. 

Read magazine articles before going for the big tomes.

Make it a cinematic event by watching documentaries on TV or at your nearest IMAX theater.

For a more tactile experience visit museums or exhibitions.
Don't forget to take a brochure or catalog with you afterwards.

Expand your hobbies by doing some background reading.
Think travel guides or cook books (yep, those qualify as non-fiction too).

* the popular science section of your local library or, if you're really daring, head straight for the astronomy stacks

How do you like my suggestions? Do you think they might help you to grow a liking to non-fiction after all? Or in case you're already a big fan of everything that isn't fiction - is there any tip/idea you'd like to add? Please share.

August 22, 2014

Non-Fiction Views On The Faithful American

Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity (Matthew Paul Turner)
August 19th 2014, Jericho Books

Americans love God. We stamp God on our money, our bumper stickers, and our bodies. With a church on nearly every street, it's hard to deny our country's deep connection with the divine.
Yet culture critic Matthew Paul Turner says that God didn't just change America-America changed God. As a result, do we even recognize the "real" God?
Whip-smart and provocative, Turner explores the United States' vast influence on God, told through an amazing true history of faith, politics, and evangelical pyrotechnics.
From Puritans to Pentecostals, from progressives to mega-pastors, Turner examines how American history and ideals transformed our perception of God. Fearless and funny, this is the definitive guide to the American experience of the Almighty-a story so bizarre, incredible, and entertaining that it could only be made in the U.S.A.
No matter what your political or religious affiliation, this book will challenge and delight with its razor sharp wit, social commentary, and savvy historical insight. It will make you reconsider the way you think about America as a "Christian nation," and help you re-imagine a better future for God and country.
Ultimately, Turner dares to ask: Does God control the future of America-or is it the other way around?

August 20, 2014

Spruce up your blog with free stock images!

I guess we all agree that pictures are often the cherry on the blog post cake or at least they do a great job of luring in readers to start with. Of course this doesn't mean you can just "borrow" any ol' picture you find on the web. Sadly this is something many bloggers still aren't quite aware of and some even deliberately ignore it.

So basically you have two possibilities - either you snap your own pics OR you resort to free stock photography. Not handy with a camera? Fear not, my friends, I am about to share some fantastic websites that offer tons of free stock photos yours for the taking!

Download sizes vary widely yet even the smallest available are usually more than big enough for blogging purposes. Please note that while being free, signing up is required on some of the websites!

Were you already familiar with these websites? How do you like the variety of images available there? In case you know other sites that are offering free stock photos, feel free to share them in the comments.

August 18, 2014

What's your number?

We've all got numbers. There's your phone number and the number of your apartment not to mention the number on the sole of your shoes or the amount of socks you pack when you go on vacation. Of course this wouldn't be a book blog, if I started discussing these numbers with you now. Hence ...

books read but unowned
*according to LibraryThing stats

highest number of books ever read in a year
*Goodreads Reading Challenge 2012

greedily downloaded (and as of yet unread) freebies
*which in all likelihood will never ever get read

planned to read this year

unread books

books read so far this year

books I'm currently trying to re-sell

"second life" books (books read which will find a new home with friends)

books bought so far this year

books loaned and never received back

eReaders owned

books read last week

books accidentally bought more than once
*that's all thanks to lists, not my brilliant memory

Now the truly interesting numbers would have to be the amount of books ever read or how many books I bought in my whole life. As much as I'd love to know the former I can't help but think that maybe some things aka the latter are better left unknown. Just adds to the mystery, right? *wink*

What are your bookish numbers? Are any of mine surprising compared to your own? Please share.

August 15, 2014

Non-Fiction That Will Consciously Judge You

Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives (Howard J Ross)
August 13th 2014, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

If you are human, you are biased.
From this fundamental truth, diversity expert Howard Ross explores the biases we each carry within us. Most people do not see themselves as biased towards people of different races or different genders. And yet in virtually every area of modern life disparities remain. Even in corporate America, which has for the most part embraced the idea of diversity as a mainstream idea, patterns of disparity remain rampant. Why?
Breakthroughs in the cognitive and neurosciences give some idea why our results seem inconsistent with our intentions. Bias is natural to the human mind, a survival mechanism that is fundamental to our identity. And overwhelmingly it is unconscious.
Incorporating anecdotes from today’s headlines alongside case studies from over 30 years as a nationally prominent diversity consultant, Ross help readers understand how unconscious bias impacts our day-to-day lives and particularly our daily work lives. And, he answers the question: “Is there anything we can do about it?” by providing examples of behaviors that the reader can engage in to disengage the impact of their own biases. With an added appendix that includes lessons for handling conflict and bias in the workplace, this book offers an invaluable resource for a broad audience, from individuals seeking to understand and confront their own biases to human resource professionals and business leaders determined to create more bias-conscious organizations in the belief that productivity, personal happiness, and social growth are possible if we first understand the widespread and powerful nature of the biases we don’t realize we have.

August 13, 2014

Quote Garden - We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect ...

The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.

We are like sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image we long for, need, love or desire, often against reality, against their benefit, and always, in the end, a disappointment, because it does not fit them.

If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.

I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.

I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live.

Anais Nin

August 11, 2014

Time goes by too fast to stop and buy books!

Did I just really say that? More importantly, am I the only one who can hear the Unchained Melody tune reading that blog title? All right, in case there is a resounding yes to that question, why don't we just move along to the actual topic. *cough*

While I did subconsciously notice that I haven't been buying any books in a while, I actually had to look up just how long exactly, because I honestly didn't remember. According to my Amazon account I last fed my Kindle on February 27th *gasp* and it's even worse with physical books as the last time I ordered some from AwesomeBooks was February 4th. By the looks of it I've neither run out of reading material nor did that involuntary breather I took from acquiring book-shaped objects harm my mental health. Of course I have practice, just remember (the older readers of my blog surely will) how I went on a six-months-book-buying-ban back in 2012 and apart from some semi-rough patches it wasn't really so bad, plus it helped shrink my TBR piles to a slightly less intimidating size.

At first I couldn't quite put my finger on what exactly may have caused this. Of course there are several logical and/or understandable reasons to consider in such circumstances, say, being so overwhelmed by the stacks of unread books or being flat out too broke to even think about buying new books. Strangely, that's not it. Honestly, to me it never felt like a conscious choice I made. It just happened. But was there really no actual reason that could be the culprit here?

After giving it some thought it suddenly hit me. The all important question being, what has changed in recent months that may have caused this? Well ... simply put, I'm just not reading as many book blogs as I used to a year ago. Pre-book-blogging or even more precisely pre-book-blog-reading was seriously the last time that my TBR piles were of actually manageable proportions. Book blogs, our secret enablers, eh?

In the good old days I had an average of maybe thirty books, give or take a few, waiting to be read and soon after I decided to start this blog, which went hand in hand with discovering plenty of other book blogs, I soon managed to raise that number to shockingly new heights. Who needs skeletons in the closet when you'd much rather hide your book shopping splurges from everyone? As much as I reveled in discovering new books and authors or revisiting genres I hadn't read since my teenage days, it also made me kinda greedy. Anything that sounded even remotely intriguing would end up in my shopping basket. And it wouldn't just sit there, but soon find its way onto my shelves. At least at first, then I ran out of shelf-space and resorted to boxes, mostly.

I'm fairly certain that I'm not the only one whose book acquiring habits have changed through the influence of reading one too many book blogs. To be fair though, I'm generally not equipped with a whole lot of willpower and restraint when it comes to books. Previously I simply managed to keep a good balance between polishing off books from my shelves and replacing them with new ones. Now I'm slowly falling back into this "old" routine and honestly, as much as this puzzled me at first, I'm ok with it. No need to panic as long as I've got at least thirty books, give or take a few, to read.

What influences your own book buying habits? Do book blogs play a major role as in my case? Please share.

August 8, 2014

Non-Fiction For Those With Literary Taste

Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways (Ed. David A. Davis and Tara Powell)
August 5th 2014, University Press of Mississippi

Scarlett O'Hara munched on a radish and vowed never to go hungry again. Vardaman Bundren ate bananas in Faulkner's Jefferson, and the Invisible Man dined on a sweet potato in Harlem. Although food and stories may be two of the most prominent cultural products associated with the South, the connections between them have not been thoroughly explored until now.
Southern food has become the subject of increasingly self-conscious intellectual consideration. The Southern Foodways Alliance, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, food-themed issues of Oxford American and Southern Cultures, and a spate of new scholarly and popular books demonstrate this interest. Writing in the Kitchen explores the relationship between food and literature and makes a major contribution to the study of both southern literature and of southern foodways and culture more widely.
This collection examines food writing in a range of literary expressions, including cookbooks, agricultural journals, novels, stories, and poems. Contributors interpret how authors use food to explore the changing South, considering the ways race, ethnicity, class, gender, and region affect how and what people eat. They describe foods from specific southern places such as New Orleans and Appalachia, engage both the historical and contemporary South, and study the food traditions of ethnicities as they manifest through the written word.

August 4, 2014

Reality TV: The Big Book Edition

Considering all the bookish topics I could write about, it might seem a little surprising that I should pick out one of the most abysmal TV programs of them all and devote a whole blog post to it. What I'm talking about? Reality TV. While I wouldn't go so far as to judge ... who am I kidding? I totally judge people who watch these shows, but I'm fairly certain that others will likely find it just as mind-numbing to watch documentaries which I happen to love. But let's not digress.

I'm thinking - reality show, book style. As they are making shows about all kinds of things I figured I had to do a little research to find out whether there actually is some kind of bookish show out there and lo and behold I did stumble upon one called Tuesday Night Book Club. The show had a Desperate Housewives get their reading on premise though apparently those books were merely props to give those gals a ... err, literate vibe, "The program was set up so that the women of the 'club' were to meet for a discussion of one book a week. However, this was merely a plot device in order to bring the women together in a room, and the book of the week (which was universally a mass market paperback within the chick lit genre) was discussed only sparingly as most of the women didn't even read the suggested title."(Source: Wikipedia) Let's try not to act too surprised, shall we?

Either way, I do believe that there's definitely potential and appeal in a book-themed show. You'd have to like books, for starters, otherwise it'd be a big yawner, but I dare say that there are quite a few readers out there who wouldn't mind taking a break from the 852-pages tome and rest their eyes for a bit. On the TV screen that is. Of course, depending on the channel such a show would air on, it could be  ...

A graceful and sedate affair, best enjoyed with a glass of read wine and classical music playing in the background, while watching the participants leading whole conversations solely in obscure book quotes and completing tasks such as restoring an old tome to its original beauty just so they earn themselves some vegan canapés for dinner. As a setting I'm thinking about an historic mansion with its library as the center of things for our feisty group of literati.

On the other end of the spectrum we would find a whole bunch of 50 Shades of Grey fans* who spend their days (and nights, obviously) bitching about their roomies reading habits and re-enacting scenes of their favorite book (we're talking R-rated) to earn some extra anchovies for their daily pizza delivery. As for the setting I'm thinking high rise building, preferably an airy loft with lots of glass and steel and breathtaking views over the city for our literary show-offs.

All right, all right, I am totally overdrawing the possible scenarios, but you get the general idea. People and their books together in a confined space. Some brilliant ideas there if I may say so myself. Not to say I'd ever want to be a producer of such a show to begin with, yet I'd be happy to throw in a couple of suggestions here and there. And the camera starts rolling!

How do you like my idea of a bookish reality show? What kind of setting would you put your book cast in? Please share.

*Again, I don't judge you ... just kidding ... 'course I do.

August 1, 2014

Non-Fiction Not Just For Plagued Writers

It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches (Orin Hargraves)
July 30th 2014, Oxford University Press

Careful writers and speakers agree that clichés are generally to be avoided. However, nearly all of us continue to use them. Why do they persist in our language?
In It's Been Said Before, lexicographer Orin Hargraves examines the peculiar idea and power of the cliché. He helps readers understand why certain phrases became clichés and why they should be avoided — or why they still have life left in them. Indeed, clichés can be useful — even powerful. And few people even agree on which expressions are clichés and which are not. Many regard any frequent idiom as a cliché, and a phrase regarded as a cliché in one context may be seen simply as an effective expression in another. Examples drawn from data about actual usage support Hargraves' identification of true clichés. They also illuminate his commentary on usage problems and helpful suggestions for eliminating clichés where they serve no useful purpose.
Concise and lively, It's Been Said Before serves as a guide to the most overused phrases in the English language — and to phrases that are used exactly as often as they should be.