Lessons in Taxidermy

Bee Lavender has lived through more sickness than I thought I would have the stomach to even read about. It seems as though every unfortunate illness and ill-luck has befallen this woman: cancer, car accident, complications, and more complications. I read this book when I was quite sick and struggling through a series of unsuccessful diagnoses, feeling completely overwhelmed with chronic illness. Somehow reading Lavender’s writing about sickness actually made me feel better. Her book is empowering. Lavender faces illness without flinching, making for an uplifting, if slightly terrifying, read. The narrative is up-front and personal, which along with the book being a short 160 pages, makes it very accessible. (submitted by TH)

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The Wayfinders: why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world

I love it when I find readable non-fiction, and this book is both eminently readable and lovable. Part of the CBC Massey lecture series, it speaks to culture, language and society, and what happens as we lose the thread between ourselves and our past. Like Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress (another excellent Massey lecture that deserves its own blog post), Davis questions the global thirst for progress. However, unlike Wright, Davis is less doomsday in his outlook and celebrates modern navigators in Hawaii and aboriginal peoples in Canada, among others, in their efforts to reclaim a gentler way of thinking and doing. A very important book with a message that is becoming hard to ignore. (submitted by LH)

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Losing My Religion: how I lost my faith reporting religion in America — and found unexpected peace

I found this book riveting and fascinating.  Veteran journalist William Lobdell was in his early twenties when he became a born-again Christian.  At the time,  few reporters were interested in the religion beat – a topic regarded as an antiquated arena for fading journalists. Lobdell had a vision for this position however, and landing it became a powerful calling.  He prayed and waited years for the opportunity. Then it happened in 1998.  The Los Angeles Times hired him for the job and he felt his prayers were finally answered.

For eight years he travelled extensively, looking for inspirational stories in all walks of life, as well as interviewing some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders.  However, he continually found disturbing discrepancies between the tenets of the various faiths, and the actual behaviour of the faithful and their leaders.  Eventually, he let go of his faith and surprisingly, found more peace in “the truth.”  This book  is not a defence of atheism using hard science, instead it is a passionate, spiritual journey full of revelations – a must read for anyone grappling with all the hard questions.

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Power of Half: one family’s decision to stop taking and start giving back

I am starting to give more money to charity.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin.  Help locally?  Help in developing countries?  Help animals, people, or the environment?  And how should I involve my kids so they know how fortunate they are?

Well, this book definitely got me thinking.  It’s about a family whose 14-year-old daughter wants to do more for others.   Her parents are motivated by her good intentions and decide to sell their 6,500 square foot house and downsize to something half as big and half the price.  They plan to give the other half of the proceeds to charity.  This is the true story of this process.  It’s interesting to hear how they chose who to give the money to, and how this act changes their family dynamics for the better.   A short and uplifting book. (submitted by KA)

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Too Big To Fail: the inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system from crisis — and themselves

What a soap opera!  Andrew Ross Sorkin uses his behind-the-scenes access to lay out the details of the recent financial crisis, from the failure of Lehman Brothers to the near failure of other key financial players.  This is riveting and page-turning stuff – you can also get updates on this ever-changing drama on his blog, dealbook, for the continuing story.  It’s a big book, and I couldn’t put it down.  If you want a moment-to-moment breakdown of the events and decisions made by the big boys in 2008-2009, you’ll enjoy this one.  I certainly did.  Update: HBO is making it into a movie. (submitted by Jen)

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Just Listen: discover the secret to getting through to absolutely anyone

I bought this book.  I have given it as a high-school graduation gift.  I cannot recommend more highly.  Mark Goulston dissects his natural gifts to share with the rest of us.  Simple and powerful techniques for better and effective communication, especially with difficult people, or with people who are having a difficult time.  Very practical and enjoyable to read.

Some of the things I liked:

  • Stop trying to be interesting, be interested instead
  • Let a person in crisis exhale: they vent, be quiet, they stop, say “tell me more”, don’t engage or debate or offer solutions, just listen and let them exhale
  • Make everyone feel valuable
  • Share your own vulnerabilities (bare your neck)
  • Steer clear of toxic people: the needy, bullies, takers, narcissists, and psychopaths
  • Ask: What is impossible but desirable?  Then ask: What would make that possible?
  • Ask: “Do you really believe that?” when they make a hyperbolic statement
  • The power of “Hmmmm….” (and “Really” and “And so…” and “Tell me more” and “Then what happened?”) to de-escalate
  • Cause people to look up (with their eyes) and reflect on your question – you’ll make a better connection with them than if your question is transactional (yes/no) (submitted by Jen)

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Medium Raw

It starts out with a wonderful story about the most illegal meal he’s ever had. 

 A very angry cook wrote the iconoclastic Kitchen Confidential about the underbelly of the New York restaurant scene in the 1980s and 1990s, published in 2000.  It made Anthony Bourdain  a star.  I loved that book.  This is the follow-up.  He’s older and wiser and less angry, or at least he’s more self-aware and philosophical about it.  He writes the way he talks – which will be familiar if you’ve watched his TV show, No Reservations.  This book is about how Kitchen Confidential utterly changed his life, opening up the world to him.  He tells great stories, in a wry and humourous tone, and I was only sorry that the book ended – I would’ve been happy to keep reading.

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