All posts by Karen Seligman

About Karen Seligman

Karen Seligman is a newly-qualified librarian working in a public library. As a book- and library-lover from way back, she finds nothing better than being surrounded by books and other library-lovers! Karen’s past lives as a law graduate, corporate warrior and research scientist continue to inform her wide-ranging tastes in reading material, with her favourite genres including historical fiction, fantasy, food writing and popular science.

Caring is … Sharing great books and games

How do you extend that summertime feeling to the rest of the year? For me, summer holidays mean more time to enjoy the company of family and friends – eating, chatting and playing together. Such quality time may seem impossible within the busyness of your normal routine, but is definitely worth scheduling. Start with an activity that can involve your whole family – such as cooking, making things, playing games or reading – here are some resources to get you started. And if you are a fan of board games, don’t forget that Booko can help you find the best prices for games as well as books!

Qwirkle Cubes

The latest version of this award-winning game comes as a set of colourful cubes. Make rows or columns of cubes by matching either the colour or shape on their faces. The cubic shape of the pieces add an extra level of game play – you can try to change the shapes you have by rolling the cubes. The basic rules are easy to learn for even young players, while some tactical thinking will ensure you achieve high scores. For 2-4 players, ages 6+

Sleeping Queens card game by Gamewright

Sleeping Queens has become a family favourite after we travelled with it this summer. It is a compact card game with a fairytale / Alice in Wonderland flavour (and this special 10th Anniversary edition comes in a beautiful carry tin). The Pancake Queen, the Rose Queen and their ten queenly friends have fallen into a magical sleep and need to be woken up. A King can wake a Queen but watch out for Knights that might steal her away! Winning is based on a little skill, some maths and some luck. Sleeping Queens also shines through its gorgeous and funny art. For 2-5 players, ages 8+

Parlour Games for Modern Families by Myfanwy Jones and Spiri Tsintziras

Parlour Games for Modern Families shows how to play silly and raucous games with big crowds and small, and with few or no props at all. Unusual games such as Farkle and Blind Potatoes join old favourites including Chatterboxes, Murder in the Dark and Dictionary. There are chapters for word games, drawing games, card games and mystery games. Suitable for ages 4-104, these games will help to lighten up rainy days, family gatherings, even dinner parties and work functions.

 

 

Banish Boredom: Activities to Do with Kids that you will Actually Enjoy by Rebecca Green

We’ve all been there – that resigned feeling of doing an activity “for the kids” rather than “with the kids”. Banish Boredom promises to change all that, with suggestions on activities that are stimulating and fun for both adults and kids. From art to science experiments to excursions, Rebecca Green offers a variety of ideas as well as useful tips on how to plan, manage and extend activities. Banish Boredom is a great parenting resource for any time of year.

 
The World of David Walliams CD Story Collection by David Walliams

 

Listening to audiobooks turns reading into a social activity, especially useful on those long holiday car trips. Comedian-turned-superstar-author David Walliams is the creator of bestsellers including Mr Stink and Awful Auntie. Many reviewers see him as a successor to Roald Dahl, skilfully mixing over-the-top humour with poignant reflections on friendship and loneliness. David Walliams voices his audiobooks himself – but listen out for cameos by famous guests such as Matt Lucas. For immediate gratification, choose the 14-CD 5-story set ; or pre-order the Bumper-tastic 27-CD, 8-story edition , out in late January.

 

Cooking with Coco: Family Recipes to Cook Together by Anna Del Conte

Cooking is a great activity to do with children – not only will there be a delicious outcome, you will also be nurturing some healthy habits and useful life skills. Cooking with Coco is a collection of recipes Anna Del Conte has cooked with her children and grandchildren (Coco, now in her teens, has become a confident and creative cook). The collection features classic dishes including baked polenta, beef rolls, basic biscuits and pear cake – sophisticated food that will appeal to both adults and children, without resorting to novelty shapes or lollies.

Load your eReader this summer with these great titles

Much as I still prefer paper books, I have discovered that eBooks offer some great benefits.  For example, eBooks are great for holidaying – they add hardly any bulk or weight to your luggage; they allow easy adjustment to font size and colour contrast; and you can buy and download them instantaneously wherever you are. So whether you prefer an eReader or eBook apps on a tablet or phone, you will never be without a book again!  Here are some great summer e-reads, whether you are travelling or relaxing at home:

Rogue One: a Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed

Loved the latest Star Wars film and want to revisit the story?  Perhaps you haven’t yet seen the film, but don’t feel like battling with crowds during your summer break?  Download the novelisation of the film instead. Rogue One: a Star Wars Story is more than a standard movie novelisation – many scenes have been extended and expanded to give a richer story while being totally faithful to the film.  Alexander Freed has used his extensive knowledge of the Star Wars Universe – as creator of earlier video games, comics and novels – to deliver a well-written novel that contributes strongly to the overall canon.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Austen Project – six modern retellings of Jane Austen’s beloved novels – has attracted stellar authorship including Joanna Trollope (for Sense and Sensibility ) and Alexander McCall Smith (for Emma). Now Curtis Sittenfeld has tackled Pride and Prejudice – probably the most daunting one to adapt – with impressive results.  The story is set in suburban Cincinnati, where Liz and Jane Bennet return to the family home after Mr Bennet suffers a heart attack. Jane is a yoga teacher and Liz a magazine writer based in New York – both nudging 40 and still single. Along comes Chip Bingley (a doctor and former contestant in a reality-TV dating show) and his snooty neurosurgeon friend Darcy…  Eligible is spot-on in retaining the wryness of the original while lampooning modern-day obsessions.  It is riotous and totally addictive – even when you already know what happens!

Neighbourhood by Hetty McKinnon

Hetty McKinnon is the powerhouse behind Sydney’s Arthur Street Kitchen, a salad delivery service renowned for its innovative and flavourful modern salads – think layers of textures and flavours provided by herbs, grains and roasted vegetables as well as leafy greens.  Following the success of her first cookbook, Community, comes Neighbourhood, with salads inspired by the multicultural neighbourhoods of New York, her new hometown.  Neighbourhood is not just a recipe collection, it celebrates the sharing of food in building friendships and communities.  I love Neighbourhood for its warmth, stunning photography as well as its message – the idea of connecting with others through sharing food is perfect for this time of year.  The delicious recipes provide rich inspiration for summer eating, whether entertaining a crowd, or preparing something simple for those too-hot-to-cook days.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

Popular science is a great genre if you prefer books with both readability and substance.  The Hidden Life of Trees is a recent release with an intriguing premise – that trees are social beings that count and remember; that look out for, and support neighbours and relatives; that communicate with each other by sending signals through a vast underground network of fungus.  The Hidden Life of Trees uses an anthropomorphic style that is captivating but may sound fantastical; however, these revelations are based on Peter Wohlleben’s extensive experience as a forest ranger, and backed by recent research in biology and ecology.  A bestseller in its native Germany, The Hidden Life of Trees challenges us to value forests as much more than a habitat or a source of timber.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons epitomises an idyllic summer full of freedom and adventure.  During the school holidays, the Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger) are staying at a lakeside farm with their mother and infant sister.  The children are given permission to sail their dinghy, the Swallow, to an island in the lake to set up camp.  Camp life involves plenty of swimming, sailing and fishing for their food – and no adults.  One day, the Swallows spy two fierce pirates – sisters Nancy and Peggy in their dinghy Amazon.  What follows is a summer of friendship, fun and even some mystery… Swallows and Amazons is a classic story that still excites young readers with its spirit of independence and derring-do; it also unleashes adult nostalgia about our own free-roaming childhoods during endless summers.  A perfect waterside read!

Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks

As our friends in the US celebrate Thanksgiving today, we at Team Booko are also reflecting on Thanksgiving and thankfulness in general. Thanksgiving traditions are borne of the harvest festivals of Europe, and of the age-old practice of giving thanks to God at significant events; modern-day Thanksgiving is characterised by travelling home – there are more long-distance travellers at Thanksgiving than at Christmas – and of course, a traditional feast including roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.   Although Thanksgiving seems a quintessentially American holiday, it is celebrated in places as diverse as Canada, Liberia and Norfolk Island, and its messages of gratitude, community and sharing will find resonance in any part of the world.

The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh, illustrated by Helen Sewell

The Thanksgiving Story is a classic picture book about the events leading up to the first Thanksgiving, as seen through the eyes of three children.  Giles, Constance and Demaris Hopkins are travelling on the crowded Mayflower with their parents, bound for a place where they hope to practise their religion freely.  Alice Dalgliesh adds lots of historical detail to enrich a familiar story of early hardships ultimately overcome with the help of the Native Americans, leading to the first successful harvest. A Caldecott Honor book.

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey

’Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving is no ordinary story – simply because it is written by Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants fame).  Dav has taken the classic Christmas poem and given it a Thanksgiving twist.  Eight children are enjoying an excursion to a turkey farm on the eve of Thanksgiving. When they realise that the cute baby turkeys are earmarked for Thanksgiving dinner, some quick thinking is required. Sufficed to say that those children end up with plump feathered guests at their respective (vegetarian) Thanksgiving feasts!  Something funny and a bit different for this tradition-laden day.

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac

The events surrounding the first Thanksgiving have become mythologised over the past centuries.  1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving invites readers to see through the myths, by showing the events from the perspective of the Wampanoag, one of the Native American tribes who shared that first Thanksgiving feast.  It is richly informative about the Wampanoag’s culture and way of life.  1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving reminds us that history is often subjective, and challenges us to think and question what we know.

The Thankful Book by Todd Parr

When you are a kid and the grownups keep nagging you to say “thank you” to everything, it can be hard to understand what there is to be thankful about.  The Thankful Book, with its bright colours, simple pictures and gentle text, reminds us of the little things that brightening our days – music that makes us want to dance; friends that make us smile; hair that make us unique.  The Thankful Book is wise and joyous, and sure to spark good conversations about happiness and thankfulness.

The Gratitude Diaries: how a Year Looking on the Bright Side can Transform your Life by Janice Kaplan

“Always look on the bright side of life” can have life-changing effects – just ask Janice Kaplan.  The editor and former journalist made a new year’s resolution to show more gratitude for a year, and it had remarkably positive effects on her physical and mental well-being. Janice Kaplan discovers that not only can a positive attitude influence our sense of fulfilment, it can change our neural pathways and even influence our children’s happiness.  The Gratitude Diaries is a skilful blend of self-help, memoir and popular science that will both entertain and inspire.

What’s on Your Festive Table this Year?

Six more weeks to go…. as my stress level rises with the growing list of things-to-do-before-year’s-end, so does my excitement and anticipation for the festive season.  For me, year’s end is the delicious time of year – a whirlwind of catch-ups and family birthdays as well as Christmas and New Year – all made more memorable with delicious and plentiful food.  No matter what your cultural or religious traditions, it’s a great time to wind down and catch up with loved ones – and the following books will provide food inspiration whatever the occasion.  Of course, half the fun in entertaining is browsing cookbooks and choosing the right dishes….

Jamie’s Christmas by Jamie Oliver

It has taken Jamie Oliver seventeen years of fine-tuning to achieve the recipes worthy of his “epic” Christmas cookbook. He’s planning to do only one Christmas cookbook, so he wants to do it right.  Jamie’s Christmas is not just a collection of recipes – it is a manual that aims to guide and reassure.  There are plans, tips and shortcuts to minimise the stress of entertaining a crowd. Besides show-stopping mains and desserts (for vegetarians and vegans as well as meat-eaters), there are extensive chapters on sauces, salads, sweet treats and edible gifts.  Happy days!

Celebrating Christmas by the Australian Women’s Weekly

Antipodeans looking forward to a summery Christmas (think fresh seafood, juicy mangoes and ripe cherries) are forging a new style of Christmas feasting.  And the Test Kitchen of the Australian Women’s Weekly – synonymous with foolproof recipes – is ready to guide you with step-by-step instructions.  Celebrating Christmas has everything from menus to drinks, and ideas for decorations and leftovers.  There are recipes for both casual and formal occasions including brunches, lunches and dinners.  Whether you prefer a traditional or modern gathering, Celebrating Christmas has great ideas for you.

Basics to Brilliance by Donna Hay

The premise of Basics to Brilliance is, well, brilliant.  Take some basic recipes – and Donna Hay is here to show you how they should be done – then expand your repertoire by learning some variations with wow factor.  Thus a plain grilled steak can be transformed into beef skewers with a fresh and zingy chimichurri sauce.  This formula is a great way for beginner cooks to experiment and gain confidence, while giving experienced cooks fresh ideas.  Basics to Brilliance offers lots of inspiration for both home cooking and entertaining.

Appetites: a Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain with Laurie Woolever

Age and parenthood are mellowing Anthony Bourdain (just a little), and his latest book, Appetites, reflects this life stage.  It’s a collection of family-oriented recipes that should appeal to even the fussiest of youngsters.  The dishes range from scrambled eggs to Italian, Malaysian and Korean classics, striking a good balance between comforting and exotic, and reflecting Bourdain’s extensive travels.  Add some irreverent commentary and a cover by Ralph Steadman (known for his work with Hunter S. Thompson) and the result shows that Anthony Bourdain hasn’t lost his gonzo cool.  

The Cook’s Table by Stephanie Alexander

For many people, food forms an integral part of memories and traditions – whether it’s birthday cake or greasy fry-ups – and Stephanie Alexander is no exception.  In The Cook’s Table, Stephanie has arranged 130 recipes into twenty-five themed menus, such as “A Jamaican Jerk Party” and “Autumnal Italian Lunch in a Suburban Farm”; which are based on memorable occasions throughout her long and celebrated life.  Stephanie’s reminiscences encourage us to reflect on our own special foods – while she also invites us to create our own memorable occasions, through sharing her delicious dishes with our families and friends.

Cocktails for the Holidays: Festive Drinks to Celebrate the Season by the Editors of Imbibe Magazine

If you want to host a gathering but don’t feel like cooking, how about a drinks party instead?  Get great ideas on stylish and seasonal drinks in Cocktails for the Holidays.  Fifty recipes compiled by the award-winning Imbibe magazine cover any festive events from breakfasts to nightcaps.  From classics to the drinks du jour, and from hot toddies to sparkling punches, these drinks just shout festive cheer.

Books that illuminate life’s journey

Our lives are long journeys full of tough questions and unexpected trials and tribulations.  Don’t you wish there’s a manual for it?  For Booklovers, the solution is simple: books can be our wise counsel, chronicler and companion.  Here are titles that can delight, entertain, enlighten and accompany you through many stages of life:

 

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Little Prince is a poignant story that can be read on many levels.  Younger children will delight in the charming, fantastic story of a little prince who lives on an asteroid the size of a house, and his curious adventures whilst exploring the universe; older children may start to recognise certain caricatures in the story; while adults might appreciate it as a fable about love, loss and loneliness, with philosophical musings about human nature and relationships.  This 70th Anniversary Edition is a deluxe gift set containing a hardcover book with the original illustrations in full colour, two CDs of an unabridged reading by Viggo Mortensen (aka Aragorn of Lord of the Rings), as well as a code for audio download.

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

It has sold over 65 million copies across 80 languages; many people credit it with changing their lives.  What makes The Alchemist so special?  The Alchemist is a timeless and dreamy story about Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd who tries to fulfil a prophecy by travelling to Egypt, but finds his Personal Legend (destiny) instead.  Through Santiago’s quest, Paolo Coelho invites us to look inside ourselves to discover our own Personal Legends. His poetic, spiritual language, crafted into beloved messages such as ‘When you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you’, is uplifting and sure to inspire.

A Good Life: Philosophy from Cradle to Grave by Mark Rowlands

In the near future, Nicolai finds a manuscript written by his late father Myshkin.  The manuscript is Myshkin’s record of how he lived his life, the issues he faced, and the decisions he made.  In A Good Life, philosopher Mark Rowlands uses this fictional narrative to explore moral and ethical questions including abortion, compassion, animal rights and euthanasia.  This clever hybrid of philosophy and literature is funny, unsettling and challenges us to also question ourselves on these knotty issues.

Feast: Food that Celebrates Life by Nigella Lawson

Across cultures and eras, food has been an important element in how we mark life’s milestones.  Nigella Lawson, ever a champion of food-as-celebration, has gathered this collection of enticing recipes to suit any sort of feasting – not just Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter, but also Eid, Passover, weddings and kids’ parties.  It’s worth seeking out the original UK edition of Feast (just click on this cover image for stockists), which contains a chapter on funeral feasts – which powerfully and poignantly highlights the power of food to comfort and bring people together, in sorrow as in joy.

Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Booko featured Mary Roach’s work earlier this year as one of the most popular TED talks ever.  However, her brand of quirky investigative journalism was already perfected in her first book, Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers.  Mary Roach’s take on Life After Death looks at what happens to our bodies after we die.  In fact, she sees cadavers as having a rich and meaningful second life, contributing to scientific advances in medical research, safety testing, body farms, and even composting.  With its unusual subject and skilful balance of information, gore and laugh-aloud humour, Stiff is an endlessly fascinating, unforgettable book.

Join the Slow Education Revolution

Not a week goes by without media attention on our education systems – whether standardised testing offer useful insights; whether exam-pressure causes excessive stress; or whether we are teaching the “right” knowledge when professions change and evolve so quickly. The Slow Movement argues that exam-based education encourages teaching-to-the-test and cookie-cutter uniformity; and instead proposes Slow Education as a better option.

Like other aspects of the Slow Movement, Slow Education is about deep connections with its subject matter – learning.  It focusses on the process of learning; it encourages educators to tailor learning experiences to their local context and to suit their students’ interests; and it encourages students to reflect on, and discuss how and what they have learnt.  This creates students who learn how to learn, who learn deeply and become self-motivated through interest in their own work.  Such ideas are not new – many alternative educational approaches, such as Montessori and Waldorf/Steiner, share these concerns; and many conventional schools already use techniques such as play-based or inquiry-based learning to stimulate and engage their students.  

Everyone can and should have an opinion on education, not just parents or educators – because education can influence the future direction of many aspects of our society.  So to get you thinking, here are some books that discuss why and how education should be changed, as well as resources on how to enrich children’s learning through fun, interactive experiences:

Finnish Lessons 2.0: What the World can Learn from Educational Change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg

The Finnish education system is considered a marvel by English-speaking countries – Finnish students have high proficiency in science, maths and reading despite the Finns’ “unconventional” disregard for standardised testing, late start to formal education (at age 7) and emphasis on play.  In Finnish Lessons 2.0, Pasi Sahlberg uses his experience as a teacher, teacher trainer and policy developer to explain how Finland made such impressive improvements to its education system through thoughtful reforms.

Creative Schools by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

Ken Robinson is an authority on arts education and has given three TED talks about the role of creativity in education – including THE most-watched TED Talk ever, with over 41 million viewings. Creative Schools picks up on this TED talk, arguing that the current education system, with its focus on exams and factory-like mass education, stifles creativity.  Instead he urges everyone – educators, policymakers and parents – to push for change, to a system that awakens creativity, as well as fostering diversity and curiosity.   

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith

Tony Wagner is an education expert and Ted Dintersmith is a venture capitalist; in a convergence of idealism and materialism, their joint proposition in Most Likely to Succeed is that education should move away from content/fact delivery and towards fostering life skills such as collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  They argue that this is a better way of future-proofing our children, of helping them become successful in the long run.  Most Likely to Succeed is derived from the critically-praised film of the same name.

Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science: a Family Guide to Fun Experiments in the Kitchen by Andrew Schloss

Even without systemic change, we can encourage curiosity and creativity in children, through hands-on deep learning.  Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science contains projects ranging from edible slime, to glow-in-the-dark jelly and “glowing, bouncy eggs”.  The edible aspect adds extra excitement (and also reduces concerns about handling harmful chemicals) to the exploration of some fundamental scientific concepts.  Projects use supermarket ingredients and come with detailed instructions and safety advice.  Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science is a recent title in a very user-friendly series that includes Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, Outdoor Science Lab for Kids, and Art Lab for Kids.

What we can learn from the Slow Books movement

source: www.huffingtonpost.com

Are you a booklover who struggles to find time to read?  If, like me, your answer is yes, then the Slow Books movement is for you.

Slow Books is the extension of a philosophy first appearing as Slow Food. It encourages people to rediscover “old-fashioned reading” – sit down and read a book, uninterrupted, for at least 30 minutes each day. Such reading should be deliberate and reflective, not simply trying to finish as many pages as possible.  Slow Books devotees suggest that slow reading reduces stress, as well as improve people’s ability to think, concentrate and empathise.

Slow Books ties in with digital detox; an opportunity to reduce mental clutter and to re-develop our attention spans and comprehension – known negative effects of our increasing reliance upon online reading.   The Internet’s effect upon changes to our cognition is explored in Nicholas Carr’s provocative book The Shallows: how the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember.

Besides Slow Food and Slow Books, the Slow philosophy can also be applied to activities including travel, education and relationships.  Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slowness offers a compelling overview of the Slow ideal, including how it can be applied to daily life.  This subversive book also spawned a popular TED talk.   The guiding principle of the Slow Movement is the rejection of the “faster is better” mentality ; instead it advocates a mindful approach where we slow down to do something properly – savouring the process along the way.   

And if you need any more encouragement, just remember that a recent study from Yale has found that regular book-readers live almost two years longer than non-readers.

        

How to get started: Ingredients for enjoying books, slowly 
  • Create a comfortable reading spot – beanbag, armchair or in bed?  An internet search on “reading nooks” will reveal gorgeous examples, from cosy to quirky to elegant.  
  • Make time for reading – before it becomes a natural habit, use reminders to help you set aside a regular timeslot.  You can even join a Slow Reading Club if you prefer to read in a social environment.
  • Find a great book – a gripping story that will draw you in and help you forget the passage of time.  Start with a genre you enjoy, or try some current bestsellers such as The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty.

Not your Average Father’s Day Book Suggestions

August usually brings new releases in thrillers, sports biographies and political/military history – typical “Father’s Day Gift” books.  But what if your dad is not a typical Dad?  This year, Team Booko has looked further, to see what other interesting titles we can find.  So here’s our pick of quirky, challenging and absorbing reads for the thoughtful, intellectual and playful Not-Average-Dads out there.

Dads are the Original Hipsters by Brad Getty

Help your dad relive his youth with this collection of photos from the 60s, 70s and 80s, which comprehensively show that dads are the original hipsters.  See these vintage dads grow big beards, ride fixies, listen to vinyl, wear tight jeans, thick-rimmed glasses, and drink home brew (craft beer!).  The snarky captions lovingly make fun of modern hipsters (and dads).  Dads are the Original Hipsters started life as a blog (a modern badge of quality – only the most successful blogs get book deals) and it screams “Father’s Day novelty gift” – in an ironic way, of course.   Lots of fun for dads and kids of a certain age, and for new hipster dads too!

Reservoir Dad by Clint Greagan

Reservoir Dad is another successful blog-turned-book.  Clint Greagan is a stay-at-home dad who has spent the last ten years tending to four young sons and a prize-winning blog.  Reservoir Dad is a record of those ten years – the funny bits, the sentimental bits, the gross bits and the frustrating bits.  Clint Greagan is funny, bawdy and candid as he writes about juggling parenting and relationship maintenance (with the lovely Reservoir Mum).  He is insightful about his non-traditional role, and his masculine perspective on parenting is refreshing. Reservoir Dad won’t just resonate with stay-at-home-dads, but with anyone who has ever wrangled young kids; it offers comfort and solidarity to shell-shocked young parents too.

Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 1715 – 2015 by Sharon Sadako Takeda, Kaye Durland Spilker and M. Esguerra Clarissa

Blame Queen Victoria for making men’s fashion so bleak and boring – prior to her era, elegance in menswear often meant vibrant colours and intricate decorations.  Luckily for men who love to express themselves through clothes, history is coming full circle, with colour and flair returning to men’s fashion.  Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear is the stunning coffee-table book accompanying its namesake exhibition at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).  Tracing 300 years of history, it celebrates works by iconic designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Vivienne Westwood and Saville Row tailors.  Designs are analysed to show how historic dress continues to influence current fashions, and how menswear, like womenswear also use padding and shaping to express body ideals.  Reigning Men offers fascinating history, splendid imagery as well as design inspiration.

Who Stole My Spear by Tim Samuels

What does being a man mean, in the age of man-buns and paleo diets?  Societal expectations about “good masculinity” is changing rapidly, with efforts to destroy long-standing blokey attitudes that favour sexism and violence.  Men as a gender is still advantaged, but on an individual level, many are struggling against expectations to be everything to everyone: career high-achiever, committed spouse, hands-on parent.  Who Stole My Spear is Tim Samuels’ survey of what men and masculinity is all about in modern society, with discussions on corporate culture, monogamy, relationships and parenthood, religion, pornography and mental health.  Its lightheartedness makes for easy reading yet does not detract from the confronting questions it poses.

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food is not the usual grilling/barbecuing-themed cookbooks normally pitched at men; instead it aims to explain the science behind cooking and tasting.  Understanding why particular techniques are used will turn cooking from black art to logical process – which helps beginner cooks achieve better and more consistent results.  It also helps more experienced cooks learn how to cook beyond following recipes.  And not only the explanations are good, the recipes sound delicious too – from simple dishes like pancakes to fancy ones such as duck confit.  Written by a software engineer and published by O’Reilly Media (better known for computer-related texts), its geek pedigree is never in doubt, but Cooking for Geeks will also appeal to anyone who loves to understand the “why” of everything.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Recently I saw Outlander referred to as “a good starting point for men to get into romance novels” and can’t resist sharing this suggestion.
It works because Outlander is not just a love story; as we follow the adventures of Claire Randall, a 20th-century nurse who unintentionally time-travels to 18th-century Scotland, her story encompasses fantasy, history, action (and war), political intrigue, and sex as well as burgeoning romance.  Fans love it for its clever mix of genres, historical detail, excellent character development as well as Diana Gabaldon’s emotionally-affective writing.  An acclaimed TV adaptation offers another way to engage with this beloved book series.

 

For more Father’s Day ideas (even the more traditional kind), check out our Pinterest board.

Popular philosophy: books that demystify life’s big ideas

Philosophy considers Life’s Big Ideas – truth, reality, morals, ethics, existence of God.  It is an important intellectual pursuit – but is often associated with dead white males, academic stuffiness and difficult abstraction.  Luckily, many philosophers work hard at demystifying philosophy for the general public.  These popular philosophy works contextualise philosophy within the modern world, showing their relevance to everyday issues and challenging our values.  Some recent bestselling philosophy titles include:

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

The instant success of Alain De Botton’s latest book confirms his status as philosopher du jour.  Part-fiction, part-meditation and part-instruction, The Course of Love is about Rabih, a Beirut-born architect, and Kirsten, a Scottish surveyor.  We follow their relationship for 14 years – through courtship, marriage, children, domesticity and infidelity.   Popping the bubble of the “happily ever after”, Rabih and Kirsten’s story is interspersed with playful, sometimes snarky musings that analyse the reasons behind their actions, and wittily capture what love, sex and relationships mean today.  Sure to resonate with anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship, The Course of Love is the long-awaited sequel to Essays in Love (known as On Love in the US), which follows and analyses a love affair from its ecstatic beginning to its despairing end.

A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton

Nigel Warburton is an academic with a knack for clarifying complex ideas – a skill he uses, to great acclaim, for popularising philosophy.  His first book, Philosophy: the Basics, is now a classic primer on the topic; he is also the creator of the successful Philosophy Bites podcasts.  A Little History of Philosophy is a very readable overview of Western philosophical thought from Socrates to Singer.  Each of its 40 short chapters uses a key philosophical question – How do I know what’s real?  What does it mean to be free? – to introduce the work of a major philosopher.  With a mix of explanation and anecdotes, A Little History of Philosophy is a witty, entertaining book suitable for both inquisitive youngsters and adults.

Thinking of Answers by A. C. Grayling

A.C. Grayling relishes in the role of public intellectual, because he believes that philosophy can help us think through questions that arise in everyday life.  Thinking of Answers, a collection of recent writings for publications including The Times, New Statesman and New Scientist, exemplifies his approach.  Each essay is a response to a question posed by readers and editors, such as “can money ever be an end in itself?”, and “is friendship the highest form of human relationship?”.  These fascinating, tricky questions cover topics as diverse as beauty, sport, Darwinism and travelling.  Not only do these responses offer a framework for dealing with life’s tough questions, they are an education in themselves – A.C. Grayling is extremely well-read, and his allusions to literature, history, science (and everything else!) will have you google-hopping from one reference to another.

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas about Living Ethically by Peter Singer

Described by New Yorker magazine as “the most influential living philosopher”, Peter Singer has been influencing our moral and ethical thinking for over 40 years, through seminal works such as Animal Liberation.  The Most Good You Can Do discusses effective altruism, a social movement that encourages followers to do the most good they can.  This has two main components – maximising the time and money we can offer, and determining how to achieve the maximum benefit from these resources (such as by choosing the most effective charitable causes).  Using a number of case studies, Peter Singer shows  that effective altruism can bring greater meaning and fulfilment in our lives, while making a real difference in alleviating extreme poverty.

Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World by John Shelby Spong

John Shelby Spong is a retired bishop who has been both praised and condemned for his progressive, reformist views on Christianity.  The title of this book captures his philosophy perfectly – he argues that current approaches to Christian faith, with its emphasis on a supernatural God and a preference for literal interpretations of the Bible, can no longer be reconciled with our current (scientific) understanding of the world.  Instead Bishop Spong advocates a more analytical approach, common among bible scholars but often frowned upon in congregations.  Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World is John Shelby Spong’s guide to the origin, context and meaning of the Bible, book-by-book from Genesis to Revelations.  Its critical analysis and fresh insights help guide readers towards their own understanding and engagement with Christianity.

Take 5: Favourite Children’s Books

What are your favourite children’s books? This is the sort of question that leads to passionate debate – because childhood favourites can leave such strong impressions on young, uncrowded minds; they may even inspire or shape the young reader’s identity.  Here are five critically acclaimed and hugely popular books that may already be part of your Favourites List; they certainly deserve to be the catalysts that trigger a lifelong love of reading:

Matilda by Roald Dahl

It’s hard to single out just one Roald Dahl book, but as a booklover-turned-librarian, I have a soft spot for Matilda.  Matilda is a story that celebrates intelligence and the transformative power of reading; there is sympathetic portrayal of libraries and librarians (the best ones are always welcoming and non-judgmental), and there is a good-versus-evil battle that makes you want to shout and cheer!  The success of the recent musical adaptation has renewed awareness for this well-known and well-loved book.  What better way to relive the show than to revisit the original book, in this theatre tie-in edition?

The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Jolly Postman has everything that will delight little children – rollicking rhymes, fairytale mashups, cute drawings, things to spot in the detailed illustrations, and little cards, letters and a mini-book to take out of dainty envelopes!  On one busy day, this Jolly Postman rides his red bicycle delivering mail to villagers including Goldilocks, a Giant and the Big Bad Wolf.  Can he avoid being eaten and get home in time for dinner?  Books by the Ahlbergs feature regularly in “Best of” Lists, and The Jolly Postman is a classic example of their affectionate and whimsical style.  There’s lots of laugh-out-loud humour for both adults and children too.

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

Mirror is a brilliant picture book for all ages, because it is not only beautifully crafted, but inspiring and thought-provoking as well.  It has a creative dual-book format that shows the stories of two families – one in Australia, one in Morocco – unfolding simultaneously.  The visually stunning spreads, in Jeannie Baker’s distinctive, meticulous collage, show that despite external differences such as landscape and clothing, the two families are essentially the same, in their need for connection and belonging.  Winner of awards in both Australia and the UK for its technical excellence and humanitarian message, Mirror is worth revisiting now, when foreignness is creating much fear and doubt.

The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Phantom Tollbooth may be better known in the US than in the UK and Australia; but with fans including Maurice Sendak and Philip Pullman, think of it as the choice of Those in the Know.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about Milo, a bored boy who goes on a fantastical quest after driving through a magical tollbooth.  Norton Juster has huge fun with words in the Phantom Tollbooth, where much of the action is linked to wordplay (for example, Milo’s watchdog companion is half-dog, half-watch; to reach an island called Conclusions, they have to jump).  This annotated edition celebrates the incredible richness in Norton Juster’s language, which references mathematics, philosophy, and science besides the extensive wordplay. The Phantom Tollbooth reminds us of the power of learning, and has been described as a modern-day Alice in Wonderland.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

With over 450 million copies sold, the Harry Potter series is probably the most popular children’s books of all time.  Although the original books and films concluded years ago, Potter mania shows no sign of waning – with a thriving fandom developing its own traditions including a Quidditch World Cup (which recently attracted 21 teams from countries worldwide).  The story of the Boy Wizard has classic themes of friendship, adventure quest and personal growth that doubtless will continue to engage and resonate with readers. In anticipation of the soon-to-come Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, relive the original story with this beautiful full-colour illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.