Category Archives: Non-fiction

Posts about non-fiction titles

Top 5 Books on Self Help

Self-help books are a perfect example of why reading is an investment in yourself.  There’s an inspirational author ready to guide you, whether you want to improve your health, your happiness, your finances or your professional success.  The best ones offer a perfect balance between entertaining stories, intellectual challenge and emotional uplift.  Here are 5 that are guaranteed conversation starters in 2018:

 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning seems destined for pop-cultural attention – it’s a Scandinavian concept about living well (hygge 2.0?); it’s about decluttering (and shares similar philosophies with Marie “Spark Joy” Kondo); and it grabs our attention with its matter-of-factness about mortality. But more than that, it’s a really good idea! Margareta Magnusson introduces her readers to döstädning – sorting out your stuff before you die, rather than leaving the whole mess to your loved ones. Keep the items you care about, and give away or sell the others.  Such decluttering can reduce stress, and is a good opportunity for reminiscing and curating your legacy.  Margareta Magnusson’s gentle wit and wisdom makes this a surprisingly funny and thoroughly interesting book.

How to be Human: the Manual by Ruby Wax

A comedian, a neuroscientist and a monk meet up and talk…. this may sound like a joke, but instead is the basis of this manual on how our bodies, minds and brains interact to make us “human”.  Ruby Wax is a comedian whose struggle with depression motivated her to gain a Master’s Degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.  In How to be Human, she has teamed up with a monk (an expert in our inner lives) and a neuroscientist (an expert on the brain) to explore the tough questions around how to find happiness in the modern world – evolution, thoughts, emotions, relationships, addictions, the future.  Ruby’s wit and anecdotes bring it all together into a funny, readable, insightful and uplifting read – you can also look forward to the stage show version in the works!

Make Your Bed: Small Things that can Change your Life … and maybe the World by William H. McRaven

Make Your Bed started off as a speech given by Admiral William McRaven at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, where he reflected on some life lessons he learnt through basic Navy SEAL training. (Making your bed every morning was his first lesson.  Even such a small task can motivate you to complete more tasks, and, at the end of a rough day, a made bed will offer you some solace.) The speech went viral, with many people inspired by his down-to-earth, tough-but-kind approach, particularly within the context of his highly distinguished, 37-year naval career.  Make your Bed expands on the ideas in that speech to present ten life lessons in greater detail – these lessons will serve you well, whether you want to become a better person, succeed in business, or indeed change the world.

Barking Up The Wrong Tree: the Surprising Science Behind why Everything you Know about Success is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Baker

Barking up the Wrong Tree is a distillation of the enormously entertaining and thought-provoking blog of the same name, by Eric Barker. Here Eric applies the Mythbusters treatment to some age-old advice about success, such as “nice guys finish last” and “winners never quit, and quitters never win”. He argues that these maxims were not based on research, and presents scientific data that disprove or qualify them. With quirky examples ranging from pirates to Albert Einstein to serial killers, Barking up the Wrong Tree encourages us to challenge conventional wisdom, and forge our own paths to awesome lives.

The Happiness Plan by Elise Bialylew

The Happiness Plan is a one-month mindfulness meditation program that aims to help us experience greater happiness, focus and emotional balance.  Its collection of exercises shows us how to incorporate mindfulness practice into our daily routine – even ten minutes’ worth each day can create positive changes in our physical and mental wellbeing.  Elise Bialylew is a meditation teacher and life coach with a background in medicine and psychiatry, and her understanding of the science behind mindfulness informs her approach. The Happiness Plan also aims to support readers beyond the book itself, by offering access to guided meditations available through Elise’s website.

Top 5 Books on Friendship

Friendships are amazing things, they have the power to shape someone’s life, and many influence who we become. Every now and again a book comes along that truly depicts what it is like to be amongst the throws of a great friendship and we think we have found a few that do just that. We’ve also spotted one that explores the language within female friendships and one that takes us on a journey of friendships though our lifecycle.

Let’s get started…

Living The Dream by Lauren Berry

Living The Dream is a sharp satire of modern British life. It features Emma, who should be a writer (but works in corporate advertising) and Clem, just back in London from New York, who is on the path to becoming a successful screenwriter (but works in a bar and lives with her mum).

Both women navigate the challenges of dreams and aspirations vs. reality, of having the guts to take a risk vs. selling out. Amid the big questions, Emma and Clem also find themselves faced with life’s little challenges: how to look happy at work, what to do with undesirable colleagues, how a hen party can go horribly wrong and what (not) to wear at a ‘well-ness’ spa.

 

 

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

Inseparable through university, Eva, Benedict, Sylvie and Lucien graduate into an exhilarating world on the brink of the new millennium. Eager to shrug off the hardships of her childhood, Eva breaks away to work at a big bank. Benedict stays behind to complete his PhD in Physics and pine for Eva, while siblings Sylvie and Lucien pursue a more bohemian existence. But as their twenties give way to their thirties, the four friends find their paths diverging as they struggle to navigate broken hearts and thwarted dreams. With every summer that passes, they try to remain as close as they once were, but this is far from easy. One friend’s triumph coincides with another’s disaster, one finds love as another loses it, and one comes to their senses as another is changing their mind. It’s a novel about finding the courage to carry on despite life not always turning out as expected, and a powerful testament to love and friendship as the constants in an ever-changing world. Invincible Summer is a dazzling depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood and the greater forces that shape us.

 

 

Before Everything by Victoria Redel

End of sixth grade they made it their official name. It was a joke one afternoon but they liked the way it sounded. Permanent. The Old Friends. This way, the five girls agree, it’s just a fact. And ours forever. Anna, Molly, Ming, Caroline, Helen: the Old Friends.

Since adopting their official name aged eleven, they have seen each other through careers, children, illnesses, marriage, divorce, addiction, fame, fall outs. But now, Anna, a fiercely loved mother and friend, and the Old Friends’ glue is diagnosed with cancer again, and this time, tired of recoveries and relapses, pitying looks and exhausting regimes, she simply says: no more.

As her health declines, the politics of the still lived in world merge with memories of the past while each Old Friend tries to accept the truth of what is happening: they are losing someone they cannot imagine life without. Some will fight her decision, some will accept it, but all will rejoice in a life fully lived.

 

 

You’re the Only One I Can Tell by Deborah Tannen

Deborah Tannen has explored the way we talk at work, in arguments, to our mothers and our daughters and now she turns to that most intense, precious and potential minefield: women’s friendships. Best friend, old friend, good friend, new friend, neighbour, fellow mother at the school gate, workplace confidante: women’s friendships are crucial. A friend can be like a sister, daughter, mother, mentor, therapist or confessor. She can also be the source of pain and betrayal.

From casual chatting to intimate confiding, from talking about problems to sharing funny stories, there are patterns of communication and miscommunication that affect friendships. Tannen shows how even the best of friends, with the best intentions, can say the wrong thing, how the ways women friends talk can bring friends closer or pull them apart, but also how words can repair the damage done by words. She explains the power of women friends who show empathy and can just listen; how women use talk to connect and to subtly compete; how fears of rejection can haunt friendships; how social media is reshaping relationships.

Exploring what it means to be friends, helping us hear what we are really saying, understanding how we connect to other people, this illuminating and validating book gets inside the language of one of most women’s life essentials – female friendships.

 

 

The F Word by Lily Pebbles

The F Word is a debut book by blogging sensation Lily Pebbles (you can check out her blog here) who is one of the pioneers of the industry. She’s amassed a massive league of loyal followers of her blog and self-named YouTube channel (which you can find here) for content that covers a range of beauty, style and advice. The anticipation for her book is huge.

If there’s one piece of invaluable advice for women and girls of all ages, it is that there is nothing more important than creating and maintaining strong, positive and happy friendships with other women. In a culture that largely pits women against each other, Lily Pebbles wants to celebrate female friendships…all strings attached! If her 1998 diary is anything to go by, female friendships are incredibly complex and emotional but they’re the mini love stories that make us who we are. For many women, friends are our partners in crime through life; they are the ones who move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses. In The F Word Pebbles sets out to explore and celebrate the essence of female friendship at different life stages and in its many wild and wonderful forms.

 

Enjoy!

Books to help you get your act together

Last week we offered some ideas on how to spring clean and declutter your belongings; this week we turn inward to look at how we can declutter our minds.  Do you ever feel exhausted just thinking about change?
It’s easy to procrastinate when we feel anxious about the amount of disruption and effort we’ll need to make lasting change. Decluttering our minds means letting go of these preconceived ideas and anxieties, which can then help us welcome in fresh thinking and opportunities.  These authors are here to guide you towards greater clarity, focus and calm:

 

Declutter Your Mind by S J Scott and Barrie Davenport

Do you feel overwhelmed easily? As if your mind is spinning from too many thoughts?  Do you find it hard to get motivated? Or feel there is too much negativity around you? If you answered YES to any of these then you may be experiencing mind clutter.  Mind clutter gives rise to anxiety, stress and frustrations – issues that can only be solved by changing mindsets and behaviours. S J Scott and Barrie Davenport show how to use mindfulness techniques to declutter our thoughts, obligations, relationships and surroundings.  Declutter Your Mind is concise and readable, packed with ideas and advice.

 

 

Unstuffed: Declutter your Home, Mind and Soul by Ruth Soukup

Unstuffed helps with spring-cleaning of both our physical and mental spaces. Following Ruth Soukup’s bestseller Living Well, Spending Less, Unstuffed continues to help us reduce those cravings for more of everything – possessions, relationships, responsibilities. She encourages us to think deeply, identify our most important values and prioritise accordingly, shedding unimportant stuff in the process. She also advises on how to deal with the guilt associated with letting go! For those interested in faith and spirituality, there is also a unique section on decluttering your spirit. Unstuffed comes with an app that offers further tips and support on this decluttering journey.

 

The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight

Sarah Knight penned this irreverent but heartfelt anti-self help guide when she realised her perfectionist “good girl” tendencies were the cause of her constant stress and anxiety. So she learned to give fewer f**ks – to feel OK about not being perfect, to say yes only to things she cared about. The result is letting go of everything except the things that actually matter.  With a decluttered mind and fresh focus, Sarah Knight then takes us to the next level in Get Your Sh!t Together, which shows how to “win at life” – start prioritising and doing the things you actually want to do, while still managing all the sh*t you have to do.

 

Let it Out: a Journey through Journaling by Katie Dalebout

Journaling can be as simple as jotting down a To-Do List, or as complex as expressing your innermost feelings.  In either case, it is a powerful way of relieving a load from your mind. Let it Out is both an inspirational story and a how-to guide to Journaling.  Katie Dalebout has been journaling since her teens, discovering that her writing can be a plan, a review, therapy as well as life coach.  She credits journaling in helping her to recover from an eating disorder.  After sharing her life story in the Introduction, Katie sets out a range of journaling topics / exercises to suit different moods and purposes.  Katie’s young age and experiences make this a great book to share with the teens / young adults in your life.

 

Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

When Bill Gates writes a detailed (glowing) review of a book then you know it deserves attention.  Carol Dweck is a psychology professor who popularised the idea of fixed mindset versus growth mindset. A fixed mindset assumes ability is innate and thus success is largely predetermined; while a growth mindset believes that ability is the result of effort and persistence, and thus can be attained by anyone.  A growth mindset makes us more resilient and helps us maximise our potential.  I’ve included Mindset here as inspiration of what can be achieved when our minds are unburdened by anxieties, bad habits and negative self-talk, which tend to contribute to a fixed mindset.

 

Smiling Mind

S J Scott advocated mindfulness in Declutter your Mind, but, if you’re like me, you might prefer to learn mindfulness while listening – this is where Smiling Mind comes in.  Smiling Mind is a non-profit organisation aimed at making mindfulness techniques accessible to all ages.    They have two excellent free apps (one for smart phones and a web-based app for computers) co-developed with psychologists and health professionals.   These apps offer something for everyone – there are guided practices of different lengths, separately aimed at kids, teens as well as adults.  My local school uses Smiling Mind in the classroom and I know many parents who use it in their children’s bedtime routines. The Smiling Mind website also offers tips on how to use mindfulness meditation at schools or in the workplace.

Unravelling the climate change debate

11 years ago, Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth burst into our consciousness, raising climate change awareness everywhere, promising to be the tipping point towards greater environmental protection.  Fast forward to today, and what seemed like a simple scientific observation has morphed into a bitter political dispute that stifles action.  As the issues surrounding climate change become more complex and emotive, how do we separate the facts from the manipulation?  These books can help you analyse, unravel and understand the complexities of climate change:

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power by Al Gore

An Inconvenient Sequel is a timely update, released 11 years after the influential An Inconvenient Truth.  In these intervening years, a string of extreme weather events – Hurricane Sandy, heat waves, melting polar ice – have caused huge damage, while action has stalled as climate change becomes mired in political controversy.  Hot off the press, An Inconvenient Sequel focusses on possible solutions, particularly around the use of clean energy, and also reflects on the consequences of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

 

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know by Joseph Romm

If you want a concise, readable introduction to the issues and consequences of climate change, then this book is for you.  Writing in a Q&A style, Joseph Romm, a physicist and former US Energy Department official, explores key points including basic theory, projected impacts, politics and policies, and possible solutions.  A particularly powerful section explores how climate change will impact everyday decisions for ordinary people, including where to retire, what to study, how to invest, and necessary changes to our diet.

 

 

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman

Eyes Wide Open aims to help teens critically assess the issues and arguments surrounding environmentalism.  Paul Fleischman draws on history, psychology, sociology and economics to explain the origins of key environmental issues including population, energy and climate.  He also tries to explain why different reactions to these issues exist.  A particularly useful feature is its guide on “How to Weigh Information”.  Eyes Wide Open is valuable for readers of any age who want to cut through emotive writing, and develop their own informed views.

Don’t Even Think About it: Why our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall

Most people accept that climate change is real, yet do nothing to stop it.  Don’t Even Think About It suggests that this has an evolutionary origin – human brains are hard-wired to prioritise immediate dangers over future dangers; and they tend to interpret new knowledge through existing frameworks, increasing the likelihood of confirmation bias.  George Marshall interviewed psychologists, evangelicals, activists and conservative politicians in this entertaining yet thought-provoking study on the psychology behind the climate change debate.

On a Farther Shore: the Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder

The effect of pesticides on wildlife may seem unrelated to climate change, but our current awareness of the environment is arguably influenced by Rachel Carson’s work. Her seminal book, Silent Spring, inspired the modern environmental movement, and influenced legislative changes and the founding of the EPA.  Rachel Carson was a skilled nature writer who combined lyrical prose with extensive research to make science understandable and compelling.  On a Farther Shore is an engrossing biography that places Rachel Carson’s life and work within the context of the politics and culture of the mid-20th Century.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

If you don’t normally read non-fiction, there is a growing list of novels to help you visualise the world post-climate change.  The latest novel from SciFi master Kim Stanley Robinson imagines life in New York in 2140 – a sort of “ Super Venice” partially-submerged due to climate change. New York 2140 creates a vivid world packed with details of economics, politics, and the minutiae of life; it is not grim, but offers a critique of capitalism’s role in climate change.

How technology is shaping our world today

Technology is an essential part of our lives today and few can imagine living without it. We achieved a lot with the help of technological advances, for example, we have the possibility to travel, keep in touch with friends on the other side of the world, and cure many illnesses.

The Internet hosts an enormous information base. Technology has made it possible for this information to reach far and wide. Online education has set in, making it possible to render knowledge to students inhabiting remote locations on Earth.

Technology is not only shaping our future but is also helping to make our lives more compatible with nature. We are able to develop clean energy, transport possibilities with less emissions and build low-energy houses to save resources.

Technology allows us more freedom and choices but at the same time we have to consider the social imbalance where the same technologies aren’t available to everyone.

Here are our Top 5 books that explore the role of technology in our world.

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly

In this fascinating, provocative new book, Kevin Kelly provides an optimistic road map for the future, showing how the coming changes in our lives from virtual reality in the home to an on-demand economy to artificial intelligence embedded in everything we manufacture can be understood as the result of a few long-term, accelerating forces. Kelly both describes these deep trends interacting, cognifying, flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning and demonstrates how they overlap and are codependent on one another. These larger forces will completely revolutionise the way we buy, work, learn, and communicate with each other. By understanding and embracing them, says Kelly, it will be easier for us to remain on top of the coming wave of changes and to arrange our day-to-day relationships with technology in ways that bring forth maximum benefits.

 

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

In this illustrated history, Steven Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing facets of modern life (refrigeration, clocks, and eyeglass lenses, to name a few) from their creation by hobbyists, amateurs, and entrepreneurs to their unintended historical consequences. Filled with surprising stories of accidental genius and brilliant mistakes this book investigates the secret history behind the everyday objects of contemporary life. In his trademark style, Johnson examines unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated fields: how the invention of air-conditioning enabled the largest migration of human beings in the history of the species—to cities such as Dubai or Phoenix, which would otherwise be virtually uninhabitable; how pendulum clocks helped trigger the industrial revolution; and how clean water made it possible to manufacture computer chips. How We Got to Now is the story of collaborative networks building the modern world, written in the provocative, informative, and engaging style that has earned Johnson fans around the globe.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

By the end of an average day in the early twenty first century, human beings searching the internet will amass eight trillion gigabytes of data. This staggering amount of information can tell us a great deal about who we are; the fears, desires, and behaviours that drive us, and the conscious and unconscious decisions we make. From the profound to the mundane, we can gain astonishing knowledge about the human psyche that less than twenty years ago, seemed unfathomable. Everybody Lies offers fascinating, surprising, and sometimes laugh-out-loud insights into everything from economics to ethics to sports to race to sex, gender and more, all drawn from the world of big data. This book offers revelations that can help us understand ourselves and our lives better. Drawing on studies and experiments on how we really live and think, he demonstrates in fascinating and often funny ways the extent to which all the world is indeed a lab. With conclusions ranging from strange but true to thought provoking to disturbing, he explores the power of this digital truth serum and its deeper potential–revealing biases deeply embedded within us, information we can use to change our culture, and the questions we’re afraid to ask that might be essential to our health–both emotional and physical. All of us are touched by big data everyday, and its influence is multiplying. Everybody Lies challenges us to think differently about how we see it and the world.

The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilisation in Earth’s Newest Age by David Biello

The Unnatural World chronicles a disparate band of unlikely heroes: an effervescent mad scientist who would fertilise the seas; a pigeon obsessive bent on bringing back the extinct; a low-level government functionary in China doing his best to clean up his city, and more. These scientists, billionaires, and ordinary people are all working toward saving the best home humanity is ever likely to have. What is the threat? It is us. In a time when a species dies out every ten minutes, when summers are getting hotter, winters colder, and oceans higher, some people still deny mankind’s effect on the Earth. But all of our impacts on the planet have ushered in what qualifies as a new geologic epoch, thanks to global warming, mass extinction, and such technologies as nuclear weapons or plastics.

Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito

The world is more complex and volatile today than at any other time in our history. The tools of our modern existence are getting faster, cheaper, and smaller at an exponential rate, just as billions of strangers around the world are suddenly just one click or tweet or post away from each other. When these two revolutions joined, an explosive force was unleashed that is transforming every aspect of society, from business to culture and from the public sphere to our most private moments.

Such periods of dramatic change have always produced winners and losers. The future will run on an entirely new operating system. It’s a major upgrade, but it comes with a steep learning curve. The logic of a faster future oversets the received wisdom of the past, and the people who succeed will be the ones who learn to think differently.

 

Enjoy!

 

Big Ideas for Little People (or, Quick Reads for Adults)

Abridged or simplified books have been around for a long time, often associated with literary classics, and aimed at English learners. More recently, the idea has expanded to include a wider range of bestselling titles. Often called Young Readers Editions, they aim to simplify the vocabulary without sacrificing the drama and interest of the original. Booko is a big fan of Young Readers Editions, not only because they help us share our favourite reads with children, but also because they offer quick but meaningful reading at times when we can’t commit to denser, longer books! Here’s a selection of our favourites:

Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly

In the 40s, 50s and 60s, a group of African-American women made significant contributions towards the American space effort. Their story was little-known until Hidden Figures – both the book and the film – achieved great commercial success. Despite the racial- and gender prejudices prevalent at the time, these women – including Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn – were valued for their mathematical and engineering talents, a culture leading to NASA’s pioneering efforts in desegregation. Young Readers will find Hidden Figures gripping and inspirational, as well as thought-provoking in its reflections on race, gender and equality.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls broke records as the most-funded original book in crowdfunding history, and has since become a bestseller in 30 languages. Challenging gender stereotypes, Good Night Stories profiles 100 women – scientists, athletes, politicians – who have contributed to public life. It further celebrates women by highlighting the work of the two authors and 60 illustrators, who produced this striking and colourful volume. Written in the style of fairytales, Good Night Stories is not just for bedtime or for girls – it is inspirational for all children. Adult readers can also enjoy it as a sampler offering ideas for further reading. Volume 2 is already in the pipeline.

Lion: A Long Way Home Young Readers Edition by Saroo Brierley

Recently I nominated Lion: A Long Way Home as one of Booko’s Favourite Biographies  and I can’t resist mentioning it again. Saroo Brierley’s story of how he rediscovers his birth family – based on dim recollections of landmarks half a world away – sounds fantastical until you remember it is true. Young readers are sure to be drawn to little Saroo, who was only five when he was lost on a train in India. In a strange place, with no money and no language, he had to avoid a lot of danger until he started a new life with adoptive parents in Australia. Saroo’s story of survival is full of drama and emotion, and is a celebration of hope, perseverance and the benefits of technology.

 

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future Young Readers Edition by Ashlee Vance

Inventor, entrepreneur, maverick: Elon Musk is synonymous with a string of successful tech companies, including Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX. He has a no-limits approach to problem solving – taking huge risks and starting from scratch where necessary, willing to tackle the biggest problems, with an attitude that seems to merge sci-fi and science. Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future draws connections between Musk and Iron Man – Robert Downey Jnr reputedly based his portrayal of the superhero on Musk – a comparison that is surprisingly apt for this flamboyant character. The life story of an intelligent, ambitious boy who rose above a difficult childhood (including brutal bullying) to enormous success is sure to inspire any science- and tech-minded young readers.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma Young Readers Edition by Michael Pollan

Young Readers Editions are not exclusively about inspirational biographies – many make topical issues accessible to all ages. Published soon after Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (which has its own Young Readers Edition ), The Omnivore’s Dilemma reveals the social and environmental consequences of food production. The Omnivore’s Dilemma helps us understand the interconnections between sustainability, ethics and public health, as we grow increasingly aware of the wider consequences of our food choices. Facts have been updated in this 10th Anniversary reissue, which also includes a new Preface and Afterword.

 

Awesome by Pete Johnson

Young readers who find reading a little challenging may enjoy “Hi-Lo” books. They are stories that have HI-interest (themes that appeal to older children or teens) but with LO-vocabularly – meaning that older, reluctant / struggling readers are not stuck with books aimed at young kids. Many Hi-Lo titles are by popular and well-known authors, and have additional accessible features including dyslexia-friendly fonts and layouts. Awesome is a comedy about Ben, who is mistaken for a TV star at his new school – you can imagine the mayhem this causes! Awesome is aimed at teen readers and has been edited to a reading age of 7.

Need a hobby? Books that help us learn something new

It’s midway through the year, and Team Booko is checking out new hobbies to try, as we prepare for more indoor-time during the winter months.  But hobbies are not limited to the winter – and as summer holidays beckon to our Northern Hemisphere friends, perhaps you are looking for new pastimes as well?  To spare you the hard work, we’ve rounded up six hobbies that are fun, creative and rewarding (and even delicious!)

The Home Distilling and Infusing Handbook (Second edition) by Matt Teacher

The popularity of boutique beers and spirits – think craft gin, infused vodka and spiced rum – really encourages us to embrace variety and experimentation, as we discover tastes that we truly love. In The Home Distilling and Infusing Handbook, Matt Teacher shows us how easy it is to create uniquely flavoured spirits even without special equipment.  Try one of the included recipes, such as horseradish vodka or cucumber gin, or learn how to combine fruit, herbs and spices to impart flavours to alcoholic bases such as gin, vodka, bourbon and tequila.  And for the more adventurous, Matt Teacher also shows how to blend whiskeys and bourbons.

The Smart Phone Photography Guide by Peter Cope

Smartphone cameras have transformed the way we record our lives – but do you know that, not only are they convenient, many also rival “proper” digital cameras in terms of quality and features? The Smart Phone Photography Guide aims to help users take, create, manipulate and share images and video taken with smartphones and tablets.  Packed with “Pro tips”, explanations and “Try this” exercises, Peter Cope will improve your photography skills in no time.  Make your memories even more beautiful by realising the full potential of your phone camera – whether they are small-but-precious moments, stunning holiday vistas or artistic compositions.

Sewing in a Straight Line by Brett Bara

Sewing in a Straight Line is the most morale-boosting and innovative sewing book ever!  Brett Bara has devised a whole range of projects – from accessories to homewares to chic skirts, tops and even dresses – that only require sewing in straight lines.  With the help of some stylish fabrics, anyone can achieve results that look way more impressive than the effort required.  I love this book because normally, clothes have complex construction and require at least intermediate skills to make; instead, Sewing in a Straight Line has shown us how even total beginners can quickly learn to make attractive pieces that they would be proud to wear or use.

Making Pottery You Can Use by Jacqui Atkin

There is something very satisfying about making objects you can use everyday – and Jacqui Atkin’s new book can help you do just that. Making Pottery You Can Use bring some super-useful advice to our rediscovered love of handmade ceramics.  Not only can we enjoy the tactile lushness of shaping wet clay, now we can also turn our creations into functional objects – pieces that stack well, with lids that fit and handles that stay on.  The combination of clear, beautiful photos and succinct but informative text makes Making Pottery You Can Use a valuable reference for beginners through to professional ceramicists.

Ferment for Good: Ancient Foods for the Modern Gut by Sharon Flynn

Our interest in fermented foods shows no signs of abating – not only do we enjoy the amazing flavours of foods such as kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut, we also appreciate how they can improve our gut health; while others are also keen to perpetuate this ancient skill.  Sharon Flynn is a former English teacher whose interest in fermentation grew from a hobby into a successful business.  In Ferment for Good, she shares her deep knowledge through recipes, anecdotes and tips.  With recipes ranging from kombucha to pickles to miso to relishes, Ferment for Good is a friendly and informative overview for anyone who wants to try fermenting their own foods.

Ikeahackers.net: 25 Biggest and Best Projects by Jules Yap

When Jules Yap started the ikeahackers blog in 2006, she simply wanted to create a place to showcase IKEA Hacks – the repurposing or modifications of IKEA products.  Little did she know that it would grow into a thriving community of DIY enthusiasts who enjoy personalising their IKEA pieces, sharing their skills and ideas in the process.  Now the essence of Ikea Hacking has been revealed in a book.  Ikeahackers.net: 25 Biggest and Best Projects offers step-by-step instructions on how to transform common IKEA items into stylish, functional and unique objects.    Fancy embellished drawers, or a coffee table made from magazine holders? The options are only limited by your creativity and skill.  Pre-order for a July release.

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – Booko’s favourite biographies

Who needs fiction when you have biographies? Biographies can make you laugh or cry; they can offer comfort or inspiration – and sometimes all of these at once!  Whether the subjects are famous or ordinary, these stories offer insight into remarkable lives and extraordinary experiences.  Here is a selection of biographies to suit every taste:

Unmasked by Turia Pitt and Bryce Corbett

Turia Pitt was running an ultramarathon in outback Australia when she was caught in a bushfire. This accident seemed set to destroy her successful life as a mining engineer and a model – Turia barely survived her injuries, which included extensive, disfiguring burns.  With fierce determination, great courage, and the support of loving parents and a partner, Turia is not only on the road to recovery, but is achieving ever more impressive feats as a motivational speaker and endurance athlete.  Unmasked describes this new chapter in Turia’s life – how love and determination has helped her recover and thrive, and how we can all apply similar lessons in our own lives.

Lion: a Long Way Home (Young Readers Edition) by Saroo Brierley

Saroo Brierley’s remarkable story has wowed both readers and cinema-goers – in fact, Lion became one of the Highest Grossing Australian Films of All Time only a month after its release . Now children can experience the story all by themselves with this Young Readers’ edition.  Little Saroo was lost on a train in India when he was only five years old.  Far from home, with no money and no language, he had to avoid a lot of danger just to survive.  Eventually he found safety and a new life with adoptive parents in Australia.  While he loves his new parents, he never forgot his earlier life.  His search for his birth family is a fantastic, almost fairy-tale like story about hope, perseverance and technology.

More About Boy: Roald Dahl’s Tales from Childhood by Roald Dahl

Many readers love biographies because they are inspiring – stories like Unmasked and Lion describe triumphs over incredible challenges.  However, biographies can also be entertaining and fun.  More About Boy is an expanded edition of Boy, Roald Dahl’s celebrated autobiography of his childhood.   The drama and naughty humour in the original stories – including Quentin Blake’s illustrations – are still there, and have been enriched with archival material including photos, letters, and previously unpublished stories.  The result is not only very readable, but it also gives better insight into Roald Dahl as a writer.  For Roald Dahl fans of all ages!

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

Born on a Blue Day is special because it is a first-hand account of autism.  Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant – while his ability in abstract thinking and social interactions are impaired, he has genius-level abilities in mathematics and languages.  Daniel’s combination of autistic behaviours and language expertise is particularly rare – it makes Born on a Blue Day an incredibly articulate, often lyrical, and very informative description of what it’s like to live with autism. Born on a Blue Day charts Daniel’s life from a withdrawn, often frustrating childhood to eventual success in adulthood, gaining financial independence with his own business, sustaining a long-term romantic relationship and achieving fame as a real-life “Rain Man”.

In Order to Live: a North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park

North Korea is regularly in the media spotlight but little is known about this closed and secretive country.  For most of us, the only information we can get is through biographies.  Yeonmi Park joins a group of North Korean defectors who have used their life stories to publicise the plight of North Koreans.  As a child, Yeonmi lived a relatively wealthy life until her father was arrested for smuggling.  This fall from grace made the Park family’s lives increasingly dangerous and, once Yeonmi’s father was released from prison, the family attempted to escape to China.  Yeonmi and her mother endured rape and human trafficking in their long and perilous journey, having to trek across China into Mongolia, before missionaries could take them to safety in South Korea.

Dear Quentin: Letters of a Governor General by Quentin Bryce

Dear Quentin is not a biography per se but it does offer fascinating glimpses into the life of Dame Quentin Bryce and into the role of Australian Governor-General.  During her tenure (2008-2014), Quentin Bryce travelled extensively, both across Australia and internationally.  She also wrote prolifically – upwards of 50 letters a week, to people of eminence as well as ordinary citizens.  Dear Quentin is a collection of those letters, both written to and by her. The correspondence shows a warm, intelligent, articulate person meeting her demanding job with humour and dedication. Dear Quentin also celebrates the art of letter-writing, and the delight we feel when we receive one (even if we are too lazy to write them ourselves!) Royalties to this book will go towards research into child health.

Books that challenge the status quo – addressing your confirmation bias

Confirmation bias: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories

Confirmation bias has been around for a long time and is a topic that is currently prevalent in social media with increasing importance for everyone to become aware of and address. If affects us in many facets of our lives, from the books we buy to how we search online. It’s pretty simple to summarise but somewhat harder to change – we want to be right about how we see the world, so we seek out information which confirms our beliefs and avoid contradictory evidence and opinions.

We’ve rounded up a few of our favourite titles that challenge how we think. Brace yourself, you’ll be somewhat pensive at the end of this reading marathon!

Mistakes were made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they make mistakes? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell? Renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right – a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong. A fascinating explanation of self-deception – how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it.

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking

When and how did the universe begin? Why are we here? What is the nature of reality? Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Or does science offer another explanation? In The Grand Design, the most recent scientific thinking about the mysteries of the universe is presented, in language marked by both brilliance and simplicity. The Grand Design explains the latest thoughts about model-dependent realism (the idea that there is no one version of reality), and about the multiverse concept of reality in which there are many universes. There are new ideas about the top-down theory of cosmology (the idea that there is no one history of the universe, but that every possible history exists). A succinct, startling and lavishly illustrated guide to discoveries that are altering our understanding and threatening some of our most cherished belief systems, The Grand Design is a book that will inform – and provoke – like no other.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation. Each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions. Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking, offering practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble.

This Will Make You Smarter by John Brockton

John Brockman has brought together the most influential thinkers of our age to offer their choice of the ideas, strategies and arguments that will help all of us understand our world, and its future. Every year he sets them a question, in 2013 that question was: What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit? Their answers are collected in this book and explore philosophy, psychology, economics, and other disciplines – and all share one aim: to provide the most reliable ways of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be human behaviour, corporate behaviour, the fate of the planet, or the future of the universe.

 

 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in history, this modern epic became an instant bestseller upon publication in 1974, transforming a generation and continuing to inspire millions. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. Resonant with the confusions of existence, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a touching and transcendent book of life.

 

 

 

 

Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

Malcolm Gadwell is one of my favourite authors. I have read and reread two of his other books The Tipping Point and Blink and have recommended them to many others. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers” – the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Enjoy!

On writers and publishing

Most of us booklovers have probably dreamt of writing our own masterpieces someday.  That dream may be more achievable than you think – the internet has given us more opportunities to get our work noticed, both in terms of helping us connect with potential mentors, buddies and audiences, and also in terms of self-publishing (physical books, eBooks and online).  Here’s some inspiration, information and motivation to finally get started on “that book you have in you”.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Did you know that this acclaimed novel of a woman’s battling early-onset Alzheimer’s disease was originally self-published?  After receiving no interest from traditional publishers and literary agents, Lisa Genova chose to self-publish, then set about engaging with potential readers through social media.  Her persistence was rewarded with internet buzz and solid sales, and eventually led to an offer from a major publisher.  E.L. James’ 50 Shades trilogy is another famous and successful example of a book that was self-published before gaining attention from traditional publishers.

How to Make a Living with Your Writing by Joanna Penn

This is the manual for Living the Dream – how to support yourself as a full-time writer.  Joanna Penn is an author, speaker, marketer and publisher who has developed a growing business – and a six-figure income – out of her creative output.  In How to Make a Living with Your Writing, she uses her own experience to show how to make money from books, and also how to capitalise on your creativity in other ways, such as by blogging, public speaking, coaching and content marketing.  Also checkout her website, The Creative Penn  for a wealth of (free) tips and resources for aspiring writers.

The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig has built a successful writing career by embracing new formats and media – his works include a blog, eBooks, computer games, scripts, comics as well as novels.  He also writes great writing advice – his tone is sharp and in-your-face and aims to challenge and provoke.  The Kick-Ass Writer starts from the beginning – how to get started, how to build characters and dialogue and develop suspense – and onto how to deal with publishers and agents, and how to promote, connect and market yourself.  It also discusses crowd funding, self-publishing writer’s block and how to handle rejection.  A great resource for helping you become the Kick-Ass Writer you want to be.

Publishing: a Writer’s Memoir by Gail Godwin 

For an insider’s take on writers and their relationships with the publishing industry, you cannot go past Gail Godwin’s memoir.  Gail Godwin has been a writer for five decades, with over 20 published works.  Publishing: a Writer’s Memoir reflects on Gail as a writer: her hunger to be published, her craft, and what it means to be a modern author (there is a great anecdote about branding and self-promotion).  It also reflects on the changing nature of the publishing industry, from a more “gentlemanly”, literary enterprise to big business. Gail Godwin offers fascinating insights to anyone curious about the book industry.

 

From blogger / vlogger to author

Developing great blogs and vlogs (eg YouTube channels) are an increasingly common pathway to a book deal.  Blogs/vlogs are powerful tools that can help you hone your writing skills, develop/promote your brand and connect with potential readers.  Many popular authors – particularly in the humour / food & wellness / lifestyle / parenting categories – first became known through their blogs. Two of my favourite bloggers/vloggers-turned-authors include:

Advanced Style: Older and Wiser by Ari Seth Cohen

Advanced Style started as a blog celebrating stylish, older New Yorkers, and has turned into a worldwide movement.  The colourful portraits in Advanced Style urge us to be bold, take risks and dress how we like, whether we are 15 or 85.  I saw the eponymous documentary a few years’ ago, and not only was there great style on-screen, many of the audience were bold and stylish too.  Advanced Style is joyous and gloriously inspirational.

The Dumpling Sisters Cookbook by Amy and Julie Zhang

Amy and Julie Zhang are popular YouTubers whose Dumpling Sisters videos showcase modern takes on homestyle Chinese dishes. 

The sisters – born in China, raised in New Zealand and now living in the UK – love their food because it’s a reminder of their Chinese background and their childhood, and also because it’s a great way to connect with their friends.  Dishes such as oyster sauce beef and broccoli, and prawn and spinach wontons, are great whether for some quiet me-time or for fun and casual entertaining.