Showing posts with label medical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label medical. Show all posts

Saturday, February 2, 2019

A Story About Cancer With a Happy Ending by India Desjardins, Marianne Ferrer


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a wonderfully well-illustrated (by Ferrer) and written (by Desjardins) short story about a fifteen-year-old girl who is diagnosed with leukemia. I was unable to discover if this is a true story or not, but in a more meta sense, it must be, because there are remarkable recovery stories, and this was one of them.

The story begins with the girl heading into the hospital with her parents to learn the verdict on her latest round of tests, and she is preparing herself to be told when she will die. As she walks the uninviting hallways of the building, she recalls episodes from her life that have taken place since she was first diagnosed.

She remembers her best friend, and her boyfriend, and her parents behavior and reactions. And of course, there's a happy ending! I thought it was beautifully done and gorgeously illustrated, and I commend it as a great story (even if not strictly true). It's honest and positive, and perhaps would make a sweet gift to a young someone who is going through a similar experience.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Through, Not Around by various authors


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Potential erratum:
"the abdomen twinges, back acne" - not sure if that really should be acne, or back ache. Maybe it’s acne, but I just thought I’d mention it! If it had been worded 'acne on your back' it would have been more clear!
“hormoneinduced” is two words, but Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process once again screwed up this book every chance it got, introducing random new line insertions, running lines together when they should have been separate, and so on, Once again I recommend avoiding Amazon at all costs. Publish your book somewhere where they have w system that doe into mangle text, or output it as a PDF file.

Subtitled "Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss" this book, edited by Allison McDonald Ace, Caroline Starr, and Ariel Ng Bourbonnais, was a depressing but very informative read. It's probably the hardest book I've ever had to read and I had to read it. No one can know what it feels like to go through what these women (and their partners) have gone through unless you yourself have experienced it, but reading this certainly clues in the clueless to what a devastating and life-consuming 'affliction' this can be, especially if, as is the case in some of these stories, the excruciating efforts do not lead to any sort of success.

I requested this because I did want to understand even if the reading was painful, and at some points felt rather repetitive and even tedious to read because a lot of the stories here tell, in many ways, the same story - the lack of ability to reproduce and the heroic efforts made to overcome it. It’s hard to imagine how that can feel when we so often see a purposefully scary headline telling trumpeting what the teen pregnancy rate is; conversely, we never read of how someone never got pregnant. It’s like another world in some ways, and the pain and feelings of failure and inadequacy which pervade so many stories is hard to read, but I think necessary. That's not the only problem either. When a pregnancy does not go to term, it leaves a woman still pregnant in many regards as biochemistry continues to play havoc with a body that is no longer host to a new life.

As mentioned, there were many similarities between these stories: the inescapable sensation of loss, the feeling of never knowing what it's like to carry a child inside your womb, or worse, to carry one only to lose it prematurely, the cold indifference of far too many medical so-called professionals who see a woman on these straits as merely another client on a long line of faceless patients they pass through their charge. They too often deal with impatience, rather than a person who is hurting, upset, feeling depressed or feeling like she is failing her biological imperative, despite a quiet desperation to succeed.

But there is also a lot of variety, because not every person is the same, not every case of infertility has the same roots, and the stories were not just about infertility, but about devastating and multiple miscarriages, and fruitless if strenuous effort. I cannot imagine how that must feel but I know from reading this that it's not something anyone should ever have to feel. One of the hardest things tor had was how many of these prospective parents resorted to bullshit non-medicine - naturopaths, acupuncture, burning moxi sticks (I never knew what that was until I read this!).

Even going the competent medical route costs a fortune when it comes to fertility treatments. One infertility procedure mentioned in this book had cost upwards of $12,000. This is on top of all the mental anguish that couples seeking to have a child which nature would deny them must suffer. The asshats who purvey snake oil to people who are vulnerable need to be run out of town on a rail. I get the medical science doesn't know everything, and cannot guarantee results, but it has a far more solid track record than woo medicine, which has none at all. Quacks who offer alternative "medicine" are no more or less than child predators, period.

There was one scene in the Marvel superhero movie "Age of Ultron" featuring the character known as Black Widow which was quite controversial at the time. During a regrouping of the heroes after a setback, there was a moment between Black Widow in her Natasha Romanov guise, and Hulk in his Bruce Banner guise. Clearly Nat wants something more from their slowly developing relationship, but Bruce is so focused on the monster he becomes that he insists it cannot work. Nat then advises him: "In the Red Room, where I was trained, where I was raised, they have a graduation ceremony. They sterilize you. It’s efficient; one less thing to worry about; the one thing that might matter more than a mission. Makes everything easier, even killing. You still think you’re the only monster on the team?"

Clearly she's talking about pregnancy interfering with her mission objective, but as a woman with biological urges, she feels that loss in the same way someone who learns they are infertile or close to it, must feel it. The writer-director was chided severely by some people for writing this: for reducing, they claimed, Natasha to a reproductive unit and diminishing her in every other regard, but those people, who call themselves feminists, conveniently forget that it is a biological imperative for the majority of women, regardless of what profession they have. It is felt by some people not at all, by others overwhelmingly, and by all those in between to a greater or lesser extent particularly around the time she's ovulating. It is a part of who women are, and to deny that is clueless, even for a fictional bad-ass like Black Widow. Who are these people to dictate to another woman how she should feel?

Is she not allowed to experience natural compulsions, and to mourn the loss of them? I think it's her choice, just as it’s the choice of all these women who wrote here, to choose their own destiny - to have kids or not, to want kids or not, to have them with a permanent partner or not, to fight for their choice, and to choose to write about it if they want? It’s no one else's business, and it makes a woman no less a person, no less a career woman, no less an adventurer, no less a soldier, no less a firefighter, no less a school teacher, no less a librarian, no less a homemaker or whatever she has chosen to pursue - and no less a fictional assassin! - to have these feelings and to honestly acknowledge and address them. Black Widow did it in private to someone she trusted and loved, a circumstance which busybodies who loudly broadcast their judgment on her (and the writer director who had her say these things) tend to forget.

There were some errors of fact in this, but that's understandable. For example, at one point I read, “gluten-free oatmeal,” but oatmeal is naturally gluten free! Of course it can become contaminated by association if it’s produced in processing facility that also handles gluten-containing cereals, but personally I've never had an issue eating oatmeal. People more sensitive than I might do so, though. Perhaps that's what the author meant.

One thing that bothered me was that pretty much all of the prospective parents here seemed to have a lot of financial resources to keep pursuing their aim. It would have been nice to have read some stories about people who were not professionals - who were less well-off. it felt like an opportunity had been missed - and gave the book a slightly elitist aura. There is no doubt that the emotional stress is common across all income groups, but it has to be of some comfort to know your options are not limited by your bank balance.

Overall, though, I commend this as a very worthy read, and something which will no doubt be of high value to others who are enduring these are circumstances. I'm glad these writers chose not to keep their pain private, but to share it with me and every other reader, because I'm a better person for knowing these things - for having a better understanding of this whole situation - than ever I had before. I commend this book for telling the story in the words of the very people it most directly affected, and for putting together a collection that opens eyes and hearts.


Friday, January 11, 2019

An American Plague by Jim Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

The attribution of this audiobook is rather misleading in more than one way. Jim Murphy was really the editor, not the writer. I had initially thought that this would be a dramatization, but it was the dry reading (very dry and pedantic delivery by reader Pat Bottino) of a bunch of diary and journal entries, medical reports and newspaper articles (such as they were back then) about the epidemic of Yellow Fever that laid Philadelphia low in 1793. These were strung together with some narrative from the author.

The book was listed in the local library among the children's books, but I cannot imagine for a minute that very many children, especially not younger children, would find this remotely entertaining, or even educational because they wouldn't sit through it, or they would tune it out.

For me it gave me two different ideas which I can use in future novels, and it was interesting. It's a very graphic story which pulls no punches in describing bodily emissions under duress from this nasty disease caused by a virus carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Today we can vaccinate against this, and treat it for those who become infected, but with climate change already rampaging across the globe, this is one of many thoroughly noxious diseases that will doubtlessly spread.

Back in 1793, when Pennsylvania had an appreciable amount of skeeter-breeding swamp, and when the disease process wasn't remotely understood, this thing got out of control and eventually killed one in ten of the original population of the city. That's nowhere near the death toll exacted by the 'Great Plague' of medieval Europe, nor is it even a match for the same plague which struck the USA in 2015 killing one in four victims, although the death toll there was considerably smaller despite the higher rate.

Why Murphy chose to title this 'An American Plague', as though it affects no one else is a mystery smacking of self-importance and pretension. Not everything is about the USA! This book isn't even about the USA as such, it's about one city; although Philly was the seat of government, and relations between it and other cities are mentioned towards the end, including some shameful as well as generous conduct.

In 1793, Washington was president and the government was located in Philly, but heroic George wasted little time vacating the city. He fled so hastily that he left behind essential papers which would have enabled him to do his job. He wasn't so heroic either, when a foreign envoy arrived soliciting his help in siding with France, which had been instrumental in aiding the fledgling USA against Britain. He cold-shouldered the very people who had facilitated the very existence of the USA! He tried to blame this on not having his paperwork with him.

The contribution of African-Americans at least gets its fair due here, which is nice to see. Black nurses were of critical value in a disease-ridden city where everyone was panicking, those who could afford to were leaving in droves. Very few dared come near to others in this highly-religious society for fear of 'contracting' this disease. Germ theory wasn't even a remote twinkle in anyone's eye, and the so-called doctors of the period were obsessed with blood-letting and poisonous purges which did nothing to save lives despite dishonest claims to the contrary. More than likely such dire stratagems actually hastened many a shuffle off this mortal coil. (How is earth a coil? Anyone know? LOL!).

Given that they had some immunity to malaria, it was considered that slaves and free people of color would also be immune to Yellow Fever, but they were not. They died at the same rate as whites, but nonetheless they willingly acted as nurses. So popular were they that people tried to outbid each other for their assistance, and then these same assistants were maliciously accused of callous price-gouging by jackass racists.

It was interesting to read of the problems that people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams encountered in trying to attend to their duties. Government was moved (illegally as it happened!) to Germantown ten miles away and Jefferson could not get a decent room. The other two were forced to sleep on benches in a common area. Of course this was before any of them had become president, although they were each men of high importance even then. Another interesting aside was that Dolley would never have become first lady had not the Yellow Fever taken away her first husband, freeing her to marry James Madison later. The plague made a difference to a lot of things and in ways you might not consider at first blush.

As I said, I have grave doubts about both the suitability and utility of this for children, but I consider it a worthy read.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Women at Ground Zero by Susan Hagen, Mary Carouba


Rating: WORTHY!

Published the year after 9/11, but written when the events were still fresh and raw, this book was really hard to read, especially the 'In Remembrance' section at the back. The authors' intention was to contribute profits from the book to families of 9//1 victims.

The book covers twenty-eight female first responders (EMTs, police, fire) very nearly all of whom went into Manhattan on September 11th 2001; all of them survived. The three in the IM section did not: Yamel Merino, a 24-year-old old single mom and EMT, Captain Kathy Mazza, Commanding Officer of the Port Authority Police Academy, and police officer Moira Smith.

I wasn't impressed by the one story about a CNN news producer Rose Arce at all. I didn't think her story belonged in with these other women: every one of the other stories resonated; every one, no matter what the story was. The stories were of Carol Paukner, Maureen McArdle-Schulman, Mercedes Rivera, JoAnn Spreen, Regina Wilson, Doreen Ascatigno, Sue Keane, Janice Olszewski, Terri Tobin, Marianne Monahan, Bonnie Giebfried, Tracy Donahoo, Tracy Lewis, Amy Monroe, Kim Royster, Patty Lucci, Lois Mungay, Maureen Brown, Molly Schotzberger, Ella Mcnair, Kathleen Gonczi, Nancy Ramos-Williams, Brenda Berkman, Christine Mazzola, Carey Policastro, Kally Eastman, Jennifer Abramowitz, Richelle Jones, and Sarah Hallett

Most of these people were there shortly after the first plane hit or after the second plane hit. Some were later arrivals; others came in later still and had the unpleasant task of searching for body parts and personal effects. One of them was a captain who was on vacation, and had a hell of a time trying to get back to NYC to join her crew, most of whom had been sent in in the first waves and died there.

For me the two most fascinating stories were that of Bonnie Giebfried who was an EMT who told a story of constantly being moved further and further away from ground zero as the buildings collapsed, and one thing after another happened. She and her EMT partner would set up their triage and treatment operation wherever they could, with whatever equipment they could scrounge after having to abandon their stuff twice, and process people through. Their entire day went like that until Bonnie herself started having asthma attacks - which she hadn't had in years, but which were brought on because of the massive blast of appallingly contaminated air that swamped them not once, but twice as each tower fell. She ended up having to get treatment herself, and be evac'd across the river, but her simple matter-of-fact telling of her story engrossed me completely.

The other one that really left an impression was that of Terri Tobin. She was about to put on shoes that would work better for her in these conditions when the first tower came down. She was wanting to get into her car, but was luckily blown over a concrete barrier by the blast of air, and ended up covered in rubble. It was lucky because when she finally got a chance to look at her car, it was crushed and burning.

She worked her head clear of the rubble only to see her helmet cracked open and lying a few feet away. Those helmets are tough, so she felt her head and discovered a piece of concrete embedded in her skull. She had hold of somebody's arm and tried to pull him from the rubble, but the arm was all there was - no one was attached to it. She was starting to get organized again, her head now wrapped by EMTs who did not want to remove the concrete, when the second tower came down, She ran barefoot to the river, and was hit in the back by a piece of glass which stuck there. Still she was functioning, but was eventually ordered to go to the hospital by a senior officer. As if that wasn't already more than enough, she had been back at work only a week when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed a mere block or so from her home in Belle Harbor (or Rockaway as she describes it), a month after 9/11, and she had to respond to that.

There were so many other similar stories of these women being only a block or two away when the towers came down, and running in the choking black filth to try and escape, and having lucky escapes, being in the right place to seek shelter at a crucial time. Carol Paukner, the first story, was blown over twice by explosions. There are stories of people who should not even have been on duty that day but were picking up overtime or had switched shifts. Maureen McArdle-Schulman's was one of these.

Twenty-three year old Mercedes Rivera was one of the first on site and was ordered into the WTC by her commanding officer. Fortunately they'd moved their triage area to 7WTC before 2WTC came down, but they were swamped by smoke from its collapse. JoAnn Spreen was standing under the tower where the second plane hit. As they were moving away from the building, she was hit on the head by debris and evac'd out.

For some it was sheer luck where they were when bad things went down. Regina Wilson was working overtime and supposed to be on the truck, but one of her fellow firefighters told her to stay on the engine since she'd worked that the day before, so he took the truck and went in in the first wave - and never came out. Sue Keane was in 2WTC when one came down and had moved over to 5WTC when 2 came down.

Throughout these stories in which the authors made themselves commendably invisible, was an overriding concern for others in the team, the battalion, the precinct. More than one story made mention of a priest who was giving last rites to a firefighter who had been killed when hit by a falling body, and the priest himself was hit by debris and killed. There are cross-mentions in one story of someone whose story I'd read or would read before the book was done. There were endless mentions of white dust covering everything thickly, of the need for water to wash eyes out, of debris falling, of bodies falling, and of body parts that people encountered while moving around the disaster zone. The twin towers alone covered an area of about four football fields.

There were repeated stories of people being caught in the impenetrable black smoke and dust that seemed to go on forever before clearing, and that burned eyes, and choked throats, and seared lungs. For these people, 9/1l hasn't ended. There are bad memories, nightmares, and medical problems caused by inhaling that putrid cloud that came out each time a building collapsed. There are flashbacks and PTSD, and the undying memories of those who died - people who were family, friends, colleagues.

This is horrible reading, but it - or something like it - ought to be required reading. I commend this book unreservedly.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Twisting Fate by Pamela Munster


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Not to be confused with Twisted Fate by Pamela Kennedy (there is a score of "Twisted Fate" novels!), this is the true story of a doctor and professor of Medical Oncology who works at the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, a part of the University of California San Francisco, who becomes a patient and thereby gets to see her work from the other side. It's a perspective not granted to many people and definitely one no-one would choose when it comes to the medical profession, but as a doctor and a scientist, this author makes the most of it, exploring her feelings as well as her diagnosis, and constantly relating it back to her interactions with her own patients both prior to her diagnosis and afterwards as well as to the prevalence of breast cancer nationwide in the USA.

The events are written well-enough that we get to feel what the doctor/patient feels, but nowhere is it flowery or so sugary that it's actually sickening. Quite the contrary. It's very sober and a little depressing at times, but it makes for an engrossing and useful read. The relation of her reactions and feelings came across as realistic and authentic, just as if they were our own, and they made me live the experience as much as it's possible for someone of the opposite gender (why opposite? Shouldn't it be complementary gender?!) and someone who has no such diagnosis can live it.

I've actually worked in a hospital oncology ward - not as a caregiver but as support personnel, mind - yet I needed none of that knowledge to follow and understand this because the text was informative and did not talk down to the reader, while still simply explaining problems and concepts as they arose.

There were, I have to say, multiple grammar issues in the text - more than I usually see in an advance review copy. Hopefully these will be corrected before the actual published copy is released. I list them here to that end:

  • "So at worst the tumor would small" - I assume this should read 'would BE small'
  • "Kate told me that she had noted that her skin dimpling about a couple of months back" - I assume this should read, 'skin WAS dimpling' or 'noted her skin dimpling' (omit 'that').
  • "...no woman needs the dreadfully surgery..." - dreadful, not dreadfully
  • "...the goal to reduce the body's estrogen in the body." Too many bodies! Either 'to reduce estrogen in the body' or 'to reduce the body's estrogen'
  • "So why are so many mastectomies are still being done" - Too many 'are's!
  • "What appeared important early on may not remained important as the time goes by" - 'may not HAVE remained important'?
  • “And all of us a sudden I found myself weeping” There's an us that shouldn't be in there.
  • “...specific sections on chromosomes 17...” There’s only one chromosome 17 per genome!

One thing I couldn’t help but find curious in this book was how little involvement the author's husband appears to have in this. It’s not my business and not my place to judge; a marriage either works or it doesn't work according to its own rules, and everyone's is different, but after having read a book recently where the author brought her husband into it to what felt like an inappropriate degree, this book contrasted sharply with that one in that it felt like this author all but excluded her husband in a situation where emotional support from family is a critical component of patient care. It may well just have been an accident of the way this was written, and since this was an ARC, things may change before the final published version, but I think it's worth some thought regarding adopting this approach.

This seemed especially relevant given that her husband is also an oncologist and thereby had a much deeper insight into what was going on than your typical spouse might. More of his involvement would have been welcome in my opinion, but there's this one brief mention when they were on a hiking holiday right before she was due to have a double radical mastectomy, and she asked him how he felt about her losing both breasts and he didn't even address the question. Instead began talking about something entirely unrelated.

That to me, seemed decidedly odd, if not outright callous. The author explained it away by saying that's how he always as - it wasn't a big deal to him so he wasn't interested in talking about it, but it presented him in a very cold light, especially when contrasted with how frequently she mentions how emotionally supportive her staff and colleagues were. It stood out quite starkly.

The author talks about her colleagues, staff, and patients quite freely, too. I am assuming - and hoping! - that she's changed the patient names at least. I also hope she asked her colleagues if they wanted to be mentioned. I'm a very private person so had I been a colleague I would have resented being talked about so freely in someone else's book, but each to her or his own.

Normally I ignore things like introductions, prefaces, prologues, author's notes, acknowledgements and dedications as well as chapter quotes and so on in books, but in this case I actually went looking for an intro or a note to see if there was anything mentioned about this: permissions and name changes, but there was not, so there was no information to be had on this topic.

I was once again disappointed here (as I have been in other books from academically inclined authors) to discover that the book is evidently formatted as a print book, with what I call 'academic margins' - meaning the margin is excessive - an inch or more (and even greater at the bottom of the page). I have to ask when are writers and publishers going to respect the only entity on the planet that is actively and dedicatedly trying to combat climate change: trees?

The text on each page occupies only fifty percent of the page. No one wants to see the entire page covered in text of course, but if this book had margins even half the existing size, and the text had not been quite so generously-spaced, the book could well have been maybe half as long, and thereby slaughtered fifty percent fewer trees. Writers and publishers need to think seriously about this, because it matters even in an ebook, which requires more energy to store, retrieve and transmit when it’s longer.

One more curiosity! When I went to look up the author at her professional page on the University web site, I found two links and each seemed to link to a different people! I think it’s really the same person but the two photos look so different: one is a blond, the other much darker haired. Her professional history though is impressive. This is one hard-working doctor!

Despite some issues I had with it, I liked this book a lot. I think it's important and useful, and I recommend it for anyone interested in what those inflicted with cancer go through and what the options are for combatting this awful disease which, despite its virulence, is slowly succumbing to technology and medical science - and to the wisdom and dedication of healthcare professionals like this one. This is a worthy read.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Doing Harm by Maya Dusenberry


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a great book about gender problems within modern medical practice. There is a systemic bias against women not only in how many women get into medicine and just as importantly, get onto professional medical boards, but also in how women are perceived and treated as patients and even how medical studies exclude women. The contents list is quite short, but the book is quite fat and very dense. I liked the fact that it was not written in an academic style which means wide, tree-killing margins and acres of wasted paper. Just the opposite here! What it does mean is lots of detail to wade through, and I confess I skipped some sections once I'd got a good sense of the general topic.

Topics in part one cover things like a knowledge gap and a trust gap, both of them serious. The author tackles issues from lab rats (mostly male!) to human tests (mostly male) to how a female patient is perceived by the majority of doctors versus how that same doctor views a male patient. There are anecdotal stories, yes, and those are tragic, telling of women who took forever to be taken seriously when they showed up reporting pain, but these individual stories are backed by study after study which shows that sexism in the practice of medicine is rife at all levels, harking sadly back to an era when women's medical complaints were far more likely to be brushed off as 'hysteria' than they were to be taken seriously, diagnosed, and treated.

Part two investigates heart diseases and auto-immune diseases, relating how people have taken literally years to get a decent diagnosis after being dismissed repeatedly by multiple male doctors many of whom would rather overlook a woman's reported symptoms of pain, labeling them as attention-seeking or drug-seeking. Ninety percent of lupus cases are in female, yet it takes longer to diagnose a woman with lupus than it does a man because of the lack of regard doctors have for female medical complaints. Black women not only received an even shorter end of the stick, they were beaten with it being dismissed as drug-seekers, despite the fact that the largest abuse of prescription drugs is by whites! Racism. Genderism. It's the same old story.

Part three is amusingly subtitled "The Disorders Formerly Known as Hysteria" but it's no joke how the possession of a womb, the most important thing to the continuation of the human race, gets its owner dismissed and labeled as not a serious patient. It was depressing to read story after story of people failing to get vital treatment not because they didn't have a medical issue but because doctors wouldn't believe they had one. it's sickening and it needs to stop. Hopefully this book will at least start a serious movement away from status quo.This is an important book, to be taken seriously and to be seen as a call to alarms when over half the population is being discriminated against in very real and dangerous ways. I fully recommend this as a worthy, if sad, read.


Formerly Known as Food by Kristin Lawless


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Erratum:
"...so information flow constantly back and forth between the gut and the brain....” should read "flows"?

Subtitled "How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture," this book is a tour-de-force of information on how our diet had changed over the last few generations to a point where it bears little relation to what our grandparents and great-grandparents ate. This may not seem like a problem: active change is pretty much the definition of life, when you think about it, but just like the ocean surface reveals very little about what’s going on underneath, so our dietary changes and the way food is grown, processed and packaged are having a significant, and in many cases dangerous, impact on our bodies and minds.

There's no table of contents in the front of this book. It's in the back! Whether there will be changed in the published print copy I can’t say. it was clickable back and forth - something which i see little value in. Imagine my amazement then to discover that the references - it was a very referenced effort - did not work at all!! So when it came to checking the copious references the author includes in her text, the lack of clickability (or tappability these days - if these were not words, they are now!) was a nuisance because it made it really hard to find the actual reference. In this book there are no footnotes and no chapter-end notes. There is a long set of references at the end of the book, but you can’t click to them or click back from them.

This isn't a problem with the writing quality or the book topic, but it bothers me how primitive this is in an era of common and very pervasive ebooks. These days it ought to be possible to reference something in your book and be able to tap that reference to have it pop up right there on the page without having to swipe to the back of the book to find it and hope you're looking at the right one! In a semi-scholarly work like this one, it ought to be possible to tap the reference and have it open your browser and go to the study or paper the book is referring to so you can see it right there and then. Evidently we're still a long way from that.

I know Amazon's crappy Kindle app is probably the worst in the business as compared with other formats such as PDF or the Nook, for example, for facilitating a good reader experience. Kindle is another way of saying 'mangle' in my experience, and we all know what 'kindling' is good for, but publishers are powerful entities. Some would argue they're too powerful, but that's not quite so true in this era of self-publishing as it used to be. That said, why are they not using that power to pressure the makers of reading apps to make books like this much more user-friendly? Pet peeve! Moving on!

I recommend this book because it carries an important message and not only that, it also marshals an impressive array of evidence. There are caveats to that though, which I shall delve into shortly, but that aside, this is, overall, a good effort. The author is not a scientist. She's a Certified Nutrition Educator, but she makes smart arguments and puts together a good basic case.

My problems with this book ran to referenced supportive material. References are often only tangentially supportive of the assertions made by the author, and they are not 'clickable' - once in a while there is one that is highlighted in blue and if you can tap it with your finger, will take you to a reference, but this applies only to rare end of chapter notes, not to book notes. It was often difficult to tap those references and get there, especially if it was at the top of a screen, because instead of going to the link, Kindle would drop down the little margin at the top of their screen which contains the time and settings icons! I actually tapped one link only by pure accident after I was ready to give up an trying to tap it! Annoying!

The lack of tappable links for the references though, made it a nightmare trying to verify the author's statements connected with the link because I had to jump to the back of the book and wade through the large number of references jammed together there, to try and find the one I needed. I think instead of starting numbering the references over for each chapter, they should have been continually numbered so a reader can be sure they have the correct one: was I in chapter two or chapter three? Which reference '1' out of several back there do I need to look at? I did not try to look at every reference, just a few. While noting that this was an advance review copy and therefore subject to change before publishing, what follows is what I found with regard to some of them.

At one point I read, "...the current generation of children is expected to have a shorter life span than their parents." yet when I followed the link and looked at the reference, the paper was by S. Jay Olshansky, et al, and the title was “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States Note the word 'potential'! There is a big difference between an expectation of, and a potential for something happening! Things like this harm a book's message because they make the author look more sensationalist than sensational.

At another point I read "GMOs were not introduced to the American food supply until the 1990s, so we don’t know a lot about their long-term safety or healthfulness. Even organic corn is likely contaminated with GMOs." I have yet to see what the harm is in GMOs. My position is that some are probably a bad idea, others are fine. I, like the author evidently, do have reservations about the activities of a very powerful company like Monsanto, yet while keeping that caveat in mind, the fact is that nature mixes genes between plants all the time, and the human race goes on! I don't think the jury is in yet on the benefits or otherwise of GMO's in general, so I have to ask why the negative connotation added by the author and carried in that one word: contaminated? Like this is necessarily an evil thing? So again, the wording was overly dramatic.

After talking about how food monitoring agencies are funded by agribusiness, the author extolls a report by Monell Chemical Senses Center which is funded from a variety of sources including, according to Wikipedia, “unrestricted corporate sponsorships”! Pot meet kettle!

I read, “My grandmother...was always skeptical of the benefits of organic foods. She thought it a marketing ploy to get people to spend more money,” but in my understanding,there is no real regulation or inspection of organic foods, so I've never been a big fan. But let;s not get overly dramatic about them. I read, “The review stated that pesticide residues were found in only 7 percent of organics but 38 percent of conventional foods,” and while that's far from ideal, it's certainly not the massive contamination that's been suggested! Two third of non-oganic food is also fine! And some organic food is actually 'contaminated'!

The author mentions “Horizon Organic milk, with its bright red label and happy cow on the container, gives the impression of a bucolic standard” After buying a carton of Horizon milk that, when opened, smelled of fish one time, and complaining to Horizon only to be brushed off, I have never bought another thing with their name on it. I won't touch Horizon products, so I was onboard with the comments made about how big and blended they were! I am not a fan of mega-corporations.

The author says, “Some of that common sense wisdom that farmers speak of is being replicated in the lab with findings that the fruits and vegetables we eat today are far less nutrient dense than those our grandparents ate,” and she cites “a study” but gives no reference! This made me suspicious, as did a claim in an article that was quoted uncritically which said, “...the recipe for mother's milk is one that female bodies have been developing for 300 million years,” but the earliest known mammal is barely over 200 million years old! I'm not sure where the author of the article gets this ancient date from!

There's a section of this book which bemoans the increase of C-section births, antibiotics, and lack of breastfeeding, but https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350908/ published online in October 2014 makes no mention of the disappearance of Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis from our gut. In fact, I couldn't find anything online which did talk about the disappearance of this group of bacteria even as I found mention after mention of its benefits.

The paper referenced by me above says, "The colonization of the fetal gut begins in utero with swallowing of amniotic fluid" so it's not entirely dependent on vaginal delivery. I do agree though that antibiotics and C-Section pose threats of one sort or another, but the author fails to mention that while C-sections have risen alarmingly, so that they now comprise about a third of births in the western world, it's still only a third, and only in the last two to three decades. Allergies and other issues began rising long before that. It's the rather alarmist parts of this book which bothered me, even as I considered it a worthy read for the important information it does convey. A more measured tone would have been wiser.

Breastfeeding is also not a rarity. In Australia for example, almost all mothers start out breastfeeding. It's the lack of continuation of it that's a potential problem, because by the age of one year less than a third are still doing it. I guess they feel they need to wean children asap because breastfeeding is time-consuming and they're poorly educated with regard to the importance of continuing it. Prevalence of breastfeeding was the lowest in the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, but even in these countries, the prevalence was 70%, 69.5%, and 62.6% according to this study in 2012.

So it's misleading for this author to imply that Caesarian section has risen to such dramatic heights or that breastfeeding has plummeted so precipitously that it's affecting children's health and contributing massively to opportunistic disease, allergies, and conditions. I do allow that she has a point about antibiotics, but while we can suggest natural birth as much as possible, as an antidote to C-Sections, and a lengthy breastfeeding as an alternative to formula, what is the use of antibiotics going to be replaced with? Crossed fingers and a hope that infection doesn't set in?

We could ask that antibiotics only be used as needed and not routinely, but that's a medical decision and I think most doctors know this, but there's the ever-present danger, particularly in litigation-happy USA, of a lawsuit if something is omitted and there are consequences. What we can do is have children fed a dose of the good bacteria after they're born, and after any series of antibiotics has ended, in order to keep their gut in good shape, but the author never raised this option as far as I recall.

Instead, I read, “Because traveling down the birth canal is the critical means for acquiring your microbiota, those who miss out on this process face lifelong health consequences,“ yet the reference in this case was useless with regard to supporting the author's thesis and was really hard to get to to boot!

part of the problem with this book that I had was what was not covered. It seems to be largely US-based, like the USA is the only country int hew world worth considering. it;s nit. What I kept wondering, but was kept in the dark about, was how other countries fare. Yes, there was an occasional reference here and there that strayed outside the borders, but always it was back to the USASAP. I felt there was a lot that could have been learned by taking a more global view. For example, obesity is rare in Japan, so what is it they're doing that we're not? This book was silent on such things.

I read quite a bit about the Hadza bush people in Africa. The idea is that since they lead an existence far more akin to what all humans did before farming became prevalent in our culture, maybe we can learn things from them and their microbiota. A putative dissenting voice was addressed so: “The argument usually goes something like, 'Well, we live far longer than those populations so we must be doing something right'.” The response was along the lines of "But that argument falls flat with just a little bit of scrutiny. In hunter-gatherer societies most mortality occurs within the first five years of life because their sanitation isn’t on par with ours, thereby increasing the risk for infections. In addition, they don’t have access to antibiotics for true life-threatening infections, or access to vaccinations, so it is understandable that infant mortality rates are high.“

Isn't this a refutation of precisely the argument the author is making with regard to natural birth and eating whole, unadulterated food, which these people do exclusively? Never once did this author ask why infant mortality was so high. And yes, the Hadza do have a comparable life-span to the rest of us if they survive the first five years, after that, but this is one society. Why look only at one that supports your thesis and ignore others which do not - such as, for example, ancient Egyptians, who had a relatively stress-free life and very pure foods compared with ours, and yet who lived only into their thirties for the most part? It would have been nice to have seen the author play devil's advocate instead of harping only on her own theme.

The author references a 2016 paper regarding an experiment by Erica D. Sonnenburg et al with two sets of mice, each of which was artificially infested with the same specific set of gut microorganisms. One set of mice was fed a diet rich in fiber whereas the other was poor in fiber. The results over four generations showed that gut bacteria diversity was adversely impacted by the low fiber diet. I don't have a problem accepting this at all, but the author's report made no mention of the mice's health! Was thatadversely impacted or were both groups equally healthy? In which case, what did this study show that was relevant to her thesis?

I couldn't read the study itself, because it's hidden behind Nature journal's paywall. It may well be that health was impacted (or would be), but to present a study like this which does not directly support the author's thesis is confusing a best, and misleading in that it implies such a thing when it actually makes no such claim. Another example of this was when I read that “It’s important to remember that you first must have microbes that are capable of feeding on the short-chain fatty acids. The findings of German and his colleagues and the Sonnenburgs and their colleagues remind us that many strains of these beneficial bacteria have probably disappeared from the guts of those of us living in Western world.“ Probably? The reference for this was hard to find in the end notes, but seems to refer to insulin growth factor which isn't relevant here! i read a similar thing when I read, “The discovery that many of the chemicals we are consuming every day are EDCs, and are probably changing our bodies” Again, note key word 'probably'! That may well be true, but it’s not a strong argument!

Interestingly, while searching for the article to which the author referred, I came across one which explicitly says that "Human populations with a diet enriched in complex carbohydrates, such as the Hadza hunter gatherers from Tanzania, have increased diversity of the gut microbiota (Schnorr et al., 2014). In contrast, long-term intake of high-fat and high-sucrose diet can lead to the extinction of several taxa of the gut microbiota." This one would seem to fly in the face of earlier suggestions in this book that we should reduce carbohydrates and increase fats! It only goes to show that this is a very complex topic, and the welter of information flying around can be confusing to the lay person (which includes me!). The author sort of touches on this aspect of the problem without going into much of an exploration of it and how it can be counteracted. Even such a simple thing as defining terms can help.

I read of one man who had lived with the Hadza and followed their way of life for a while and he discovered: "The results showed clear differences between my starting sample and after three days of my forager diet. The good news was my gut microbial diversity increased a stunning 20%, including some totally novel African microbes, such as those of the phylum Synergistetes." note that this isn't a study and the plural of anecdote, as scientists ay, is not data But though it is just an anecdote of one man's experience, it does suggest, as a counter to some of the author's assertions, that all is not lost and a change in diet can increase diversity.

Note that this article: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/08/hunter-gatherers-seasonal-gut-microbe-diversity-loss.html
suggests that there are few Hadza and fewer still who pursue traditional lifestyle. Additionally, their diet is extremely restricted: "The Hadza number just over 1,000 people, fewer than 200 of whom adhere to the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which includes a diet composed mainly of five items: meat, berries, baobab (a fruit), tubers and honey." This isn't clear from what the author writes so again this book was misleading as to sample size, and dietary variation.

The article also says, "A 2016 study, published in Nature and led by Sonnenburg and senior research scientist Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, showed that while depriving mice of dietary fiber greatly reduced their gut-microbial species diversity, this diversity was restored when the dietary-fiber restriction was lifted. But if this fiber deprivation was maintained for four generations, microbial species that had initially bounced back robustly became permanently lost." This isn't exactly clear from the book, which talks only of diversity being lost over several generations, and doesn't emphasize that while we cannot replace what has truly been completely lost - not through ordinary means - we can repair what we have by a change in our diet.

It would have been nice in this book to have had less a tsunami of facts and references and more of a coherent story as to what the problem is, what the real connection is to diet and micro biota, and what we can do, realistically and practically to fix it. The author does get into that towards the end of the book and that made for impressive reading. It just takes a while to get there! I think that's one of the weaknesses of the book in that it makes for very dense reading and I cannot see this taking off popularly, which is really what a book like this needs to do, and if it doesn't, that will be a shame.

Another issue was the conflation of correlation with causation! I read, “As I mentioned, this also points to why colon and rectal cancers are now on the rise in people in their twenties and thirties in the Western world...” but just because two things happen at the same time doesn't mean they're connected. I encountered this error several times; perhaps the author has arguments and data to support such assertions, but these were either not made or not well made.

What really shone in this book for me was chapter nine where the author launches a polemic as breathtaking as it is depressing about the devaluation and even oppression of women over the last hundred years by confining them to the house and effectively enslaving them - because that's what unpaid labor is and that's what far too many women have been reduced to doing for far too many years as "housewives' stuck between the kitchen and a vacuum cleaner. This chapter is excellent, well-written, forceful, and really quite beautiful to read. It certainly won back a lot of my good grace (as well as "Goodness Gracious!") after some of the issues I'd had earlier.

So, overall, and with the caveat that this book takes some reading, I recommend it as a worthy read because it makes some really good arguments and is an important contribution to our understanding of an increasing lack of wellness in society and of possible counter-measures we - as individuals - can undertake - and the hell with government and agribusiness who, let's face it, aren't going to do a damned thing to help as long as they can keep on minting money on the backs of the sick people they;re promoting. And you can read that last clause however you like!


Saturday, May 12, 2018

To Siri With Love by Judith Newman


Rating: WARTY!

I was unaware of how controversial a book this had been in the autistic spectrum community when I saw it in a bookstore and learned that it was also at my local library. I am glad I didn't buy it not because of what the spectrum community is railing against, but because the book is bait and switch and I do not appreciate book blurbs which outright lie to draw-in potential readers. I know that's a blurb's job, but usually a blurb bears some vague relationship to the book it represents. This one didn't.

The blurb begins with the following two paragraphs:

It began when Judith Newman's thirteen-year-old autistic son noticed that there was someone who not only would find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, escalators, and anything related to the weather) but also would actually semi-discuss them with him tirelessly. Her name was Siri and she lived in his mother's iPhone.
Newman's story of her son and his bond with Siri is an unusual tribute to technology. While many worry that our electronic gadgets are dumbing us down, she reveals how they can give voice to others, including children with autism...

This is an outright lie. I came at this hoping to learn more about a fascinating technology, particularly if it's one that can really help people who most need that help. The problem is that there is one chapter and one chapter only on the relationship with Siri. This chapter begins on page 131 of a book which, not counting the introduction (I never read introductions), runs to 216 pages, and it ends ten pages later. That's it. I quit reading the book when I realized that the next chapter was on a different topic and those scant ten pages appeared to be the entirety of the Siri/"electronic gadgets" discussion.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to try to sell (in the broad sense) a book that not only features this topic prominently but also titles the book after that topic, I actually expect to find that topic throughout the book, fool that I am. You lie about it like this book did, you get a 'warty' rating on my blog. The problem for me was that as I went through chapter after chapter with nary a word about the Siri and Gus 'relationship' I began to tire of the endless rambling and I began to skip and skim, dipping into a section here and there that was of interest, until when I actually did reach the section that discussed what the whole book was supposed to be about, it was far too little, and far too late.

While I cannot for the life of me understand why any parent would want to name a child 'Gus', I can understand why a mom would want to ramble on and on about her child. I think some of the harshest criticism was as rambling as this book though, with the authors of it continuing to shoot arrow after angry arrow into a threadbare target. They simply didn't get the author's sense of humor, but that's not to say their criticism was unfounded.

I think reasonable people can agree to disagree on those details so I'm not going to get into that here except to comment briefly that I think that some readers, in particular those who think the author doesn't think Gus has emotions or thinks Gus doesn't think, have flown off the handle at a throw-away comment the author made without realizing it was a 'first impression' kind of a comment that she later actually did throw-away as she and Gus matured together in their relationship and in her education.

Those critics seem to be forgetting that the author began telling this story chronologically when she was completely in the dark about Gus's status for some time after he was born, and got no help in understanding what was going on from anyone, least of all from the very community, some members of which are so virulently criticizing her now! And yes, criticizing her, not the book!

That said, I have to allow that if the very person the book's author praises highly in this book mounts a campaign against the book, then clearly something is fundamentally wrong somewhere, but the way to fix that is to reach out, not to punch out. I think what disturbed me most of all is that autism is a spectrum and not a narrow rut, yet all of the negative reviews were talking as though there is only one kind of autistic person who has only one kind of perception and feeling, which is nonsense, so I think some of the negative perspectives were a little blinkered to say the least.

Regardless of what other failings it may or may not have, this book failed for me because it quite simply did not remotely deliver on what it promised, period, and so I cannot recommend it. There are books which the autism spectrum community recommends. I recommend reading one of those instead.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Running is my Therapy by Scott Douglas


Rating: WARTY!

This from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This author runs to help relieve symptoms of depression, and this book is intended to support and disseminate that idea. I think that's a good idea in principle, and I wanted to like and recommend this book, but the more I read of it, the less I liked it. It came across as being way too pushy and preachy, and even strident in its premise that running and only running (as opposed to other forms of aerobic exercise) can bring salvation. I know the author is very enthusiastic in his convictions, but this felt too much like evangelism, propaganda, and elitism for my taste.

The author does quote some studies to support his thesis, but when I looked up some studies myself, they didn't specify running! They specified aerobic exercise. For example, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110 says quite clearly, "We don't know exactly which exercise is best. Almost all of the research has looked at walking, including the latest study." It adds a quote from a Dr McGinnis who says, "It's likely that other forms of aerobic exercise that get your heart pumping might yield similar benefits." In addition to quoting a study which talks only of aerobic exercise and then immediately translating 'aerobic' into 'running', the author tends most often to quote people he knows, but anecdotes are not studies, and most of the people he knows seem to be professionals - lawyers, accountants. and so on. I saw no quotes from people in less ethereal professional jobs, such as teachers, and none from your everyday people who work in anonymous office cubes and on factory floors, who may not enjoy the freedom other people have to be running. This smacked strongly of elitism to me.

The author does say that aerobic exercise works differently for different people so your results may not be as advertised. In my amateur opinion, no one should consider it to be an alternative to medical treatment without discussing it with qualified medical personnel. Maybe it can replace your meds, maybe it can reduce your dependence on them, or maybe it will not help at all; only a qualified medical practitioner can advise you on that score and on the advisability of running for any individual in view of whatever their health status may be, but as long as you're physically capable, no harm will come from talking a little exercise of one sort or another, and it can bring much good.

While I think this book has some great ideas and suggestions, the feeling I got was that this author was so enamored of running that he rather forgot that there are other ways to get exercise and 'generate those endorphins'. It seemed to me that he was taking a rather narrow view of exercise. Running does get your blood flowing, but it is also quite high impact exercise and can carry with it potential for injury and for damage to joints and bones, so any program of exercise should be undertaken with care, and unless you're reasonably physically fit to begin with, it's always wise to consult your doctor before embarking on anything that's unusually strenuous as compared with your normal habits.

At one point the author discusses evolution and how humans evolved to chase down prey, but this is a truly dim view of our history. Humans did not run five or ten miles every day. They doubtlessly walked a heck of a lot more than most of us ever do nowadays, and they ran if they had to, but they never went jogging except as a means to get from A to B. They spent their time trapping and foraging. There's was no way they could run down a four-legged animal. They could stampede an animal into a trap, or kill it by employing subterfuge, but to equate them to modern runners and claim this is what we evolved to do is patently nonsensical. We gave up our claim to being any kind of running paragons when we stood up on two feet.

On top of this, there may be issues with running - your neighborhood may not be a safe one for running in, and it's also known that running can be hard on legs, feet, and joints, yet by the time I pretty much quit this book - over half way through - I had read not one single negative assessment of running or even caution from this author. Everything was positive and hunky-dory. Anything from ankle sprain, to Achilles tendinitis, illiotibial band problems, ligament tears, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis are all on the menu for runners, but not a single one of those terms appears anywhere in this book. We hear a lot about runner's high, but not a word about runner's knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome). I have to wonder just how rose-tinted those eyeglasses are that this author evidently wears. Note that if you run with correct form and good (read expensive!) shoes, you can stave-off the worst injuries, but any runner might be subject to any one of these problems at any time.

On the topic of endorphins, there needs to be clarification. Endorphins are generated by the body as a result of physical stress and injury (in other words, as we were just discussing, running damages your body!), and while exercise does increase endorphin levels in the blood, they don't tend to pass through the blood-brain barrier, which means they don't affect your brain much. They do affect your body and this in turn can lead to a good feeling about yourself because you're essentially running your own internal morphone factory - duhh! Also, note that endorphins affect different physiologies in different ways and you may well have to run for an hour before you generate significant endorphins, so a short run isn't necessarily going to work for you. Note though that there are other chemicals that are active in the brain, and this is what might help mental faculties and relieve symptoms of depression.

These chemicals are actually a result of the body experiencing stress or pain, which might explain why walking doesn't work as well in generating the chemicals, but any aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up ought to do the same trick - such as riding a bike - either stationary or outdoors - or dancing, or weight-lifting (kettle bells, for example), or playing a sport, or having sex - or even eating chocolate, although that's hardly an exercise! The advantage of running is that it doesn't need special equipment as long as you have suitable clothes and a decent pair of running shoes, but you can lift weights using anything around the house that's easy to pick up, (but also heavy enough!), or swing kettle bells or a safe, home-made equivalent, such as those larger paint cans with handles (pad the handles first!). You can cycle without a bike by holding your legs up and moving them in a cycling motion, and mixing that with flutter kicks, so running isn't the only option, and other options do less damage!

In terms of negative effects of running, which you really won't read about here, https://www.active.com/health/articles/why-too-much-running-is-bad-for-your-health">Active.com reports:

In another observational study, researchers tracked over 52,000 people for 30 years. Overall, runners had a 19 percent lower death risk than non-runners. However, the health benefits of exercise seemed to diminish among people who ran more than 20 miles a week, more than six days a week, or faster than eight miles an hour. The sweet spot appears to be five to 19 miles per week at a pace of six to seven miles per hour, spread throughout three or four sessions per week. Runners who followed these guidelines reaped the greatest health benefits: their risk of death dropped by 25 percent, according to results published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
so, as in all things, moderation! Forget about enduring the pain and being tougher - run smartly if you run, but not too smartly! Think about that! The tortoise beats the hare even though it doesn't look as pretty.

Mental acuity can improve even from simple exercise. An article in Britain's The Guardian from June 18th, 2016 reported that "German researchers showed that walking or cycling during, but not before, learning helped new foreign language vocabulary to stick" and "Just 10 minutes of playful coordination skills, like bouncing two balls at the same time, improved the attention of a large group of German teenagers." It also reported:

The runner's high - that feeling of elation that follows intense exercise - is real. Even mice get it. It may not be due to an "endorphin rush", though. Levels of the body's homemade opiate do rise in the bloodstream, but it's not clear how much endorphin actually gets into the brain. Instead, recent evidence points to a pleasurable and pain-killing firing of the endocannabinoid system: the psychoactive receptor of cannabis."
The author does mention this endocannabinoid system, and it's really quite interesting, but as always it was from the biased angle of running that he addresses things, not from 'walking or cycling'.

That same article also reported that:

Yoga teaches the deliberate command of movement and breathing, with the aim of turning on the body’s “relaxation response”. Science increasingly backs this claim. For example, a 2010 study put participants through eight weeks of daily yoga and meditation practice. In parallel with self-reported stress-reduction, brain scans showed shrinkage of part of their amygdala, a deep-brain structure strongly implicated in processing stress, fear and anxiety.
so quite clearly it's not just running which can have beneficial effects, and yoga is about as far from aerobic as you can get!

While running works - and if its your thing, then go for it, it's not the only thing that works well and I felt it misleading of this author to push running almost as though there's no real alternative. This was one of my biggest problems with this book. According to https://www.livestrong.com/article/490163-negative-effects-of-running-on-the-body/:

As many as 40 to 50 percent of runners experience an injury on an annual basis, reports a 2010 paper from researchers at the Moses Cone Family Medicine Center in North Carolina in "Current Sports Medicine Reports."
That's worth thinking about if you choose to run as opposed to undertaking some other aerobic exercise.

When I quit this book (apart from skimming a few of the later pages), it was at a point where the author has a section titled Runners Really Are Tougher. His thesis here is that runners are better at managing and holding up to pain and I have to ask, why is that important? Depression carries its own kind of pain, but it's not of the physical variety this author is discussing, such as would be experienced from an injury say, so I have to ask how is proving how tough you are relevant either to the author's aim in writing this book or to anyone in general?

Yeah, if you're planning on signing up for the Navy Seals, then by all means revel in your toughness, but there's no need to "man-up" and withstand pain when we have abundant medical remedies for combatting it. Nor is there any call to subject yourself to self-induced pain from running (or any other source) if another alternative works, or if running less gets you your healthy high without running your body into the ground - which is going to leave you low. For me, this section was the last straw and it struck me as one more absurdist foray in a book that bothered me by the very fact that it was so determinedly blinkered in its approach.

I have to say a word about wasted space in this book. Once again we have a book where whitespace rules, and if only the publisher had been wise enough to use smaller margins and fewer blank pages, the book would have been significantly shorter and thereby saved the lives of a few trees if it went to a long print run. Even if you avoid the dead tree version and go for the ebook - a longer book uses more energy to travel the Internet, so you don't get to win that way. I think it's time that traditional publishing ideologies gave way to reality. Trees right now are the only things doing anything to combat greenhouse gasses, and to slaughter them so wantonly is irresponsible.

There was an odd story at the end of this book which nevertheless shows how debilitating depression can be. The author talks about reusing plastic bags for groceries, and for whatever reason, he washes them, and one time he simply stopped because he saw no point in it. I have to wonder why he uses plastic at all when sturdy reusable canvas shopping bags will work just the same and not employ oil byproducts in their manufacture. That's what I use.

But the point is that the anecdote is exemplary in showing how irrational and unpredictable depression can be, so if a regime of regular aerobic exercise works for you, then go for it! If that involves running, then this book may or may not be of help, but from my perspective, and while I wish the author all the best, I cannot in good faith recommend this.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Let's Play Yoga by Márcia de Luca, Lúcia Barros, Bruna Assis Brasil, Ana Ban


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note that there is a website for this book if you want to take a look at that before deciding whether this is for you! It's at http://www.letsplayyoga.com.

This book is translated from Brazilian by Ana Ban, and it's a fun and colorful book with some playful illustrations and a diverse cast of kids shown doing yoga poses. It begins with a lot of well written and fun advice on what yoga is all about and how it should be approached. Anything which encourages kids to be mindful, thoughtful, considerate of themselves and others, and to stay limber in a safe way, is to be recommended in my opinion!

The book is easy and gentle, and it has a lot to say about how yoga arose and what it's all about without going into too much detail on any one topic; then it goes on to show some simple yoga poses which any kid can work at. Not that it's treated as work! The authors talk of it as play, which is a great approach, because this should appeal to any kid. The book is very portable, too. it worked as well on my phone as it did on my tablet, although I have to say that some of the pages were a little hard to read not because of small text (the pages enlarge), but because of a bright green page background with off-white text! But that was only for a couple of pages.

On a personal note, I tried a yoga class one time, a while ago, and I was so disappointed in it that I never tried anything else along those lines! Unlike this book, the instructor didn't offer anything about the history and practice, and he gave no preparation, no advice, and no stretching. His sole purpose seemed less aimed at teaching us than it was at showing off what he himself could do. He offered no suggestions as to a daily regime or organized system for people to follow, and the entire class felt like a waste of my time.

I could have used a book like this when I was a kid, as well as in place of that class! It was nice to read a thoughtful and useful introduction to it. I was pleased to discover that something like this was available, aimed at kids, and which takes a holistic approach to the entire practice, discussing it in some detail but not too much, and advising kids to enter into it gamely, confidently, but cautiously, so no-one accidentally injures themselves by trying things too quickly, too strenuously or too enthusiastically!

Kids are not urged to try to get everything right from day one, but to enter into it in a spirit of can-do, and to keep practicing until the stretches and poses become second nature. It covers mindfulness, breathing (which an be employed in stressful situations away from the yoga mat!), and the poses or sanas. It's perfect for kids who may have problems exercising, because they're not required to do everything at once or to do it perfectly, or to run marathons! All they're asked is to give it a try, and to simply do as well as they can.

It's a nice philosophy to go with some nice relaxing exercises that will juice your joints, limber your limbs, spark your spine, and generally make you feel like you're doing a little something to make life better. There's nothing back-breaking or too hard here, so any child ought to be able to join in. To that end I would have liked to have seen the admirably diverse group of kids pictured here also include someone who was overweight or perhaps handicapped in some way to show that this can be done by everyone to the limits of their individual abilities and restrictions. All you need is a yoga mat - or something that will work as one - comfortable clothes, bare feet, and a willingness to give it a try! I think this is a great book, and I highly recommend it.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Angry Chef's Guide to Spotting Bullsh*t in the World of Food by Anthony Warner


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
“...repelling into your body...” I believe the author meant 'rappelling'.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

What better way to start out All Fool's Day than to review a book about idiotic diet fads? In a world where women in particular and especially in the west, are made to feel ugly and worthless if they do not conform to the fashion magazine, television, and Hollywood 'standard' of beauty (i.e. thin as a rake and endowed with hourglass curves and unnaturally flawless skin), you can't blame people for wanting to trim themselves a little, but there are far too many immoral rip-off artists willing to step up and offer snake-oil and quakery to women who have, their entire lives, been primed and weakened to buy into anything which will get them into conformity with the idiotic heights that society seeks to impose upon them.

While it does no-one harm to exercise appropriately and eat wisely, the diet business is a sixty billion dollar industry in the USA alone and yet people are fatter now than they've ever been. That should tell you how fraudulent the whole thing is. However heavy or light your body is, it has a natural weight that it likes to stay close to and it will fight you with some very effective hormones if you try to force it out of that zone. That's not to say it can't be done, but the road to that end is paved with misery, failure, and a constant struggle.

You know things are bad if even Walmart voluntarily steps-up and decides to remove one if its beauty and fashion magazines from the check-out aisle because it's been deemed too obsessed with women being sexualized. If you take a look at those magazines, they rarely have a cover which doesn't mention diet, looks, and/or sex. These magazines are known for air-brushing flaws out of women's skin and Photoshopping them to make them look even thinner than they may already be. Children are bombarded with these images every time they pass through the checkout. On the one side are the magazines essentially telling women how ugly and fat they are, and on the other side of the same aisle are the calorie-laden candy bars and potato chips. That ought to tell you something about how schizophrenic we are in this world of body image which we created for ourselves.

When I requested this from Net Galley I had never heard of the Angry Chef, but the idea of it amused me. I was really pleased to learn that not only does the Author have BSc degree in biochemistry from Manchester University, he's also very much a scientist in his approach to analyzing fad diets, and he gives no quarter in tackling them one after another in this volume, pointing out in no uncertain terms how idiotic and baseless they are.

In Part One 'Gateway Pseuodscience', he covers an important topic: the difference between causation and correlation. Just because something occurs at the same time as something else doesn't automatically mean one was caused by the other. He attacks so-called 'detox' diets and alkaline diets, and he covers the topics of regression to the mean, and 'the remembering self'.

In Part Two we learn about 'when science goes wrong' and meet Science Columbo, coconut oil, the paleo diet, antioxidants, and...sugar! (Its not as bad as you think!). Part Three brings 'the influence of pseudoscience', featuring a history of quacks, the power of ancient wisdom, processed foods, clean eating, and eating disorders. Part Four takes us into 'the dark heart of pseudoscience' and educates us on relative risk, the GAPS diet, and cancer. Not ethat some of his titles and opening paragraphs are laden with sarcasm, so beware that you may think you're having your bias confirmed as you seem to be led in one direction, only to discover that your destination is elsewhere.

If I had three complaints, the first would be that the print version is a tree-slaughtering device if it goes to a long print run, because it has unnecessarily wide margins and generous text-spacing, No-one wants to see a page that's literally black with text, but a wiser publisher - one which actually cared about trees and climate change, could have narrowed the margins and shorted the book considerably by doing so.

My second complaint - be warned - is that the language is a little on the blue side and unnecessarily so in my opinion. There are four-letter words distributed throughout the text, not commonly, but often enough. I thought that was entirely unnecessary. I have no problem with such words in say, a novel, but in a non-fiction book of this nature, I think that language can be dispensed with and thereby reach a wider audience in doing so. It amused me that the cover was so prim and proper that it included an asterisk in the title - like that really disguises what the word is? Seriously? I know an author has no control over the cover when they turn over their book to a regular publisher (which to me is a travesty), but they do have a lot of say over what's inside that cover.

The third issue was that the book was a little long-winded for my taste (336 pages, of which - if you exclude the prologue and the epilogue which I always do), runs to some 286 pages of main text. The extra pages include end notes and two appendices, but the rest of the book was a bit rambling at times. Overall though, I enjoyed it. I loved the exposure of fads and quackery (Gwyneth Paltrow comes in for a well-deserved hammering) as well as a host of less well-known figures in the world of food faddism. The book contains a solid introduction to the scientific approach in which far too many of us are lacking, especially in the USA, land of fundamentalism, conspiracy and fad. The principles learned here can be applied outside the narrow field of diet and food, and I recommend this one as a worthy read.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Terminally Illin' by Kaylin Andres, Jon Mojeski


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a beautifully drawn and colored, and very amusingly-written bittersweet story about Kaylin Marie Andres who was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in 2008 at only 23. Instead of succumbing to paralysis and mute acceptance, she chose to fight it tooth and nail with determination and humor, and not only went on with her fashion career, but also created a graphic novel to illustrate her fight with an amusing graphic story.

The book begins with her going for her first treatment and ends with the promise of a visit to a fantasy-land cancer fun park. There never was a sequel because Kaylin had to endure four major surgeries and attendant radiation treatments to four different areas of her body. And she died a year ago last November at the age of 31.

This book is probably one of the best memorials she could have because it was an awesome read and I highly recommend it. The last entry in her blog was five days before she died - on the day before she was due to fly back home for the last time. Hopefully this graphic novel will serve as a lasting inspiration to others.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chance by Kem Nunn


Rating: WARTY!

This is form an audiobook I got form my library after having watched season one of the TV show which is based on this book and actually follows it pretty closely.

Overall, I though that this was a worthy read, but I have to qualify that by adding that this author is so in love with his own turn of phrase and with repetitive philosophizing that he spoils the story in some places. The worst example of this was during what ought to have been a gripping climax, when the final showdown comes between the corrupt detective and the, let's face it, equally corrupt doctor. In stead of letting the pace pick up and making it exciting, this author slowed it down and went off into endless rambling diversions which caused me to skip pretty much the whole of that section instead of enjoying it as I was hoping to. Kem Nunn does not know how to write a thriller.

I did not like Eldon Chance, the so-called "neuropsychologist" either. That actually is a profession, but to me, the name sounds like it was made up by a writer who didn't know medicine too well! Chance was just as corrupt as the detective who was the villain in this story. As a doctor, Chance sees people to evaluate them for legal purposes: court cases, last will and testament contestations, and so on. When he meets Jaclyn Blackstone, he falls for her - which is to say that he just wants to jump her bones; he doesn't really fall for her in any other way, or at least if he does, it's not apparent from the writing.

The problem is that he's the doctor here, which makes him a quasi-authority figure, so though she is technically is not his patient as it's generally understood, he is in a professional relationship with her and it would be flat-oout wrong to get involved. Worse than this, she is a sick woman. She has multiple personality disorder and it's entirely unethical to take advantage of that and of her vulnerability. That said, it's hardly the "steamy affair" the book blurb extolls. Worse than this in a different way, by becoming involved with her, Chance has undermined any reliability his professional diagnosis might have had should people find out about his behavior. This could actually harm Jaclyn Blackstone.

She's not only vulnerable as a patient; she;'s also the victim of an abusive and somewhat codependent relationship. She's married to, but separated from a detective in the San Francisco PD. As Jaclyn Blackstone, she is afraid and seeking to avoid her husband, but as Jackie Black, she willingly has rough sex with him. When the detective discovers that Chance is hoping for a chance with her, he makes veiled threats.

Here is where I really took a dislike to Chance. Instead of thinking of his family and backing-off, he continues to actively pursue Jaclyn, leaving his young daughter open to retaliation by the detective. At one point he spends a weekend with Jaclyn, with his phone turned off (turning it off and forgetting to recharge it are constants in Chance's life), and when he finally gets back on the air, eh discovers his daughter is in hospital having OD'd. That's the kind of lousy, selfish, absentee father he is. We never see him interact with his daughter except in reaction to something.

Chance is also separated from his wife and they're divorcing. In order to try and raise some money, he sells some antique furniture after having had it tarted-up to look like it's all original, by a guy named Dee (real name darius Pringle, but you'd better never call him darius to his face). Dee is a big tough guy who lies about his military experience, but who nonetheless is a very dangerous man. He and Chance form an awkward friendship and partnership in trying to get one-up on detective Blackstone, but until the climax. it's like everything Chance does is ill-conceinved and doomed to failure.

For me, Jaclyn and Dee were fascinating people, and even detective Blackstone was more engaging than Chance, but we only got to know about them through Chance interactions, as it were. Dee and Jaclyn both have amazing stories to tell but that's not what we got unfortunately. I was sorry about that, but even so, we got enough of them and enough of a decent story for me to rate this a worthy read.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Adventures in Veggieland by Melanie Potock


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 101 Easy Activities and Recipes", this was an awesome book. It's beautifully presented, colorful, full of pictures, and it's aimed at persuading kids in the 3 - 8 age range to eat their greens. My feeling is if you follow this and that doesn't succeed, then nothing will! Not that I have three to eight year olds to test it on, but I sure intend to try some of these recipes. The blurb says the book "features 20 vegetables" although some are technically fruits (which the author makes clear in her text, which is full of interesting snippets). The book is divided up by season, so there's going to be something all year to try.

I liked the way she incorporates games into the cooking and offers hints, tips, asides, and advice, always explaining why she suggests this method rather than that method. I found the book to be an engaging read just for those items, regardless of whether you try the recipes, but why wouldn't you try them? They sound great! I loved the way she incorporates suggestions about which part of the food preparation that kids who are younger and kids who are older can help with. Obviously this is common sense, but it doesn't hurt to get a reminder when it comes to kitchen safety and good hygiene practices.

I would not recommend this for the phone! The text is too small to read and if you enlarge it, the page is randomly jumping all over the place forcing you to reselect the area you were reading. It's readable on that device, but a nuisance. Obviously, it's really designed as a print book, but it worked fine on a tablet. I really liked this and I recommend it.

You can never over-estimate the importance of good nutrition for raising healthy adults-to-be, but in doing so, one cannot afford to overlook the element of stress which so few health books address. I'm happy to recommend one that automatically seeks to eliminate stress by making cookery - and eating - fun!


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mis(h)adra by Iasmin Omar Ata


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Based on her own experiences as someone who endures epilepsy, this graphic novel tells the story of Isaac, an Arab-American student struggling with trying to get a college education while coping with the disruptive effect of epilepsy in his life. He's not doing very well, but he has an underlying current of hope, which keeps him moving towards a brighter future - and not one that's made bright merely from a pre-seizure aura.

The story is intriguingly done through the use of visual metaphor (as well as in the text), and often in the very graphic form of scimitars all directed at poor Isaac. The despair and exhaustion he suffers from constantly being at risk of a seizure, and from his inability to get even his own father to believe him when he talks about his problem, is palpable in this story. It's almost despairing and exhausting to read it.

At times you want to shake him out of his lethargy and inertia, but at the same time you realize this is such a knee-jerk response that you want to slap yourself. It's at that crux that you realize how debilitating this is; it's not that Isaac is stupid, or lazy, or incompetent, it's that this illness has such a crippling hold on him that he's all-but paralyzed by it.

Most of us tend to associate seizures with flashing lights as depicted in the Michael Crichton novel The Andromeda Strain but this is an ignorant view which completely neglects the serious role that less specific preconditions such as tiredness and stress, inter alia, play in triggering a seizure - and the danger of harboring a narrow definition of 'seizure' is also brought to light. A friend of Isaac's lectures him about letting his friends help instead of shutting them out, and this straight-talk marks a turning point in his life.

This was a moving story, a fiction, but based on real truths, and it was illustrated with startling colors and bold depictions. I liked it and I recommend it, and I would definitely look for future novels from this author.