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After America, by Mark Steyn

by Katherine - 0 Comment(s)

Mark Steyn is too conservative for me. Or, is it that I’m too liberal for Mark Steyn?

I’m reading his new book, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, and although he mocks and critiques many things that I think are crucial, I’m enjoying the experience of having views to which I don’t subscribe spelled out in a cogent and articulate way. Steyn is an uncommon combination of erudite and cheeky, and I find myself smirking, even when I disagree with him.

When I picked up the book and saw that its back cover has a glowing endorsement from Ann Coulter (insert gagging noise here) I was sure that I should just put the book down and move on. But the amateur philosopher in me knows that in order to understand my own views, I need to understand others’ views, too. I need to listen to the people who differ from me, in order to gain a better and more nuanced understanding of the views that I do hold.

So, dear reader, I encourage you to select a book whose author you don’t like, appreciate or understand. Challenge yourself to read both sides of a debate.

We’ve got books about all the contentious stuff: politics, religion, sex, war, and so on. Ask our librarians for a recommendation!

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

by Katherine - 2 Comment(s)

I tore through this autobiography in a matter of days, and I relished it! If you love Tina Fey’s work as a sketch and sitcom writer, you’ll find her prose equally amusing.

In Bossypants, Fey comments on her childhood, her early years as a writer for SNL, the importance of her relationship with her father, and even the unmentionable topic – that scar on her face.

It’s been a very long time since a book made me laugh out loud (repeatedly) on the train, but this book made me do just that. I looked like a total psycho, but it was worth it.

What I really appreciated as I read this book was Fey’s attitude. Improv classes taught her the value of saying yes within a scene and that’s a lesson we can all apply in our daily lives, as well. I also appreciated her comments about what she learned from Lorne Michaels, and what she hopes for her own daughter. Fey is gay positive and body positive (except when she’s mocking herself) and with this book, she’s proven that she’s much more than just a funny one-liner or a Sarah Palin impersonator (although she excels at that, too!).

If you need a really good laugh, then check out Bossypants today!

Roseanne: THIS is What a Feminist Looks Like!

by Katherine - 0 Comment(s)

I’ve been watching Roseanne DVDs lately. I enjoyed the show as a young adult, but now I appreciate it for different reasons. Actually, I’ve come to realize that Roseanne is a feminist, and the show is remarkably progressive – even by today’s standards.

Roseanne clearly rules her home and no one can challenge that. However, she’s not such a tyrant that she’s incapable of apologizing or realizing her mistakes. She’s a responsible(ish) mother, even when making fun of her children, and she’s a devoted wife, though she doesn’t fawn over her husband. Everyone in her family defers to her (when they’re not trying to keep secrets, of course!), but she makes important decisions in concert with her husband. She jests about marriage but maintains a strong partnership. Family is prioritized over working, but Roseanne insists that her daughters are educated before starting families of their own.

I really salute the producers of the show for including gay characters before most other sitcoms would have dared to. Roseanne’s boss (and later business partner), Leon, is a gay man. Roseanne’s girlfriend, Nancy, is a lesbian. However, Leon and Nancy are teased just as much as the straight characters in the show! No one is safe from Roseanne’s comic insights.

Is there another show today that represents middle class suburban life with as much rawness and humour as Roseanne? If there is, I have yet to watch it. Until then, I’ll stay with my mid-nineties re-runs, thank you very much.

Roseanne DVDs cost about $30 per season. But, if you’ve got a library card, then you’re chuckling for free! Borrow them today!

The Idle Parent, by Tom Hodgkinson

by Katherine - 0 Comment(s)

Some time ago, I read and thoroughly enjoyed (and reviewed!) Tom Hodgkinson’s The Freedom Manifesto. I loved the way that Hodgkinson wove philosophy and humour, and created what is actually a very inspirational read, while informing me that I need to quit my job, plant a garden and take up the ukulele.

So, when I saw Hodgkinsons’ latest, The Idle Parent, on our shelf of new books, I couldn’t wait to tear into it. And what a treat it was!

Hodgkinson implores us to quit bothering our children and to leave them well alone, if we want to ensure they are self-reliant, creative, well-adjusted individuals. Throughout, he offers insights into why children whine (spoiler alert: it’s because they’re powerless), how they can contribute to the household, why they should be taken out of school and away from glowing screens, and how parents can do a lot for their children by doing nothing.

This book is not an endorsement of neglect; the idle parent is not a reckless, irresponsible one. Rather, the idle parent is one who does not seek to control or mould children. The idle parent realizes that children are people, and need to pursue what it is that people were created for: to enjoy a pleasurable life.

The Peter Principle, by Peter and Hull

by Katherine - 0 Comment(s)

The Peter Principle is basically this: in an organizational hierarchy (like the one in which you very likely are employed), each person tends to be promoted to his or her “level of incompetence”. That is, people tend to be upwardly mobile until the point where they can no longer satisfy their job requirements. Here, they languish, and create all sorts of problems for those with and for whom they work. Through a series of case studies and with the use of hilarious pseudo-scientific jargon, Dr. Peter, a self-described “heirarcheologist”, explains why it is that hierarchies reinforce their own internal structure rather than serve the needs of their customers; why those who least deserve promotions are granted them; and why incompetence seems to be so very rampant in organizations large and small. Initially, these claims can seem somewhat counter-intuitive. After all, how can organizations continue to function if a majority of employees are incompetent? Read The Peter Principle for the answer – equal parts comedy, tragedy, and irony.

Ultimately, The Peter Principle is a Pandora’s Box, of sorts. Once you read it, you won’t ever again be able to look at your employment the same way. However, the trade-off is that you’ll definitely be inspired to rid yourself and your business of the oversights and false assumptions that put this Principle into practice.

Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut

by Katherine - 1 Comment(s)

I’ve been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut since high school. As soon as I finished Slaughterhouse-Five, I raced to the library (OK, full disclosure: it was a Chapters store) and picked up as many of his novels as I could afford. I read them voraciously until I entered university and no longer had time for leisure reading.

However, the prodigal Vonnegut fan has returned! I’ve just finished Breakfast of Champions, and I think I’ll carry on with a reunion tour, of sorts.

Breakfast of Champions is the story of Kilgore Trout, a failed science fiction writer, and the effect that one of his stories has on Dwayne Hoover, a used car salesman who is losing his mind. Their lives converge – with heartbreaking and poignant results - when they meet at an arts festival in a city otherwise devoid of culture.

Die-hard Vonnegut fans will surely remember that Kilgore Trout had appeared in several of Vonnegut’s novels, prior to Breakfast of Champions. So, the fact that Vonnegut actually writes himself into the narrative, in order to free Kilgore Trout, is both funny and fantastic. It’s also quite moving, since Trout and Vonnegut bear such strong resemblance to one another.

Vonnegut’s own drawings are interspersed throughout, and for that reason alone this book is worth checking out. But there are so many others! If you’ve never read a Vonnegut novel, start today! They are humourous, insightful, cynical and a touch melancholy. Vonnegut’s musings about American culture are as relevant today as when they were written – most of them several decades ago.

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