Craeft by Alexander Langlands

Book – Before the modern era, before the Industrial Revolution, before mass production and manufacturing, most everything humans did was a matter of craft (or, to use the archaic spelling, Craeft) – a combination of skill, thriftiness, ingenuity, and necessity. In this book, Alexander Langlands explores some of the components of craeft from historic England, reflecting on the skills and resources involved and the way all the various components of the landscape interact with one another.

Langlands had my dream job: he was an experimental archaeologist, using the tools and techniques of history to better understand the way the past worked. He was clearly in this job by temperament as much as anything, because throughout this book he displays a remarkable curiosity about not just the individual components of historic life but the whole system of the thing: the way one skill led into another, one craft creating byproducts that in turn become the core structural elements of another. He calls this kind of systemic, interdependent thinking “craeftiness,” a mode of relating to the world that abhors waste the way nature abhors a vacuum, finding a clever, economical use for every scrap, and making every expenditure of energy do at least two jobs.

This isn’t your ordinary history book; in fact, I’m hard-pressed to find anything to compare it to. It’s deeply personal, each chapter (focusing on a different craft, from haymaking to basket-weaving to wall and barrow building) exploring Langlands’ own experience with the skill as well as his archaeological knowledge of its history. It’s profoundly location-based, as suits a book about the way pre-industrial people lived. And, crucially, it’s not nostalgic or romanticizing of the past: Langlands is well aware of how hard all this work is, having done much of it himself, albeit without life-or-death consequences. What he’s explaining is not just these individual skills that have been lost in the wake of cheap petroleum-based energy, but a way of thinking that was lost along with them, one which might become necessary in the near future, as petroleum-based energy becomes not so cheap.

No Regrets!: Temporary Tattoo Art for the Indecisive

Books – Tattoos can be intimidating, choosing a design that’s going to be ingrained on your skin for years and years to come; it’s more than a little scary, considering the involvement of stabbing needles.  Welcome to the world of DIY temporary tattooing!  No pain involved, easy to remove, but still a way to showcase your creativity in body art.  Temporary tattoos remind me of childhood, picking out a fun design, perhaps a pirate, or festive holiday image.  Now, there are so many more options in temporary tattooing for all ages, many conveniently found in the following books!

They both include templates in the back that you can scan to a computer and use to to create your own tattoos via special transfer paper.  It’s just like the tattoos I used when I was younger!  They recommend websites and different types of tattoo transfer paper to buy, and have a lot of good recommendations for the application and care of your temporary works of art.
With so many different types of mediums and application, there’s something for everyone.  Some are only meant for a night, a fun party costume that isn’t going to keep its composure for an extended period.  Then there are longer lasting art techniques like Henna, and the transfer printed tattoos.  I’ve experimented with henna before, both on the skin and as a natural hair dye.  It’s tricky to pipe out the intricate designs, but after allowing the henna to dry on your skin and washing it off, it’s amazing to enjoy the art as it lasts.

Year of No Sugar by Eve Schaub

Book – As a lover of all things sweet, Year of No Sugar by Eve Schaub sounded like the worst thing imaginable.  A whole year? No sugar!?  How awful!  Once I got over my initial shock, however, I immediately grabbed the book and started reading.

Eve was inspired to start her Year of No sugar project after reading books by obesity and sugar experts, including Dr. Robert Lustig.  Though Eve and her family led a relatively healthy lifestyle, she soon discovered sugar was in nearly everything they ate.  And so the project began.  The first few chapters introduce the planning of the project, as Eve consulted with her husband and two daughters on how the year would run out.  I loved the idea of doing this project as a family, having that support system to get through it together.  I can imagine the kids dismay, learning how their lives would be affected, and dealing with social pressures outside of the home with all things sugary and sweet.  Instead of going completely cold turkey, Eve and her husband finally decided on the 1 Dessert a Month rule.  Also, the two daughters could make their own decisions when it came to offerings of sweets at school, sleepovers, and other functions, as long as they were open to their parents when they did choose to indulge.

Eve is an honest, funny, and wonderful writer.  She managed to mix science with her own experiences without making my brain explode.  I appreciated her point of view, with the added input of her husband and children as they embarked on a journey not for the faint of heart.  Check out Eve Schaub’s newest memoir, Year of No ClutterOne book at a time, Eve is conquering my biggest vices.

 

 

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero

Book – Every once in a while a movie comes along that’s so bad, so unbelievable, so outrageous, that it goes straight past unwatchable and becomes compelling. In 2003, that movie was The Room, written, directed, produced by, and starring Tommy Wiseau. The Room is so uniquely, outrageously bad – and not just bad but also deeply, deeply weird – that you can’t help but wonder about the guy who made it. Fortunately, Wiseau’s co-star, co-producer, and best friend Greg Sestero has written a memoir about his friendship with Tommy and the filming of The Room, and while it doesn’t exactly shed any light on who Tommy Wiseau is or why he felt compelled to make this weirdly compelling, illogical relationship drama of a movie, it’s a delightful trainwreck of a story.

You can now experience The Disaster Artist in a variety of formats – there’s the original book, the audiobook as read by Greg Sestero, and the film starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. While Franco’s Tommy Wiseau impression is impressive, if you really want to experience the full range of weirdness, I recommend the audiobook. Even if you’ve never seen The Room – and I can’t in good conscience recommend that you do – this is a wild ride through one of the most implausible Hollywood productions of our time.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Book – Helen Russell is a magazine journalist, living in London with her husband. Their days are filled with commuting and long hours at work. Their evenings are packed with social engagements and alcohol. They have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a couple of years. Helen dreams of retirement at the age of 33. Then, Helen’s husband gets an unexpected offer to work for Lego in Jutland.

Helen begins to research the country of five and a half million people, and discovers that they pay high taxes, get free healthcare, free education and subsidized daycare. Danes average a 34 hour workweek. And, according to the UN World Happiness Report, Denmark is the happiest country on earth. Helen and her husband decide to move to Denmark and this book documents their first year of living in their adopted country.

Helen’s chatty writing style and witty observations entertained me. She shares her experiences with food, relationships, religious traditions and the many unwritten “rules” she encounters. The Year of Living Danishly was an enjoyable exploration of a different culture and a lifestyle change. If you like this book, you may also want to read Happy as a Dane or the Little Book of Hygge.

The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection by Fran Krause

Comic Strips – Do you still pull all the blankets tight around you at night to keep the monsters out? Does a comment someone made years ago still haunt you at inopportune moments? Have you ever wondered exactly why your pets are so good to you (is it because you’re dying and they know it)? We all have a few irrational fears, and it’s surprisingly fun to read about other people’s, even if you run headlong into a few of your own at the same time.

The Creeps is a collection of Krause’s Internet project “Deep Dark Fears,” in which he solicits fears and paranoias from his audience and illustrates them. It’s weirdly compelling reading, seeing what other people are afraid of, what horrifying thoughts cross their minds at perfectly innocent moments. You’re bound to find something in here that makes you cringe, something that makes you laugh, and something that makes you nod your head in sympathetic understanding.

Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time by Ray Padgett

Book – The phrase ‘book of essays’ always suggests to me something stodgy, solemn and old-fashioned–until I remember that every Buzzfeed article is an essay by another name. Cover Me actually started as a series of posts on the author’s blog, and that pedigree shows, in a good way.  It’s a compilation of nineteen bite-sized nuggets of popular music history, exactly the kind of irresistible stories that can keep a reader clicking through to the next page until the small hours of the morning.

Author Padgett is a music producer as well as a writer, and his industry knowledge informs and enriches these impeccably-written essays.  Even after many years of blogging on the subject of cover songs (songs re-recorded by a different artist than the original) he was hesitant to delve into the subject in book form, because cover songs are not exactly a unifying theme.  They belong to no one particular era, genre or movement–but that fact in itself makes them an ideal vehicle for a macro-view of popular music as a whole, at least the past 65-ish years of English-language popular songs.  “Every major change in the music industry since the advent of rock and roll finds some expression in the world of cover songs,” Padgett writes, and he does an admirable job of delving into those larger connections and significances to make each song tell a larger story.  Moreover, he writes history the way it should be written: as a series of human stories, emotional and compelling as well as informative.

As a casual music history fan, I was nervous that Cover Me would be a music snob’s book for experts only, but was pleasantly surprised.  I already not only knew, but knew the words to, almost every song discussed, including all-time greats like Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” and the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.”  This is definitely a book to enjoy with YouTube on hand, to listen (or, in the case of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and the accompanying music video, watch) along to every variation of the featured songs.  Revisiting classics in this rich new way was a genuine joy, and I would recommend it to every teen and adult reader with even a slight interest in popular music or music history.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby

Book – It’s pretty much a guarantee; if you put a kitten on a book’s cover I’m at least going to pick it up for a closer look. And although Samantha Irby’s cat (Helen Keller, the world’s angriest rescue) is largely a secondary character in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, I was definitely not disappointed.

Irby’s writing is in turn hilarious, sexually explicit, vulgar, moving, emotional, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Irby, who also blogs under the title ‘bitches gotta eat’ explores both the anecdotal and the deeply personal, always with refreshing candor and wit. Essays in her second book cover everything from her Bachelorette application (she’s 35 but could pass for 60 if she stays up all night) to growing up with an alcoholic parent (who once punched her in the face for doing the dishes wrong). It’s also wryly—and sometimes laugh out loud—funny and feels more like conversing with a dear friend than reading a stranger’s inner thoughts.

Irby grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, so local readers will find much of her experiences familiar and relatable. Her essays are loosely interconnected, making this an easy book to pick up and put down at your leisure. Anyone looking for a funny and emotional memoir that is nevertheless easy to read should look no further.

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles that Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better Too) by Gretchen Rubin

Book— If you like personality tests and putting people into categories, you might enjoy The Four Tendencies, Rubin’s newest pop psychology book about human personalities and how to work with your (and other’s people’s) native propensities to achieve your goals. In short, Rubin proposes that you can sort all of humanity into four categories based on one key trait: their response to internal and external expectations. Upholders respond readily to all expectations; Questioners follow inner but resist outer expectations; Obligers fulfill external obligations but neglect inner ones (the commonest category); and finally, Rebels instinctively reject all expectations. Rubin is quite hyperbolic about the import of her “discovery,” pompously comparing it to the Fibonacci sequence or the double helix pattern of DNA. The book’s organization is reminiscent of an astrology book, wherein each tendency is explored in detail with a zodiac sign-like profile, then elaborated on in chapters like “The Obliger Employee” or “The Upholder Child.” Despite the allure of sorting people into little boxes, I came away from the book thinking that Rubin’s system had little more merit than sorting people based on blood type, or favorite color, or skull shape, or any of the other too-neat heuristics people have used to pigeonhole themselves and each other.

Rubin would expect me to say all this, of course: I got sorted into the Rebel category when I took her included 4 Tendencies quiz. Despite me giving Rubin a hard time, I genuinely did enjoy this book. Not, mind you, as a meaningful psychological tool, but as a fun diversion akin to taking the Sorting Hat Test on Pottermore and gleaning what insight one may, no matter how specious. Definitely pick this one up if you enjoyed Rubin’s other books or if this particular personality test speaks to you.

NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman

Book – Autism spectrum disorders exploded into the public consciousness in the early 2000s, along with worries that this sudden uptick in diagnoses meant that something unnatural was happening to children, something that had never been seen before. Really, Silberman explains, with great and gracious detail, our understanding of what “normal” development looks like and how eccentricity shades into disability is changing. In this book, he follows the history of autism and the researchers, parents, and people with autism who shaped our understanding of the different ways the human brains can work.

This isn’t a nice history; people have, historically speaking, not been nice to other people who have disabilities or even just differences that make them annoying. And since Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner, who shaped our modern understanding of autism, were physicians working in Austria and Germany in the mid-twentieth century, eugenics and genocide play a large role in early chapters. It gets better after the Nazis, but that’s not a very high bar to clear. The way people diagnosed with autism have been treated under the guise of helping them to become “normal” is upsetting at best. And yet, I found this a very hopeful book. Despite the burying of Asperger’s research; despite the litany of abuse and mistreatment; despite the struggles autistic people still face in being understood, accepted, and listened to; Silberman paints a picture of a flourishing subsection of humanity, one with astounding gifts and a great uniqueness, one which is ready, in this age of technology, to come into its own.