Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thinking Without Thinking

Call it a woman’s intuition…but we all have it. A hunch. First impressions. Making a decision, either right or wrong, takes place within about two seconds. (I sort of met my husband that way, but that’s another story.)

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is about those two seconds. The kind of thinking that happens within the blink of an eye. Where your mind reaches a series of conclusions, you are indeed thinking. That’s what this book is about. We can also improve on this kind of thinking.

You might wonder how thinking that takes place so quickly be at all useful. Don’t we need time to evaluate data? Not to mention gather the facts. Haven’t we all heard “Don’t jump to conclusions”? But, there are situations, under stress or pressure, when snap judgments make sense. This book explores several situations where this scenario takes place. The Emergency Room at a Chicago hospital is just one. The hospital wanted their doctors to gather less information on their patients. Instead, they were to zero in on just a few pieces of information. Their results have been so successful, to draw international attention about how to successfully diagnosis illness.

Whether we realize it or not, our minds are capable of gathering bits of information simultaneously. It is the unconscious mind at work. He calls it “thin slicing.” Sifting through a situation, throwing out the irrelevant while zeroing in on what really matters. In sports, it’s called “court sense.” One way or another, we all do it. But … we can improve how well we do it.

For example, how do people “read” us? We can hear our voice, but we can’t see our face. Whenever we experience a basic emotion, that emotion is automatically expressed by the facial muscles. It may be only for a fraction of a second, but it is there. Ever heard of someone having a “poker face”? They have tried to control some of these muscles. But guess what … all of our muscles react. Watching and paying attention to these involuntary actions can help you make a good two- second decision.

Can you make bad decisions within two seconds? Oh yeah. In fact, that is why Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book to begin with. He grew his hair long. Looked like a middle age hippie. He got pulled out for profiling at airport security. Police accused him of committing a crime. In fact, the wanted descriptions looked nothing like him.

Did you know that all of the Fortune 500 CEOs are tall? Tall people are not smarter. But they are thought of that way. When Tom Hanks tried out for his first acting job, the director picked him out instantly. Why? He has that look we all can associate with.

is about us. How we think without thinking. And it is fun. It gives so many examples from real life. Hints of what to look for. So whether you want to go speed dating or win a major battle, read Blink. It really makes you think!

Look for Blink at Main and Avoca, call number 155.44 GLA.

Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Becoming a Goddess

You will never take anything for granted again after reading Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter by Barbara Robinette Moss (362.292 MOS Main).

This book is her memoir of growing up poor in rural Alabama, one of eight children. The daughter of a raging alcoholic father and a mother who was kind and caring, but powerless to protect herself or her children from the wanton abuses of the father, the author renders her story in a powerfully gripping style. This is one real life cast of characters you’ll never forget.

Meet her father, drunken, but charismatic, loving but hateful. When he woke the children up in the middle of the night, they never knew if they were going to have some bizarre punishment or play poker. Meet her mother, a woman who, despite the desperate circumstances in which they lived, imparted to her children a deep love of art and literature. This is a woman who once taped the children's paint-by-number paintings over the broken windows of the house they had moved into so that the world couldn't see in, saying "This is a wonderful way to display your art."

Meet Barbara, the author. Growing up with an abnormal facial structure due to malnutrition and no dental care, she prayed nightly to become attractive, to wake in the morning a beautiful daughter of Zeus. When this didn’t work, she saved her money and paid for braces and facial surgery. She became an artist, a writer. The story of how this woman rose from these beginnings to become the person writing this memoir is simply astonishing.

If you bother to read the first sentence of this book, you will be compelled to read the whole thing.

Okay, okay. I'll give you the first sentence. "Mother spooned the poisoned corn and beans into her mouth, ravenously, eyes closed, hands shaking."

Now who could read that and not keep going?

It will break your heart. It will make you weep. It will renew your belief in the power of the human spirit. It will make you want to find Barbara Robinette Moss and give her a hug.

And as I said in the beginning, it will make you realize that YOU HAVE GOT IT MADE! You will never take anything for granted again.

Reviewed by Nancy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wannabe Foodie

Some people gravitate toward books about cooking and baking. I gravitate toward the cooking and baking. Reading about it just makes me hungry, so I tend to avoid such books. Finding three books in a row about food that were all fascinating, entertaining and educational, well, it had to be Fate. (Let's hope that Fate holds onto that "e," else the next round will be diet and exercise books.)

The Cracker Kitchen by Janis Owens (641.5975 OWE Main and Avoca)
While there are a lot of Southern cookbooks and even down-home Southern cookbooks, not many boast an introduction by Pat Conroy. Yes, THAT Pat Conroy, author of Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline and Beach Music. Pat does have his own cookbook, but I have to say that his isn’t nearly as funny, or maybe Pat just didn’t have a blonde friend who was concerned about dark roots in the afterlife. Anyway, this is one really great cookbook with easy recipes that sound delicious and in some cases familiar. For example, the “Cream Cheese Vanilla Frosting” is pretty much standard but I did enjoy the instructions to “Let a favorite child lick the bowl or if there isn’t a favorite child, lick it yourself.” Made me want to go home and fix up a bowl of frosting right then and there.

Even better is the way the book is divided up partly by seasons (which can be summarized as Church, Dog Days, Football and Winter) with a couple of extra chapters thrown in to cover “Things in a Jar” and “The Cracker Pantry.” There are a few recipes for wild game (including rattlesnake, which the author suggests that you buy commercially raised and pre-deceased instead of risking a trip to either the Pearly Gates or a visit to your local ICU). There’s also a recipe for possum which she admits she doesn’t eat but neither does she look down on those who do and if you’re serving possum, just let her know and she’ll pick up a chicken sandwich on the way over.

I might as well confess that I was too busy laughing over the Cracker Cookbook to try any recipes from it. 'Specially not the ones involving wild game. I'd rather read than cook. Note that I didn't say "read than eat" because that would be a down and out lie. I just want someone else to fix it for me, because some dishes are better when you don't know exactly what went into their making. For example, in one of the Sweet Potato Queen books there was a recipe for garlic bread which involved a pound or two of butter and a pound or two of cheese and given the SPQs and their recipes, and probably a pound or two of bacon. Knowing that would have prohibited me from tasting the finished product, whereas if someone were to offer me a slice I'd take it, figuring, "Gee, it's garlic bread, how many calories could it possibly be?"
This is a mighty fine book for cookin’ and readin’ and the Reference Staff requests that you check this book out quickly so that Jeanne will stop reading aloud from it and annoying them all while they are trying to work.

Janis Owens is a novelist, best known for her Catts Family series.

The Food of a Younger Land edited by Mark Kurlansky (394.12 FOO Main)
In the 1930s and ‘40s, the Federal Writers’ Project had talented writers such as Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurtson produce essays on various aspects of American culture, including food. Remember, this was a time before chain restaurants when regional tastes dominated and most meals were made at home with local, seasonal ingredients so that meals were much less homogeneous and more a reflection of local culture. This isn’t a cookbook; a few recipes are given, but most of the text tries to place the food, its preparation and consumption, as part of the social framework. The essays are divided up by region; many are more oral history than analysis, though some authors try to provide an historical and geographical context. Some are little more than notes, such as the paragraph on the “Coca-Cola Parties in Georgia” (which served as an informal social gathering for younger women) or a description of the workings of the “Automat.” I liked the list of New York soda-luncheonette slang (I’m trying to imagine how a “deep one through Georgia” would taste.) Other selections wander farther afield and read like short stories, such as “Alabama Footwashing at Lonely Dale,” in which a most worthy cook hands out her version of justice.

Some ingredients we may find unsettling; some details appear stereotypical or condescending but are accurate reflections of the times and attitudes. Kurlansky thought long and hard about whether to exclude or heavily edit, but in the end he felt to do so would be to misrepresent the time period.
The recipes that are offered lack some details such as cooking temperature or require ingredients not generally found at the local supermarket. They also tend toward – well, let’s just say The American Heart Association might not approve, such as the barbecue sauce which calls for a pint of Wesson oil AND two pounds of butter. Hmmm. Make that “definitely would not approve.” I personally want to at least gaze upon a Sally White cake, with its pound of butter, pound of flour, one and a half pounds of sugar, two pounds of almonds, two coconuts, dozen eggs, two pounds of citron, a glass of sherry and another of brandy—I think I gained a pound just by typing this far. It must be a wonder to behold. On the other hand, I was startled to find that a can of mushroom soup was a standard ingredient even then.
All in all a fascinating look at “the way we were.”

Mark Kurlansky is the bestselling author of Cod and Salt, both of which looked at how foodstuffs affected world history.

The Ungarnished Truth: A Cooking Contest Memoir by Ellie Mathews (641.5 MAT Main)
This book came about as a result of the Online Book Club offered on the Library’s homepage. There you can sign up to receive daily emails containing excerpts from books in various categories: romance, thrillers, science fiction, mystery, non-fiction, etc. Not only is it a good way to test drive a book without commitment, I’ve found new authors and sampled books I would never have picked up otherwise.

Ellie Mathews is a frugal, no-nonsense sort of lady who enjoys experimenting with food and who likes to use on-hand ingredients. Never a flashy sort of cook, she nonetheless begins entering cooking contests with modest success. She finds the experiences interesting and encouraging and so decides to enter the Big One: the Pillsbury Bake-Off. I guess I’d had the vague idea that such contest winners were people who lived to cook, Martha Stewart-type perfectionists who worked in spotless kitchens with expensive gadgets, so discovering that Ms. Mathews was none of these things came as a bit of a surprise. This isn’t an expose of contests, no cut-throat shenanigans or cooking sabotage, nor is it a starry-eyed view, but a down-to-earth description of what goes on. Mathews comes off as almost apologetic that she didn’t react as the over-the-top contest winner, but that simply isn’t her style.

Reading this book made me think I could almost enter a cooking contest. I pop popcorn in olive oil which makes for an interesting flavor but always sets off the smoke alarm. How much do you suppose the judges would deduct for that?

Ellie Mathews is a writer and cooking contest participant. Her “Salsa Couscous Chicken” won the 1998 Pillsbury Bake-Off competition and yes, the recipe is included.

My, that was certainly longer than I anticipated. I think I need a snack now.

Reviews by Jeanne

Monday, August 3, 2009

What’s a Few Wrinkles and Slobber Among Friends?

My name is Doris and I am an addict.

I am addicted to Southern mysteries which feed my love for sweet tea, Paula Deen, and odd characters. I have spent large chunks of time living in other regions of the United States and in Europe, but it is the South that calls to me and is the place I feel at home. In reading some of the numerous Southern mysteries, I find comfort, laughter, a sense of the absurd and just plain old-fashioned enjoyment. For me, there’s nothing better than a comfortable chair on a screened-in-porch, a glass of lemonade, a cool breeze, and a Virginia Lanier book.

Like so many of her peers, Lanier carries on the tradition of the feisty Southern female who has an irresistible assortment of colorful friends and relatives surrounding her. Jo Beth Sidden has an ex-husband named Bubba who is determined to kill her, a streak of Southern stubbornness a mile wide, and a deep love for her unusual line of work. Jo Beth has something else very hard for me to resist—bloodhounds. Be forewarned: if you love dogs, you are going to want a bloodhound by the time you finish this book.

Jo Beth is a breeder and trainer of bloodhounds for search and rescue teams. She and her bloodhound partner cover a three county area of deep Georgia, right on the Okefenokee Swamp. Committed to helping the law enforcement agencies and individuals that contact her, Jo Beth often places herself in extreme conditions. Testing herself and her dog Bobby Lee in every search, Jo Beth is an interesting blend of stubbornness, pride and strength with a dash of quirkiness but she also has a vulnerability that shows up at times, especially when she has to face the reality that someone she once loved is planning to kill her.

Death in Bloodhound Red is the first book of Virginia Lanier’s bloodhound series. It won the 1996 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for both the 1995 Agatha Award and the 1996 McCavity Award for Best First Novel. Something of a late bloomer, Lanier was sixty-nine years old when she began writing. She once told an interviewer that it all started because she was reading a book she hated. She tossed the book across the room and told her husband Hoss she could write a better book anytime. He dared her to do so and five months later Death in Bloodhound Red was accepted for publication. It is a well-crafted blend of character development, fast action, introspection, and lore of the Okefenokee Swamp region. The plot in this one takes a couple of really interesting twists that will catch you off-guard, and you will absolutely fall in love with Bobby Lee. Lanier’s voice is true to the southern region she knew so well and to Jo Beth and her dogs. Unfortunately for those who have loved this skillful series of mysteries, Virginia Lanier died in 2003. Oh, how I wish she had written many more books!

Available at Main and Avoca: Death in Bloodhound Red, The House on Bloodhound Lane, A Brace of Bloodhounds, Blind Bloodhound Justice, Ten Little Bloodhounds, and A Bloodhound to Die For. Just look for F LAN.

Reviewed by Doris