Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Currently Reading: Gulp

Mary Roach represents the ideal nonfiction author, at least in my book she does. Gulp is the latest in her writings relating the tales of the alimentary canal. It is sad but true that we take so much of the inner workings of our bodies for granted. Why does food get digested the way that it does? Why do we eat certain foods in the first place? These questions and more are answered throughout this thoroughly gross but entertaining book.

What makes Roach's writing standout is her approachable style and humorous asides. She manages to make the layman understand all sorts of complicated stuff. Another thing that I love about Mary Roach is that she really does her research. No shoddy data and third party stories for her! Roach gets down and dirty, taking part in experiments and endlessly "harassing" experts with questions, both of the deep intellectual sort as well as those things you and I just have to know. There is no stupid question in Roach's mind.

As with her previous books, Roach starts at the very beginning (which we all know is a very good place to start) and doesn't cease in her quest for knowledge until she reaches the very end. The cool part about the topic for Gulp is that we literally travel with our food as it makes its way through the alimentary canal. Chapter One gives us a taste (pun!) for what science is involved in our food selection and taste preferences. We move through to the mouth, taking a brief stop to talk about all those long chewing fads. Next up is the stomach and then on to the dirty stuff, tooting our own horns and dealing with being plugged up (yuck but oh too interesting). I will never take these everyday occurrences for granted again.

While learning all this scientific awesomeness, we are also treated to some interesting trivial with which to entertain partygoers and the like. For example, what really caused the demise of the King? A couple of my favorites include:

"High-end detergents contain at least three digestive enzymes: amylase to break down starchy stains, protease for proteins, and lipase for greasy stains (not just edible fats by the body oils like sebum). Landry detergent is essentially a digestive tract in a box."  - Pg 111

"No engineer could design something as multifunctional and fine-tuned as an anus. To call someone an asshole is really bragging them up."  - Pg 216

Mary Roach is wholeheartedly an author I would recommended to anyone who not only wants to learn a bit, but is up for an engaging and humorous read. While Gulp was fantastic, if you are just starting out on your journey through her books, I highly suggest picking up Stiff. Packing for Mars and Spook are also fantastic, but there is just something alluring about Stiff's subtitle: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

For a video preview to the tales included in Gulp, check out Roach's interview on the Daily Show. Two funny folks in the same room! How could it possibly be bad?

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mary Roach
Daily Show Full EpisodesIndecision Political HumorThe Daily Show on Facebook

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Math Is Your Friend

Currently Reading: Princess Elizabeth's Spy

Pg 89: "The study of mathematics develops the imagination. It trains the mind to think clearly and logically. Elegantly, even. It challenges our thinking. It forces us to make the complex simple."

I couldn't have said it better myself! One of the things I love about math is that it is inherent in each and every little thing we do each day. If it weren't for mathematics, I wouldn't be typing these words write now and you certainly wouldn't be reading them. The book featured in this post couldn't have been created nor could it's main topic have been as intriguing and important as it was. I think math gets a bad rap sometimes. I often hear not only students, but adults as well, bemoan the horrors of their past math classes, but I think it is more a matter of mindset than true difficulty with the concepts. Everyone can learn to do math, but appreciating it is a bit harder at times. When we have all these computers to do the work for us, we ignore the problem solving and creativity that complex algorithms can inspire. At least that's what I tell the kids. Whether or not they believe me is still up in the air...

Princess Elizabeth's Spy is a fascinating tale following an MI5 agent as she is forced to take on a seemingly superfluous assignment, watching over the princesses as they are sequestered at Windsor Castle during World War 2. Maggie Hope joins the staff under the cover story of being the math tutor for a young Princess Elizabeth. Here she stumbles upon a crafty plot filled with the most unlikely of characters.

Codes play a large role in the novel and interpreting them is key to saving the princesses. Coding is something that has been on my mind a lot lately due to another project we are working on for the new Academy I am going to be a part of. Math is the base of almost every code, even those that are symbolic in nature but as mentioned before, a lot of people don't recognize it. Still, what a cool way to show students the amazing things they can do when they understand concepts such as matrices and functions and their inverses. I wish I had codes to call upon as a hook to learning these topics when I was in school. While I love math in any form, it would have been a fun challenge to try to demonstrate my learning in this way. Why don't we do this more often? You never know when you'll need to share some secrets ;)

Another thing I liked about this book was revisiting Lilibet in her younger years. I recently read another book about Queen Elizabeth (see post here), but in her later years. How fun to get to see another side of the Queen! And again, that Britishness always engages me (yet another earlier post). I thought it was quite poignant that both novels were able to capture certain characteristics of Elizabeth in two so different tales. She is definitely an inspiring lady with so much tragedy in her life. Of course her stalwart nature is always clear though and it's no wonder the folks across the pond collect postcards plastered with her face. Long live the Queen, I suppose.

I'll leave you with another fun mathy quote, this one from The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister:

Solve for x the teacher would say, and Al could almost hear the numbers whispering in anticipation, ready to dive under the bar of a fraction, disappear down the trapdoor of a subtraction sign. It could make you feel almost sorry for the x, Al thought, with everybody staring at it, concentrating, their only goal to leave it standing alone.

Yes, math is awesome.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Girls... Sigh...

Currently Reading: A Tale of Two Sisters

My family has four kids. I am the only girl. I love each and every one of my three brothers and they are all awesomely unique in their own little ways, but for some reason, as a young girl, I had always wanted a sister. When my youngest brother was born, I hid under the bed and cried for hours. I had been promised a sister, but alas, little Kelly Marie popped out as not so little Alexander John. Of course it only took me a little time to finally come to my senses and realized that I actually had things pretty good. Being the only girl meant I always had my own room, didn't have to wear hand-me-downs (at least not too many of them) and when we moved to our fancy house in Plano, I got the bedroom with the attached bathroom! Hooray!

Seriously though, I'm not sure I could have handled a sister very well. I am a tomboy myself and loose patience with girly stuff. My mom was plenty for me. Plus, who would have played legos and had squirt gun fights with me? Certainly not Kelly. Or at least that's what I assume...

So many books out there are surrounded around sisterhood. Sometimes it is families and other times it is girlfriends (another place where I am lacking). These tales of moving through womanhood are always emotionally packed, filled with backstabbing and tears, and of course, someone is always feeling inferior. Why such sorrow? Is it my own naivety when it comes to these lasting female bonds or do authors blow things out of proportion? I fear this is something I many never know. On the plus side though, I know I always have people who are up for playing Super Smash Bros. with me.

A Tale of Two Sisters is typical in terms of the sister narrative, but I enjoyed it all the same, mostly because of Anna Maxted's engaging writing style. Her dialogue is filled with quirky oneliners, characters are always multi-faceted and the plot moves quickly. This is my third Maxted novel and I was pleased with her growth as a writer. One of the best parts of her books is the attention to detail she gives when crafting descriptions. My favorite from this book was on page 97 where she describes a loquacious brother in law.

George always had something to say, even if it was rubbish. In fact, you could have fed George into a sausage machine and chances were he'd still be talking until his head disappeared down the chute and emerged the other end, a frankfurter.

What's not to love about this wacky yet talented author? Oh and Anna Maxted is oh so British, something I have come to adore in the books I read. In fact, British authors have been so ubiquitous in my selections that my vernacular now includes such fun little words like fancy (as in "Would you fancy a crisp?") and I understand completely when someone sighs about having to purchase their wardrobe at Top Shop.

And now I've got to pop out to Boots for some plasters so cheers and cheerio and all that ;)