WHAT I’VE BEEN READING LATELY
The Joy of Syntax, by June Casagrande, Ten Speed Press, $19.99. In a world in which poor grammar runs amok, one could say this is a useful little book. But billed as a simple guide to all the grammar you know you should know, it is actually written for the diehard word nerd beset by doubts.
Can a sentence end in a preposition? Where does that apostrophe go? What is an appositive?
June Casagrande gives nitpickers the short shrift. To hear some sticklers talk, you’d think that somewhere, in a classified location, there’s a top-secret grammar law library that houses the voluminous Grammar Penal Code: an official list of all the things you’d be “wrong” to do.
And yet, thankfully, she goes on to show us the right way to navigate grammatical pitfalls.
I Should Have Honour by Khalida Brohi, Random House, $36. When Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of Leanin.org and Arianna Huffington, founder of HuffPost and Thrive Global, heap praise upon a book for empowering women, one sits up and takes notice.
I Should Have Honour is the memoir of a young woman who grew up thinking she would be the first female doctor in her small village in Pakistan, but who instead, went on to become an activist, impacting the lives of countless women through education and employment opportunities.
Brohi has been named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for social entrepreneurship, and her story is a powerful and moving one.
The Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone, $29.95. The final book in the Mysteries of Nature trilogy by the New York Times best-selling author of The Hidden Life of Trees does not disappoint.
This book is packed with fascinating examples of how species protect themselves and the interplay between animals and plants. For instance, when wolves were eradicated from Yellowstone National Park, the elk population began to increase. Large areas of the park were stripped bare from their grazing. As they ate their way through tender saplings growing along the banks of rivers, food for other species including birds and beavers was reduced. They, too, disappeared over time. And due to erosion – as there was little vegetation to hold the soil – the rivers began to meander. The eradication of one species changed the course of rivers. Imagine that.
Or that cinnabar moth caterpillars consume vast quantities of the poisonous ragwort. They suffer no ill effects but the predators that eat them, do.
He busts a few myths along the way. The one about oaks and beeches setting more fruit in preparation for a harsher winter, for one. Trees in each species, he writes, “agree on a time to bloom together so that every few years they produce an enormous amount of seed” as a way to regulate their population.
Wohlleben explains why he is not opposed to zoos in principle “as long as the animals are looked after in a species-appropriate manner”.
But the lesson is clear: It’s important for us to realize that even small interventions can have huge consequences, and we’d do better to keep our hands off everything that we do not absolutely have to touch.
The Natural Apothecary by Dr Penny Stanway, Nourish, $14.95. Dr Penny Stanway practised for several years as a GP and paediatrician before becoming fascinated by natural approaches to health and wellbeing.
She has written more than 20 books on the connection between health and food and in this, describes the many, many ways in which we can use the humble baking soda in home, health and beauty products. The first section, where she writes about the acid-alkali balance in our bodies is almost Ayurvedic in approach and remedies. She lists the acid-producing potential of various foods, with the note that most of us eat less of the high acid-producing ones. Pork, beef and shellfish are high, freshwater fish, low; white flour, bread and pasta, high and brown rice and bread, low, and so on. She also lists common alkali-producing foods such as tomatoes, cucumber, soya beans, olive oil, etc., with the note that one could do with consuming more of them.
The old desi trick of soaking or cooking dals and dried beans with baking soda meets with her approval, and she advocates applying a paste of baking soda and water on insect bites and stings just like our mothers did.
Baking soda is good for oral health – coat your toothbrush with it – and one teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water can help with cramps and headaches. Quick recipes for baking soda face masks and solutions for cleaning everything from the kitchen to the bathroom are included.
But don’t consume baking soda blindly, she cautions, and lists conditions under which its use should be restricted or avoided altogether. Her prescription? Consult with your doctor and agree upon the dose.
Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life by Edith Hall, Penguin Press, $36. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Long before Deepak Chopra and the legion of new age gurus there was Aristotle who wrote the most important book on happiness.
He was the first philosopher who understood happiness as a lasting state of contentment.
Edith Hall distils Aristotle’s thinking and offers autobiographical anecdotes to lay the terms and conditions for happiness:
Find purpose. Realise your full potential. And modify your behaviour to become the best version of yourself.
For it is possible that the many, though not individually good men, yet when they come together may be better, not individually but collectively, than those who are so, just as the public dinners to which many contribute are better than those supplied at one man’s cost...
Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu translated by John Minford, Viking, $40. The most translated book in the world after the Bible, the Tao Te Ching (or the Book of the Tao) is a guide to living a life of peace, serenity and compassion. Written over 2500 years ago, it finds resonance with the modern reader, leading one towards the Tao, or the Way, to find harmony with the life force of the universe.
Orwell On Freedom, Harvill Secker, $21.99. George Orwell, perhaps best known for Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, was a prolific writer who warned against totalinarianism and defended free speech.
This collection, taken from both his novels and nonfiction, presents his thoughts on the subject of freedom.
If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
Or, Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.
In her introduction, Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire and A God in Every Stone, etc., writes that she first read Nineteen Eighty-Four as a naive 18-year-old, seeing it as a comment on what the world could have been like had the cold war turned out differently. Now, nearly three decades later, she sees the chilling message of the book for what it is – against the backdrop of the rise of the far-right across the world and the era of fake news.
The fallacy is to believe that under a dictatorial government you can be free inside.
Like a Lizard by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis, Boyds Mills Press, $23.95. Can you run like a lizard? Sun like a lizard? Bob your head like a lizard?
Colourful illustrations in which lizards curl, gape and drape introduce little ones to these strange creatures.
Ansh Panihar’s Teen Review of The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore, HarperCollins, $11.43. The Power of Six is a strong, interesting and emotional science-fiction novel by Pittacus Lore. It is the second in the I Am Number Four series.
The genre is mainly science-fiction with a lot of action and a few aspects of romance and fantasy.
Personally, I am very fond of the characters John Smith, Number Six and Sam Goode.
These three characters are courageous, strong, brave, humorous, intelligent, sensible and great leaders.
John Smith is Number Four out of the nine surviving members of the Loric Garde and the only hope for the Lorien and the Earth.
He has faced many battles against the Mogadorians along with Number Six and Sam Goode, he has gained and lost loved ones.
The story also creates a love triangle between the three, which really spices up the mood in the book.
Lore advocates two points of views, alternating the perspectives of Marina and John Smith in first person.
The novel starts with Marina who doesn’t have much experience but her attraction towards the characters makes you adore them more.
The entire series is a great read.
• Ansh Panihar is a grade 9 student and a member of Brampton Library’s Teen Library Council.